What is email guilt and what to do about it?

What is email guilt and what to do about it?

One big phenomenon that I notice when people have to deal with email is email guilt. To be honest, even I used to suffer from email guilt. So, let’s look at what guilt is and how it can cripple your email efficiency.

Guilt occurs when you feel that you violated your moral standards. Guilt can be a useful feeling, until it escalates out of proportion and becomes overactive. Many people suffer from an overactive conscience or false guilt.

False guilt always looks for people to please and rules to keep. You won’t believe it, but false guilt can also be shown when it comes to email.

For example, you might feel guilty if you don’t reply to every one of your emails. The underlying beliefs behind such behavior are, for example: “People won’t see me as a good person if I don’t reply to every email” or “I’m a terrible person if I don’t provide a reply to everyone who wrote to me”, and so on.

But does that really make sense?

You know what, your job is to reply only to the emails of people you really care about. The ideas, projects and offers that are aligned with your own goals, your True North. To all other emails, you can simply reply with a template explaining you’re not interested, or you even don’t reply at all. It’s no big deal.

If you wrote an email to Elon Musk, and he would not reply to you, would you think he’s a bad person? Or that he’s an asshole? Or is it maybe obvious that he’s a busy guy, designing rockets and electric cars. And maybe that’s the real reason why he can’t reply to every email. It’s not very far away from how you should perceive yourself.

You want to be busy with creating and delivering value, and living life, not replying to emails all day. You want to really impact people’s lives by spending quality time with them, creating new awesome things in collaboration, playing and solving problems. You don’t want your life to slip away just because you feel guilty if you don’t reply to every one of your emails.

You should absolutely be and always stay a good, kind, and awesome person. I’m the first one to sign that. But your time is worth much more than money. And you’re not giving your money to just about anyone who asks. It’s the same with your time, attention and email.

You have to focus your resources on real progress in life. There are many better ways to do good to humanity, and there are many better ways to be a good person than answering every one of your emails.

So, put your false guilt in check. Set a very reasonable standard for which emails you:

  • will take the time to write a proper and formal answer,
  • which emails you can simply answer with a template and that’s more than good enough,
  • and which emails you can simply ignore.

If you clarify your standards once and for all, you will put false guilt to ease.

As we mentioned, guilt comes from believing you’re not meeting your standards, so you need to clarify standards to yourself in a way that they make sense. What might also help ease the guilt is to publicly announce which emails you provide a reply to and which you don’t –on your social networks or blog, for example.

Now close that email client and start living life; except in some cases when e-mail is the actual work.