Reader Q&A: Should I Respond to One-off Tasks Quickly?

Q: I read your post about how to implement your Day-to-Day Motivations framework and have a question. One of the examples you cite is about holding off on responding to emails that would benefit from taking more time, and I definitely agree with your proposed handling of the example you used. I also recognize that ideally I wouldn’t get distracted by email alerts and other one-off pings, but obviously it’s hard to avoid.

I’ve read some strategies about immediately handling emails and other tasks if they will require under two minutes to tackle, rather than letting them pile up, add to your mental load, or have to be re-opened and reconsidered later. What do you think of those approaches? Do you recommend quick responses in these instances, or is it better to wait?


A: Thanks for your question, it’s a great one! As you’ve pointed out, tackling emails that need less than two minutes to consider and respond to is indeed a good strategy. The main question is if they really require just two minutes, or if they actually require more thought.

We’ve seen that in general, emails or texts requiring two minutes or less tend to be acknowledging in nature — you already decided on something some time back, and have a very clear sense of what needs to happen; perhaps someone is sending you a status update, or asking you a very cut-and-dry question based on something you’re sure about. In these cases, you should go ahead and send your response right away.

Another type of communication you can respond to quickly are of a quotidian nature — for example, confirming that you will make an appointment or sending off a quick message to a family member to ask after them (although you may also want to take more time for the latter in some cases!).

Otherwise, it might be best if you take more time to respond, especially if the responses will have some impact on future decisions. (See Jeff Bezos’ decision types.)

We hope this helps — Please let us know how this strategy works out for you!

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