Your email inbox has dozens of messages when you open it on Monday morning. You prioritize which messages you should read first, and then answer each one appropriately, if at all. How long can you wait to answer an email? It depends on several factors.
When you reply to a message in this category, you respond to it immediately. Answer an email straightaway if the person who sent the email tells you to do so. If your boss or future hiring manager says, "I'd love to see your response by 3 p.m. this afternoon" or "I need something ASAP," you have an idea of when a response is appropriate.
Respond to an email soon if it's from an important person. These people might be your supervisor, a recruiter trying to find you a job, a business executive or a customer with a dilemma.
Your manager or a customer may have an urgent matter for you to attend to, and you can't wait. These things come up, even though they are annoying and get in the way of your normal schedule. Urgency means immediacy when it comes to how long to wait to answer an email.
Wait Until Tomorrow
It's 4:59 p.m. and you're about to head out the door when you get an email alert on your smartphone. The person on the other end is probably headed home soon, too. You can probably wait until tomorrow morning because the other person may not see your reply until tomorrow anyway.
If you need time to sleep on an important decision, respond the next day. There's no harm in asking your boss or a recruiter "Can I get back to you in 24 hours?" Waiting a day gives you time to think about the situation or calm down if it's an emotional issue before giving a professional response.
Give It More Time
Answer an email after more than a day when the response requires more thought. Maybe it's a complicated issue and you need more time to craft something. Perhaps the response is a report that's due and you want to make sure you get it in tip-top shape or consult with others first. You can always be polite and courteous by making a quick reply. Sound genuine when you send an email immediately that simply says, "Could I please have some more time find to the correct information before getting back to you?" Waiting to fully respond to an email may make you look good because you've given more thought to a response.
If you're out of the office for any length of time, make sure to set up an auto-respond message letting the person know when you expect to be back. That way, the person doesn't expect a response right away and you can answer an email when you return to work.
How long can you wait to answer an email when your inbox is filled every morning? Prioritize your responses based on your most immediate needs, including those of your boss or customers and anyone responding to your job search inquiries, to determine a timeline.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net