How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… And Have Your Boss Accept It

201 Comments

Think your boss won’t go for an email autoresponder?

You’d be surprised. Here is one example from a SXSW attendee. His two e-mail to me have been combined with a bit of editing for length.

Hey Tim,

Here’s what i took away from your presentation (and put into action!):

I sent out an email to everyone in my division letting them know i’ll only be checking email at 11a & 4p. I’ve included my email down below:

“Hi all…

In an effort to increase productivity and efficiency I am beginning a new personal email policy. I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through my inbox and less time focused on the task at hand. It has become an unnecessary distraction that ultimately creates longer lead times on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.

Going forward I will only be checking/responding to email at 11a and 4p on weekdays. I will try and respond to email in a timely manner without neglecting the needs of our clients and brand identity.

If you need an immediate time-sensitive response… please don’t hesitate to call me. Phones are more fun anyways.

Hopefully this new approach to email management will result in shorter lead times with more focused & creative work on my part. Cheers & here’s to life outside of my inbox! “

So far the response has been very receptive and supportive. Here’s the quick “reply to all” email response i got from our senior operations manager (he oversees 5 radio stations. and most of the people in the building):

“Tim,
AWESOME time management approach!!! I would love to see more people adopt that policy.
-C.”

I’m sticking to it and it’s making my days more productive already. As the days are progressing, more people are “on the bus” with respecting my new email policy and i havent had any snags (even with SXSW going on – and i work in Austin radio, so we’re all swamped this week). However, every single person feels like it just wouldn’t work for them if they did it. (“oh, but i’m on too many mailing lists” or “All i do is work in my email box, i have to.” i’m sure you’ve heard it all before).

As far as your presentation… A major thing i took away is applying the concept of 80/20 to my workflow. I’ve always known i waste a great deal of time on things that ultimately aren’t showing the bulk of my ROI. Hearing you present it in a new light enabled me to start actively weeding out the time wasting clients & processes. I do a lot of work that our interns should be doing. So i’ve begun designating responsibility appropriately, thus freeing up my plate for the more relevant tasks. It will be a slow process, but senior management is on the same page with me.

Cheers,

Tim Duke
KROX & KBPA – Interactive Brand Manager

Here is a shorter autoresponder another attendee successfully implemented:

Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!

-Tom

My personal e-mail autoresponder limits me to once per day and indicates “I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell.” My business e-mail autoresponder, on the other hand, gives me the option to check email once every 7-10 days.

The real hard part, of course, is keeping yourself away from that damn inbox. Get on a strict low-information diet and focus on output instead of input; your wallet and weekends will thank you for it.

Posted on: March 22, 2007.

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201 comments on “How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… And Have Your Boss Accept It

  1. Hey Tim,

    Am in IT sales and your ideas on maximising output and not input ring very true. Will be trying some of your approaches especially around email and let you know how I go. I am all about minimising work hours too so keep those suggestions coming.

    Cheers,

    Enzo

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    • Hi Tim, the advice given by you is very appropriate and it will surely help me out in reducing my time of checking the inbox. i will surely follow your blog, as that can help me out regarding other respective matters. Thank you Tim

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  2. I like this idea a lot too. But I get annoyed with auto-responders and my regular contacts might get annoyed too if every email they send to me generates that message.

    Do you think a disclaimer at the bottom of each of my outgoing emails would suffice? People who might expect a more immediate response from me are most likely those who I’ve emailed before.

    So if I have a disclaimer of sorts near where my signature is, they would probably see that and know what my email policy is.

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  3. Charles,

    I completely understand your fear of alienating people with the autoresponders. This is a fear everyone, myself included, has (or has had).

    Here is how to avoid it: ensure that the autoresponder is only sent — or bounced back — to the same contact every 4-7 days. All of the mainstream e-mail applications I’ve used have this type of option, and even Gmail send at most one autoresponder per 4 days to the same contact.

