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How to buy yourself more time to respond to emails


Editor's note: This story was updated on October 4, 2017.

If achieving inbox zero seems like an impossible feat to you, try these simple tricks to help you reply to emails within a timely 24-hour window.

Sara McCord, a career advice columnist for The Muse, explains that she has had great success replying to emails within a day by using a short response that acknowledges the message—and lets the sender know she will reply in full later. 

"Skip a half-thought-out or rushed reply and pick a line that'll buy you some time," McCord says. "It'll make your contact feel like you really care, and it'll allow you to take the time you need to do good work."

The next time you're crunched for time, try one of these lines that will let you follow up later with a more polished response:

1. "I'll follow up with you in about X amount of time"

Don't keep people waiting for a perfectly crafted email. Instead, shoot off a quick note to let them know when they can expect you to respond. McCord notes that it's always best to under-promise and over-deliver: If you say you'll get back to your contact in a week, aim for responding a few days early.

2. "I'm coming up on a deadline."

People will be much more empathetic to a delayed response if they know what you're dealing with. Saying that you have a looming deadline is a valid excuse, and one that people respect. In fact, people are likely to be appreciative that you would even check in with them when you're so pressed for time.

3. "Let me run this by my colleague who is currently out of the office."

Sometimes it's impossible to give someone definitive information if those involved in the decision-making process aren't available to comment. If your response requires you to obtain internal feedback or approval, just tell your contact to hang tight until you can get the OK to move forward (McCord, The Muse, 8/31).

How to be an inbox ninja

How to be an inbox ninja

Ever struggled to write a concise, action-oriented email that effectively conveys your message? You're not alone—many otherwise high-performing professionals still struggle with using email to accomplish their goals.

So, what does it take to be an inbox ninja? Check out our infographic to get best practices for email-specific writing and email management. You'll also find tips for email formatting, scripting, and structure, plus approaches to collaboration and decision-making over email.

Download the Infographic

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