I know what it’s like to have a student email me at 12:17 AM with a question about an essay due that same day at 9:30 AM, and then they complain that I was unresponsive. I know what it’s like to have a colleague call my office and leave a voicemail on Friday after 5:00 PM asking me to take care of something before a workshop set to start the next day at 8:30 AM (a workshop I am only supposed to attend and not help coordinate), and then they express shock that I chose to walk from the parking lot to the workshop and bypass my office, missing their request entirely. In such cases, I no longer feel bad.Count me in on the "reliably unreliable" club, Nels. First of all, the student is going to complain if you respond at any time later than 12:18, because a student writing at that hour wants an answer now, so it's pointless to indulge that kind of behavior, unless you're awake and feel like answering. And if a colleague leaves a message on an office voicemail over the weekend and expects an answer (voicemail? really?) before the weekend is over, an "Are you serious?" is the best response he or she can expect.
Why wouldn't you answer an email right away, if you've read it?
- Because it teaches everyone (not just students) unrealistic expectations about instantaneous responses. It's not always, or even mostly, students who demand this kind of attention.
- Because if, say, someone in your department has initiated some kind of discussion over the weekend, then you're hooked into the conversation: if you give them one response, they'll want you to continue to engage in the discussion. There is no departmental discussion so gripping that it can't wait until Monday, and if there is, you don't want to be part of it. No good will come of it.
- Because you ought at least to pretend that you have a life and are not hanging out waiting for people to shovel work into your lap on the weekend.
Please note that if your e-mail is more than three (3) sentences in length I have read the first three (3) sentences, skimmed the opening paragraph, and sort of eyeballed the rest of it. Please do not expect a response to your e-mail anytime soon, if at all, for I am not a mind reader, and therefore cannot guess the nature of anything beyond the first three (3) sentences.For me, it depends on a few things, though not all at once:
- Is it short enough to answer quickly? Is it going to require that I look something up or otherwise compose something more elaborate than a sentence or two?
- Is it going to nag at the back of my mind if I don't answer it? Is it faster to answer the email than to think about it? (Zeigarnik effect: if you take care of it, you can forget it faster.)
- Do I get to check something off my to-do list by answering it?
- Is it respectfully phrased, logical, etc.? If it shows that the writer has an attitude problem (rudeness), then it goes to the bottom of the pile for response when I get around to it, which will probably be never.