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Image of a fire alarmOn some days, I check email all day long. Other days, I may only check it a couple of times, especially if I've got several client appointments or am working on intensive projects.

When I mention that I sometimes only check email once or twice a day, people say, “What about emergencies?!”

The answer is that I worry about email emergencies a lot less than I used to… mostly because they usually don't happen.

“Emergencies” are rare. Very rare.

People label as an emergency anything from not wanting to wait more than 5 minutes for an autoresponder to arrive* to forgetting their password to access a forum** to wanting me to tell them what phone number they should use to call a teleseminar when that number was actually in the email to which they were responding***.

* I once received an email whose subject was “URGENT EMERGENCY NEED RESPONSE” and it turned out that all the sender wanted was to download a freebie .pdf without waiting for the automatically-generated email to arrive. And no, that pdf did not contain life-saving techniques. And yes, they autoresponder was sent… about 2 minutes later.

** Inconvenience is not the same thing as an emergency. I promise. It really isn't.

*** Email is too reflexive.

Genuine emergencies come about extremely infrequently. And when they happen, there's still Twitter Direct Messages or–gasp! old school!–the phone to fall back on.

Emergencies require few words.

If there's an emergency, a Twitter DM will be ample. You can say, “Site down! Call me at 555-xxx-xxxx!” or “Credit card charge system going haywire & charging people 10x normal rates! Help!” and have plenty of characters to spare. You can call me & tell me in under a minute what the emergency is.

If you have to get wordy with your explanation or request, odds are it's not an actual emergency.

Think about it: how many true emergency situations really require more than 140 characters or more than 60 seconds? Fire! Fallen and I can't get up! Pinned by circus elephant! Out of coffee! All real emergencies, all very brief.

It's probably not an emergency.

99% of all “But what about…?” questions can be answered with this. Impatience, inconvenience, and preference are all distinct from urgent. If neither your health nor your livelihood are in jeopardy, it's probably not an emergency.

And if it's not an emergency, it can probably very safely wait until tomorrow (or the next day).