It’s not that I don’t like you…
This is written from my perspective as a B-level political columnist, but it also applies to many types of people, including actors, politicians and super successful people in business. One of my writers recently griped to me about having no success getting ahold of a top conservative columnist. He’d emailed, mailed, faxed and tweeted the guy, to no avail. He had some great ideas to share with the writer. He became annoyed that the famous columnist would not respond to him.
Here’s what he doesn’t understand. Some of us put ourselves in places due to our hobbies and careers where we receive so many emails and other types of communications that we are utterly overwhelmed. Most of us writers do it as a hobby on top of our regular full-time jobs. We aren’t getting paid to review feedback. We don’t have assistants to review our email; nobody reads my email except me.
I get hundreds of emails a day and categorize them in order of importance this way (not including work emails which I address during work hours): 1) family, 2) close friends, 3) issues related to my website, such as emails from my writers or emails about advertising, 4) extra opportunities to help my career. I usually end up skipping most of the items in category (4) because I run out of time. Notice there is no category (5) for helping people. There simply isn’t any extra time, I get so many requests to help people just through my family and close friends, that takes up a significant amount of time (this was my latest venture). I would love to help more people, but I have always struggled with money due to humongous law school loans, and am forced to spend most weekends writing to make extra money.
You may see people like me posting on Facebook or Twitter and think, “if they’ve got all that time to goof off on social media, they’ve got time to send a 30-second response to my email.” Well, it doesn’t work that way. By the time I’ve responded to 50 non-work related emails halfway through the day, I’m frankly burned out on responding to emails. But I still have 100 more to respond to all day long at work, and many of those come to me on Facebook. I post on Facebook and Twitter to give myself a break from emails, plus it also benefits me in many social media ways (one publication that pays me to write for them will offer me writing gigs based on my tweets).
You may have some brilliant ideas, or some very worthy cause that desperately needs a famous person to promote it. But so do a million other people. One person bombarded by emails cannot possibly go through them all and weigh all the merits of each and figure out that your email is worth responding to. I have four children, a husband, parents who need my care, and health and legal problems due to this. If you knew how many hours I need to sleep at night, you would wonder how I even function. I developed eyestrain this past year from looking at my smartphone too much. I have less influence than the big-name conservatives; even if I could help promote your cause, it probably wouldn’t have the effect you are hoping for.
The same goes for other methods of communication, including phone calls. After being on the phone for hours at work, the last thing you want to do is talk more on the phone. Especially if – and you know who you are – you are the type of person who likes to keep someone on the phone for a long time, not giving them a chance to hang up until you’ve chatted at them for half an hour or more. Phone calls will kill the precious spare time you have when you work full time and in addition have weekend writing obligations.
So please don’t get mad when someone like me, or someone much more well-known, doesn’t respond to your email. It’s not because they’re rude. It’s because they can’t physically handle it, nothing more than that. Email is a double-edged sword. In one way it has made our lives so much easier in terms of contacting people. On the other hand, it has created this huge new area of guilt because it’s impossible to respond to everyone.