Life Hacks

The Art of Not Responding to Email

Tim Denning productivity advice.

Photo by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash

There is a new trend: not responding to emails.

You used to ignore email only from strangers. Now you ignore emails from your mother. So what’s up with this new trend?

I am finding more and more that people who would happily reply to my email three years ago and who are some of my closest friends have stopped responding to my emails. You know the head fake? They still respond to some of my emails, just not all, anymore.

This is why email has changed and it will help you communicate like a pro.


Email is a full-time job in this modern era.

I get over a hundred emails a day just for work. A guy that runs the learning department at my work the other day said “your annual KPIs are in the platform and we’ve emailed you three times to warn you.”

I didn’t open the emails he was talking about. I went back and found the emails after thirty minutes of searching and they were an incoherent mess.

I replied back: “The answers aren’t in the email. Maybe the emails could be written with the ‘cheatsheet’ approach. Meaning, the email is designed to deliver the important message that your KPIs could be destroyed for the year if you miss this one critical point.”

I then went on to explain how many emails a day I get. I told him “it’s either the customer, or email. I choose the customer.”

My default response is to delete almost every work email. If it’s a critical email then the universe will normally let me know somehow.

Email can be your full-time job if you choose to open every message and respond to everyone.

Email costs you time, which costs you money.

“Time is money” is the most cliche advice in human history. We all know it deep down, yet email blinds us from the truth.

Every email I respond to is another story I’m not writing that can help a lot more than one person. The firehose of personal email has become so great that it may make sense in a year or two not to have an email address.

Imagine that: a world with no email address.

I’m contemplating living in a world without email. I may even go old school and get all my bills delivered by mail again so I can escape email for a while and see if my personal world collapses.

Time isn’t something to be taken for granted. On your final day alive, will you sit on your deathbed and regret all the emails you didn’t respond to? I doubt it. Maybe life without email could help you save time which you can use to make more money.

Maybe life without email could make you a millionaire.

Overwhelm makes email a tedious task.

Try dealing with a global health crisis, an upside down world of finance, and a business environment so soft you could cut through it like warm butter.

Understanding email philosophy is key to my 9–5 job. It’s my job as a salesperson to reach people who are impossible to contact. This means I need to think like an email warrior who’s ready to go into battle and slice sh*t up with my words.

Sending emails in the last twelve months has been an eye-opener. When I eventually reach people by phone who ignore my emails I conduct a mini-interview.

“So Bob, what’s email like for you this year?”

The answer typically goes like this:

“I’m overworked. I’m tired. I’m working until very late. I have a lot more meetings now that work from home is my new work life. If I open the news my level of hope evaporates after reading 2.2 stories.”

When you’re overwhelmed the last thing you want to do is reply to email.

Keeping up with the email Kardashians is difficult when you’re not sure what the world will look like in a few months.

You don’t know what to say in the email.

Many emails are so complex you need a detective to decipher what the hell is being said. I read emails, a lot, that take me several reads.

By the end of reading the email I feel stupid. I’m unsure what to say. When this happens all I can do is think to myself “I’ll respond later” which means never. My conversations with people about email revealed a similar trend.

Not knowing what to say in an email is a common reason not to reply. If you’re writing emails then make it easy to understand the one point of your email. (And for the love of the almighty don’t try and get across multiple points. Start with your strongest point and see if you get a reply, first.)

If you’re an email opener like me, then don’t make it your problem when the email doesn’t make sense.

If you don’t know how to reply to an email, say nothing at all. You’re not an email translator.

The email has an ask of your time.

Emails are how people ask for your time.

Email scares you because the asks of your time start to add up. “Be on my podcast for 30 minutes” after 10 emails just like it, starts to add up to your entire Sunday afternoon being stolen away from you. You deserve to play on the swings on Sunday. Or walk your cute puppy.

Emails that ask for time are the most common form to be ignored. You can send an email that doesn’t ask for a person’s time and see if you get a response. If you do, perhaps then you could ask for a few minutes.

Treat email like life. It’s a relationship. Build a relationship before expecting someone to give you their time.

There are too many channels.

Email is just one channel for communication. Let’s look at the number of communication channels in my life for perspective.

  • 2 x Slack groups for writing.
  • WhatsApp for work. WhatsApp for personal.
  • Signal for extended family.
  • WeChat for in-laws.
  • Facebook Messenger for high school friends.
  • LinkedIn for business.
  • Telegram for LinkedIn friends.
  • Work phone calls. Personal phone calls. (Two different phones.)
  • 3 x personal emails — public, private, and a gmail to make Google work.
  • 1 x work email address.
  • Work SMS. Personal SMS.

Are you exhausted yet? There is a channel for every type of person I interact with. All channels have notifications that want to dominate my life with their little red bubbles of urgency goodness.

So when you send an email, think about how many other channels that same person has to maintain. Even minimalists have at least one email address and a form of direct message on social media.

First emails rarely get followed up.

Here’s some stats for you:

Out of all the emails I’ve received in the last 12 months, with asks attached to them, only three people bothered to send a second email to follow up.

The response to your email is found in your second, third, and fourth follow-ups. This took me ten years in sales to learn.

No reply is easier than typing.

Think about how easy life is with email when you don’t reply.

The reason not replying to email is a huge trend is because to type a response takes time and energy. It’s easier to open an email, smile, and then close it again without ever typing a word.

The key is to write an email so good that it commands a reply.


6 Quick Tips for Writing Email like a Pro

  • Get to the freaking point.
  • Don’t go beyond three paragraphs. Aim to have each paragraph contain no more than three sentences.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person you want to open your email.
  • Be humble.
  • Be confident in what you’re saying.
  • Don’t apologize or say sorry for taking up someone’s time. It sounds weak.

Many people you interact with are subtly not replying to emails as an art form and not even realizing it. Not replying to emails didn’t become trendy because Justin Bieber made it fashionable in a pop song.

Not replying to email has become a survival mechanism.

If people are not replying to your emails there are plenty of reasons why. Understand why your email didn’t get a response and then get creative. The most creative way to get a response to an email is to get somebody who knows the person you’re trying to reach to do an introduction. Another tactic I use is to put in the subject line “Keanu Reeves suggested I reach out.”

Obviously, you can replace Keanu’s name with a mutual connection so it has relevance. (Lying about your fake friendship with Keanu won’t help you communicate like a pro.)

You get a response to your emails when you understand the context of the person you’re emailing. It’s not about you and your email.

Tim Denning
Tim is a thought leader in the personal development, entrepreneur and startup fields.Outside of blogging, Tim works for a large organisation helping fast moving technology companies come to Australia as well as helping Australian tech companies go to the world.

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