You can’t recall an email

LifeHacker has this tip on how to recall an email.

As much as I feel the pain and understand the need for such functionality, I have to warn you against using it. The nature of the email is such that you can’t recall an email. What’s sent is sent. There are rare exceptions when it works as advertised, but in most cases it doesn’t. And the reason for that is – you don’t know what email client the other party uses.

Wonder, what happens when you recall a message from someone who doesn’t use MS Outlook 2003? I’ll tell you. The person gets another email, saying that you want to recall that last message you sent. And you look silly, if not annoying.

Even if the other party uses MS Outlook 2003, you still have a chance to be annoying. The thing is that you can recall only those emails that haven’t been read. But many people look through their inbox before reading every email in detail. So, imagine, they look throught their inbox, see a message from you with an important subject (you do use subjects, don’t you?) and plan their actions accordingly. First, they go through some other messages and then come back to yours. But yours isn’t there anymore. How does the person feel? Confused and annoyed at the very least. Where’s that message? What’s going on? Oh, c’mon!

Instead of recalling emails and hoping that it works, I suggest another way. Assume that recalling doesn’t work and behave accordingly. This assumption will help you spend a bit more time writing and checking your message. And if you do make a mistake (we all do), just send a follow-up message with a short apology and the part you forgot to include. That will work much better, I promise you.

11 thoughts on “You can’t recall an email”


  1. Gee, whenever I get a recall, I view it as a sure-fire indicator that I OUGHT to read that message, so I can see what they wanted me to not see :)


  2. I and my team have developed a web service called YankBack http://www.yankback.com which offers subscribers a sort of safety valve for getting an email back after it’s been sent. The site allows you to recall an email after it’s sent according to a timer which the user sets — The default is 3 minutes but it can be changed according to user preferences. The service works with most email clients and now has an auto install feature to modify smtp settings. It can be a real life saver for those times when you hit the send button and know you’ve just made a terrible mistake like replying when you meant to forward.


  3. To recall a mail you don’t need any program.
    Just from Outlook:

    Do the following:

    1. In Mail, in the Navigation Pane, click Sent Items.

    2. Open the message you want to recall or replace.

    3. On the Actions menu, click Recall This Message.

    4. Click Delete unread copies and replace with a new message.

    Note If you are sending the message to a large number of people, you may want to consider clearing the Tell me if recall succeeds or fails for each recipient check box.

    5. Click OK, and then type a new message and include the attachment.

    6. Click Send.


  4. Veru,

    as I said, this only works for people who use Exchange/Outlook. I don’t use neither of them. So if you send me a message and will try to recall it, you are out of luck. I already have the message that you sent originally. And now I also have an email that tells me that you wanted to recall this email.

    This creates a duality and unpredictability of the situation. If you send an email to a few people at once, and then recall it, some of these people will end up without the message in the Inbox, and will never know that you sent one. Other people will end up with two emails, and will not know only that you sent them something, but that you wanted to get it back somehow.

    The bottom line is : you can’t recall an email. :)


  5. I agree, Leonid. Take more time to be careful. Lotus/Domino has a recall feature as well; I have seen it work correctly maybe one or twice. It is too hard to recall.

    We find the more insidious problem, even for careful typists, is the autocompletion of senders froma contact list. This is an awful feature. I summarized the discussion on a blog entry about the recent Eli Lilly case where a lawyer mailed a confidential brief to a reporter at the NYTimes with the same last name as the intended lawyer. Ouch. http://www.emailtide.com/...ig.....il-street/

    We deal with enterprise customers a lot and recently summarized 6 best practices we wish senders would follow to make IT’s life a lot easier. Sending moderately sized email to huge audiences or using Reply-to-All are big no-nos in large environments. Still people manage to do it all the time. Take a little care, folks!

    Regards,
    Ken Gartner


  6. We’ve all done it… Hit Reply All with some witty follow up which was never intended for the whole damn office to read

    As that has caused me much embarrasment the couple of times I have done it – I moved my Reply All button right to the end of the toolbar. Of course this only saves me from trigger-happy clickign in the office… but thats the only place I need to be saved.


  7. I feel very tempted to mail a link to this post to my whole workplace. People here send a lot of e-mails to the whole list, and recall them on a daily basis, almost always for futilities like forgetting a comma or a dot, or for omitting some extra information. As I’m using Thunderbird, it annoys the daylight out of me.
    On the other hand, doing so might offend people so I might have to to recall it ;)

    “And if you do make a mistake (we all do), just send a follow-up message with a short apology and the part you forgot to include. That will work much better, I promise you.”
    Amen to that!


  8. Still, it might be a good idea if they make a new E-mail protocol standard to include such functionality, since we are human.


    1. Google has a feature that is similar and is a right approach – delayed send. So you write your email and press ‘Send’. It tells you, ‘you message has been sent’. But it also provides a link to ‘Undo’ for the next few seconds. If you change your time, you click it and Gmail cancels the send operation. That’s the only way to go about it, since once the message leaves your servers, you don’t really have any control over it.

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