The Importance of Answering Email

We’re all inundated by email.  It’s a veritable avalanche that never lets up from the moment we get up until we go back to sleep.  To stay on top of it completely would be a full time job.  But I have noticed that one of the few commonalities among the most successful theater professionals I’ve worked with is that they all email back promptly, thoroughly, and politely.  I’ve found that if you email a number of people, the most accomplished person answers you first and most completely.  For whatever reason, the TONY winning actress or the four-time Broadway composer always seems to answer more quickly, thoughtfully, and politely than his or her more modestly successful peers.  It’s counterintuitive but I’ve found it to be the case with remarkable consistency.  Why?

Don't let this happen to you.

Don’t let this happen to you.

I think that returning email promptly and thoughtfully sends a number of positive signals.  It suggests that you’re competent and on top of your work, that you respect the sender (even if you don’t know her) and that you’d be a good collaborator down the road.  In trying to follow the example of my most successful friends, I have instituted a 24-hour rule for myself for emails.  I can’t promise I’ll be back to you in minutes, but by the next day, whether you’re my agent or a college fan from Australia, I should be able to answer your message.  I proof them once for spelling and grammar, and then reread the initial message again to make sure I’ve completely answered any questions.  These are simple things, but they’re good business practices, and at the end of the day, each theater artist is his or her own small business.  Having some standard practices for your communications makes people want to do business with you, makes you seem pleasant, and even, when time is of the essence, may persuade someone contact you before someone else because they know they can rely on a quick answer.

What do you think?  How do you handle email as part of your career?

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