Is Emailing ‘Just Checking In’ Really That Bad? 

Is Emailing ‘Just Checking In’ Really That Bad? 
Image: 20th Century Fox

In work and in life, I love a script. If a repetitive type of interaction is part of your life — making a certain kind of small talk, having to send the same type of email with some frequency, making daily phone calls to clients or vendors or sources — why bother wasting mental energy coming up with fresh material every time, when you have a go-to line that you know does the trick to, say, get a long-winded person off the phone? Or effectively explain to people at a party exactly what it is that you do?

I once worked for a man who sent the exact same gifts to every client for every occasion, and whose emails were so uniform and curt, they could have been written by a bot. At first I found it bizarre, but I came to appreciate it for what it was: a masterful stroke of efficiency, not to mention a tactic for heading off confusing or potentially uncomfortable interactions at the pass.

Literally Email Like A Boss

If you're buried under unanswered email, and find yourself constantly starting your replies with "Sorry for the delay," do what BuzzFeed reporter and creative miscreant Katie Notopoulos did. Answer your emails right away, with just a couple of words. She calls it "emailing like a CEO", the same phrase used in a 2001 New York Times piece about how high-tier executives tend to send terse, misspelled emails.

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Obviously there are limits here — some phrases are known scourges (“Nice to e-meet you!” “Making sure you saw this?”) and need to be excised from our collective cultural vocabulary immediately.

But, I did not think “just checking in” was one of them. And I felt personally attacked by this recent piece on Money that recommended doing all kinds of rhetorical backflips to avoid “just checking in” at all costs. The piece ignited a furious Slack debate among the Lifehacker staff over whether it’s passive-aggressive or merely efficient to “just check in.”

More to the point, if it’s so terrible, what would you use in its place? A rambling explanation as to why you’re emailing again? “Wanted to check this status of this”? (I’ve been known to use that one, but it feels notably more aggressive.)

If you have alternative options that are somehow less irritating, by all means, leave ’em the comments. Or to put it another way: Please advise.

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