We’re all too familiar with the sorry for the late response email.
We sometimes struggle with time management when we have a super busy schedule —we’re human, and we fall behind. Or we thought about our response for longer than we planned to. Or we just didn't see it in our overcrowded inboxes.
Saying sorry about your lateness is nice, but it’s important to recognize when you actually need to apologize. Does responding a few days late always warrant an apology? No. Does responding a few weeks late about a project with a deadline warrant an apology? Sure. But if your email isn’t time-sensitive (for example, scheduling a time to catch up with an old coworker), skip the apology and get to the point.
If that sounds impossible - we like to apologize, don't we? - here are eight different phrases to try next time you feel the need to "sorry" someone.
Read more: Why (and How) I Stopped Apologizing at Work
Alternatives to sorry for the late response: be positive
Thank you for your patience
This reply puts a positive spin on the situation. Instead of making excuses, thank the other person for not ripping your head off for a delayed response.
Lunch on me for the delayed response!
Offer lunch instead of apologizing if you’re replying to a colleague you’re close with. Who wouldn’t prefer food anyway?
Huge props to you for always staying on top of emails!
Compliment them on always responding promptly and say you’ll try to learn from their good example. This response could come off as passive aggressive, so make sure you’re using it with someone you have a good rapport.
Alternatives to sorry for the late response: be honest
I’ve been working on x / I’ve been out of the office
Give a little insight into why you're sending a late reply—maybe you were working on a huge end-of-quarter project and simply had to put your inbox on hold.
I spent some time thinking about a response and…
If their email required a thoughtful response and you responded late, explain that you wanted to take some time to think over your answer.
I’d hoped to respond sooner, but…
You had good intentions to respond quickly, but time just slipped through your hands. They’ll understand.
I was looking through my drafts, and I realized I never sent this
Often, responding late to an email is truly a mistake. You thought you’d hit send, but the email set up a home in your drafts. Facepalm.
Alternatives to sorry for the late response: be unbothered about apologies
Say nothing at all
Just write your response as you normally would—no apologies, no excuses.
Remember when you look at your inbox today: You don't have to jump to "sorry" when you're replying late!
How to avoid a late apology email altogether
There are some email options you have to let people know you're busy and won't be able to respond anytime soon.
Set up auto replies
Write a response that goes out to everyone or just certain contacts letting them know you're away, or working on a project, or not checking emails for a few days/often. That'll let them know not to expect a quick answer.
Organize/categorize emails so they don't get lost
Set up emails to go into certain folders based on the sender, so you can check for any high-priority messages from your boss or most important clients.
Mark messages as "unread" so you remember to respond
If the distinction helps you return to the message before too much time goes by, use it so the emails you need to reply to stand out in your inbox from the "noise."
Leave time every day to respond
If you have the discipline for it, set aside a certain time every day to go through your inbox and respond to anything time-sensitive or anything you don't want to forget about.
Read more: How to Grow When You Have Nowhere to Go