When Is Too Late to Send a Text or Email?

And other essential texting and email etiquette everyone should know.

young woman using smart phone at home. Smiling african american woman using smartphone to text
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The ability to text or email someone inevitably makes life a lot easier. You can quickly communicate about that meeting or the school pickup schedule without having to hope you catch the person when they're able to talk. Unfortunately, these quick, casual forms of communication can also complicate things.

"The trouble with texting and email communication is that none of us have received training in texting or email etiquette. And people don't come with instruction manuals," says Scott Steinberg, author of Netiquette Essentials: New Rules For Minding Your Manners in a Digital World and The Business Etiquette Bible.

Here are some tips to ensure that you've got your texting and email etiquette nailed down.

When is it okay to send a text or an email?

"As a general rule, you shouldn't text somebody after 9 p.m. It may be seen as an intrusion of privacy, or they may feel you're inserting a sense of urgency that doesn't need to be there. As for the morning, if school hasn't started and you wouldn't expect the person to be at work, it's best to wait. Or, if you send the message, expect that you may not get a response right away," Steinberg says.

He notes that this applies to both co-workers and loved ones, though you may have to break this rule for a time sensitive or urgent situation. Keep in mind that the reception to your after-hours messages will also depend on the person. For example, your sister is probably much more open to hearing from you at night than your co-worker would be.

It's okay to (nicely) set boundaries.

If you've been trying to spend some more time away from your devices, it's perfectly fine to let people know this. You might create an email signature that explains when you check your messages and approximately how long it will take you to respond to incoming emails.

However, Diane Gottsman, an international etiquette expert and the founder of The Protocol School of Texas, advises making sure that the message you're conveying is "pleasant, respectful, and doesn't sound punitive."

Steinberg says you can also simply mirror the behavior you'd like the other person to adopt. If that means not texting after 9 or not replying to emails on the weekend, you can illustrate this subtly by adhering to these rules yourself.

How prompt should you be when texting and emailing?

Gottsman says work messages should be responded to within that same eight-hour day. "Even if your reply is 'I received your message and am getting more information for you and will get back to you.'"

With family and friends, there's a little more leeway, though within 24 hours is ideal, she says.

What do you do if you forget to respond to a text or email?

We've all had those moments where a text or an email came through and we forgot to respond. If this happens, Gottsman encourages you to be upfront as soon as possible.

"You can say something like, 'I'm so sorry for the delay, I had a lapse.' This is a more authentic apology than trying to blame the error on a busy schedule," she says.

Keep in mind that if you forget to reply to a message, the other person may begin to create a story in their mind about your lack of response, imagining some lingering resentment that they didn't know was brewing. Being direct about your forgetfulness helps to clarify the root cause of the silence.

By being intentional with your texting and email correspondence, you eliminate any worry or doubt about the kind of communication you're having with the people in your life.

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