Nagless Reminders — Get the Recipient to Respond On Time and Cut Through their Email Overload

ReminderHave you ever had to repeatedly nag someone to deliver on a commitment? What if it’s a commitment that is voluntary, i.e. you’re not the other person’s boss, and you cannot force them to do it? The classic case is trying to get your own boss to deliver on a commitment s/he made to you.

Imagine that you have asked David to review a report, and that he has responded by committing to a self-imposed deadline:

“I’m extremely busy right now, but I’ll have time to review your report on Monday.”

Where do you think your request will be at the beginning of next week? Like many managers, David suffers from chronic email overload, so by Monday it will probably be buried under a few hundred emails in his overflowing inbox. There’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell that he’ll see it and be reminded that he committed to send his feedback.

You will therefore need to remind David of his commitment. But if you become too much of a nuisance, David might not deliver. So, how do you remind him in a nice way, without becoming too much of a nag?

All you need to do is say, “Thanks!”

However, it’s not what you say, it’s when you say it. Don’t reply to David’s message until the time arrives when he promised to work on it.

On Monday, your reply will arrive in David’s inbox, and will subtly remind him of his commitment at exactly the time that he planned to work on it:

“Thanks, David. today will be just in time to fix the document up before the final draft is due. I await your comments eagerly.”

I have used this tactic on many occasions, and have found it very successful. Sometimes you need to help those around you to be a little more productive!


29 responses to “Nagless Reminders — Get the Recipient to Respond On Time and Cut Through their Email Overload

  1. Ohhhh I gotta try this! I think I’ve done it unknowingly before, without knowing *why* it works. Nice one, I found out about this from Lifehacker. :o)

  2. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

    It’s my way of saying, “If you need anything else from me, tell me. Otherwise, get it done.”

    It’s all about timing, just like you said.

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  5. Excellent idea.
    For sure I am going to try this.

  6. What do you do when people completely blow you off, like they don’t even have an email account. Or they have their admin print the stupid thing so they can read it on paper and they don’t bother to follow up again online? Short of a good pistol whipping, I still haven’t figured this one out.

  7. I just happened to wander in here, reading the article that asks the question about “what to do when someone doesn’t honor their commitment?”

    Seems to me that email “overload” has nothing to do with it. If a person makes a commitment to do something and they don’t do it, then, obviously they are people that simply cannot be counted on, and act accordingly. That’s plain rudeness.

    I’m a software consultant and have been successful at it for just about 20 years. One of the ways I’ve done that is by being out front with people and doing what I say I’ll do.

  8. Neal, if only more people were like you. The average information worker over-commits and under-delivers.

    The sad fact is that many highly educated people have not been taught the basic skills of how to manage time and commitments, and they are terribly inefficient because of it.

  9. madamemuffled

    This seems so logical, yet I’ve never thought of it!
    Thanks for the tip!

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  11. Well, I’ve done that and then have been accused of waiting for the last minute to remind someone. Face it, there is no way to win when having to remind people to do their jobs properly. If the proper work ethic is not in their genetic makeup, ANY reminder, whether it is kind, sweet, understanding, on the proper day, or the day before, or the day afer, is going to be considered nagging at best, and harrassment at worst.

    Been there, done that! Nice try though.

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  13. Great tip.

    I’ve got 2 people at work that I can’t wait to try this out on! I look forward to your next tip.


  14. Wow, what an excellent idea; I can’t wait to try it.

    I’d like to add one tip for Outlook users: You can save yourself the hassle of having to remember when to send the “thanks” note by replying immediately and setting a specific date and time for your message to be sent.

    After you compose your message, click the Options button on the toolbar. Under “Delivery options,” click the “Do not deliver before” box and choose a date and time. Click close and address and send e-mail normally.

    After you click the “Send” button, Outlook puts your mail into its Outbox. It will sit there until the time and date specified and, if Outlook is running, be sent normally. If Outlook isn’t running, it will sit there until the next time Outlook is launched.

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  16. Great little trick! You can make you reply now and use the Outlook Option: do not send before… and use the exact date/time to send the message.

    You can also add a flag to your message (flag-icon) before sending and use a reminder date. This will then pop-up at the receivers end!! Little known secret, removed in Office 2007.

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  21. Timing is everything in email. This should be a good trick to remember.


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  23. Showing appreciation and showing the person that they are important to the success of the project – it is a wonderful tip. You could add the reason that their response is appreciated so that it holds more credibility. For instance, if you said “Ralph, thanks for your comments on this marketing letter – your command of the English language along with your quick wit will make it produce more hits on our website. I’m looking forward to your input. Vicki” Just make sure it is sincere and you’ll develop a relationship that wont require any nagging at all.

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  27. Just found this and love it. This is equal to saying: “That’s an idea” when the idea might be awful and you still want to keep the conversation going. Will pass this on in my blog, SpeakerSueSays. Thanks!

  28. Speaking of time, here is an excerpt from the article “How to Become More Time Conscious”, the life design online journal-

    “How to Become More Time Conscious”

    “Everybody thinks they’re working hard-yet most people actually only use 60% or less of their available work time. In a Microsoft study done in 2005, more than 38,000 people in 200 countries were asked about their individual productivity. It turned out that though they were arriving at work five days a week, they were only usefully using three days.”

  29. Pingback: Secrets of getting recipients to respond, on time « Welcu

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