I can't remember the last time I clicked plain old Send on an email. And it's not because I'm neglecting my inbox—I'm actually at inbox zero and have very strong opinions about emailing people back. It's because I schedule almost all my emails.
Why you should schedule emails for later
Of course, there are times when scheduling an email to send later doesn't make sense. If you're trying to close a deal or come to a quick decision about something over email, you can happily click Send in the moment.
But if your email or reply isn't super time-sensitive, consider scheduling it for later. Here's why.
1. It gives you time to change your mind
Past me used the Undo send feature in Gmail all the time. But that only gives me a few seconds to realize I've sent the wrong information or didn't include the necessary attachment or forgot to cc the person I said I'd cc'ed or fix any other how-does-this-always-happen mistake I made. Even scheduling your emails to send five or 10 minutes from now can help prevent that nonsense.
But it also works for bigger picture things.
Think about the coin flip effect. (Did I invent this phenomenon? I hope so.) You can't decide about something, so you flip a coin. The moment the coin lands—regardless of how it lands—your gut will tell you which outcome you'd been hoping for.
Clicking Send on an email has the same effect. Let's say you're not sure if you want to speak at a webinar that someone asked you to do. To help you get clarity, respond to the email (either yes or no—doesn't matter), and click Schedule send. You'll either feel a sense of relief or a sense of dread. You now know your answer.
The difference between this tactic and just "sleeping on it" or writing it as a draft is that it feels more like a real decision. You have a deadline: that email will send at the scheduled time unless you actively change it.
2. You can work whatever hours you want
I often time shift, working an hour at night, for example, because I went to my kid's school sing-along during the day or just decided I needed a long break for an iced mocha. (The joys of flexible work hours.) That means that sometimes I'm sending emails at 9 p.m. my time. And if people know where I'm located, that's not always great. Here's why:
It could make people think my company isn't a good place to work (which is the opposite of the point; I'm working those hours because of Zapier's flexible work policies).
No one wants to picture a semi-stranger working on their couch in their pajamas with Survivor reruns on in the background. Which is clearly what's happening if I'm online at 9 p.m.
The recipient might think that I always work at that time, which sets a bad precedent, leading them to expect responses from me at all hours.
If I schedule those 9 p.m. emails for 9 a.m. the next morning, problem solved.
3. You can respond to people immediately
Imagine you send someone an email asking their opinion on something small, and 10 minutes later, you have a response with their opinion. Ten minutes is a decent amount of time to think about something small, do some quick research, and write back (especially if you follow my five-minute email rule). But your first reaction is going to be: wow, they didn't really think about that enough.
If the person took the exact same amount of time, but the email showed up in your inbox six hours later, or even the next day, you'd think they'd put more thought into it. They didn't—but perception is reality.
Especially if you batch your email, you're bound to see some messages the instant they come in. Responding right away is sometimes helpful for the recipient, but usually, a delay is the way to go—it'll make the person feel better about the thoughtfulness and intentionality of the response.
4. You'll have less email stress
Email stress is the main reason I schedule emails for later. And in this case, "later" isn't some fuzzy amount of time—it's a really specific time when I know I'm ready for the recipient to read the email. That time is decidedly not at the end of my workday or in the last hours before my weekend.
Example: it's 4 p.m. on a Friday, and I'm sending an email that I know the recipient won't be thrilled about (e.g., telling a freelancer that their work needs a ton of revisions). I have a feeling I'll get either a lot of questions or an unhappy response. If the person is at their desk when I send the email, they might read it right away—at 4 p.m. on a Friday. So then:
I've ruined their weekend.
I've ruined my weekend because I'm stressed about how they'll react.
I've further ruined my weekend because I keep checking my work email just in case, hoping they wrote back in a totally understanding way.
If they did write back, I either have to leave them hanging until Monday morning or work on the weekend in order to respond promptly.
But equally as annoying is not writing that email even though it's on my mind. It's one more thing I didn't check off my to-do list, I don't have inbox zero going into the weekend, and I have an emotionally stressful task waiting for me on Monday morning.
By scheduling the send, all of that is avoided.
It's not only helpful for those kinds of bad-news emails, though. Maybe you just want to schedule an email for after someone's back from vacation, so you don't clog their inbox; maybe you want to send someone a link to new content, but the link won't be live until after you're offline; there are a lot of reasons to do this. Whatever the reason, it means you get to check emails off your to-do list when you're ready to write them—even if the recipient isn't ready to get them.
A few email scheduling caveats
Scheduling emails only takes a few clicks in most email clients, but you'll want to finesse the practice.
Schedule the email for a random time. If people keep getting emails from you at 1 p.m. on the dot every day (Gmail's suggested send time), it might become obvious what's happening. So schedule your email to go out at a slightly more random time—follow your heart.
Unschedule the message if you change your mind. As you get started, it's easy to confuse the Schedule send feature with a Drafts feature. Your email is going to get sent if you don't do anything about it, so if you change your mind or need to add or remove something from the email, do it before the scheduled time.
Remember that "tomorrow" might not mean tomorrow. If you use time-based language, make sure it's lined up with the scheduled email time. I recommend removing "today," "tomorrow," and terms like that from your email lexicon entirely and using exact dates instead.
Email is already asynchronous, so why not use that to your advantage? If you're ready to start delaying your emails, here's how to schedule an email in Gmail.