    Using a disclaimer at the bottom near your sig doesn’t work well, in my experience, as people forget it and have learned to turn off as soon as they think it’s another “This is a confidential communication. If this is not intended for you… blah… blah…”

    Give it a shot and take it slow. The worst that happens is you go back to the usual routine after testing it. The more likely scenario is that you cut your email intake in half within the first week.

    Good luck!

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    • Tim (or VA),

      I would think Microsoft Outlook would have the capability to ensure that the autoresponder is only sent — or bounced back — to the same contact every 4-7 days, but I cannot locate instructions anywhere online. Can you provide a tip to help with this?

      Thanks

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  4. Two days in and the auto responder has provided me with the following benefits:

    1. I am not spending the best part of my day – the beginning of my working day – getting bogged down in emails
    2. The twice daily burst of email activity has felt more productive

    Interesting things to note:

    1. I have had no calls to my mobile for those instant responses (perhaps I will add my mobile number in the future!)
    2. The volume of emails does seem to have decreased – how is this possible? something to monitor!
    3. Not one of my colleagues has come to ‘complain’ about my auto responder (a concern I had before testing).

    The way forward:

    1. Attempt to stick to twice daily emailing – strong urge to take a look during the day – I really am addicted to the in-box ping!

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  5. Hi Anne,

    I have found that people will generally expect you to respond as quickly as technology allows you to receive their e-mail, hence the permanent ADD of most Blackberry owners.

    I have one friend, a uber-successful mechanical engineer, who received a Blackberry e-mail from his boss just as he (my friend) got on the NYC subway with me at 9pm on a Friday. There was no reception, so he responded as soon as we got off 4 minutes later. His boss had already left him a voicemail indicating that they would need to “have a serious talk” the following Monday about his lack of response, and that the head boss was livid and threatening to fire him.

    It’s a sad state of affairs and an all too common problem. This culture of immediacy needs a severe backlash.

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  6. Tim,
    I love this idea, but I think the twice a day checking is overkill for some of us. If you work in an environment where the culture is to use email for immediate needs, then this is definitely appropriate. But for someone like me, who works on my own, I think the key is to train people when to expect an email response. If I always respond immediately, I’m training people to expect that. If I often take a day to respond (or more), people will be trained to use the phone for urgent requests and emails for less urgent ones.

    Still, it’s a brilliant concept and one I’m going to train myself to try.

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  7. Interesting and great for most, and will be great for my numerous personal e-mail accounts, but as a web geek with a distributed internal client base e-mail is my *preferred* method of receiving requests. That way I don’t have to explain over the phone to every wanna-be mouse jockey at my organization why blinking bright red text is really a bad idea for our web site. I can just ignore the request until I’ve implemented something that will work within our design standards.

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  8. Pingback: thinks
  9. to Woodstock:

    I am also a web/interactive designer and coincidentally the emails Tim Ferris is quoting in this blog post are from me.

    as web designers much of our work is time-sensitive and not everybody really “gets” design so i was initially concerned i would be spending tons of time on the phone explaining/justifying my decisions to people (re: blinking bright red text on a website as a bad idea) . this hasnt been the case at all.

    It’s become clear all around my office that “email response” isn’t synonymous with “instant response” and any conversations i’ve had about maintaining design integrity have been much shorter phone chats than if i wasted time typing emails back & forth.

    (and yes. if it’s an email request for a giant blinking red text with background music & a flying bee mouse cursor I do just ignore the email. If they REALLY want it, they’ll call to discuss. but the phone hasn’t rang yet and everybody’s happy).

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  10. Hi Marci and Woodstock,

    Tim is on the money. The key here is being able to decide when you check and respond to e-mail, not necessarily checking it twice daily. For some, like Marci, that would be overkill. For Woodstock, he is correctly (I do the same) funneling people to e-mail as his preferred method of communication. The two-times-per-day recommendation was made at SXSW, where most attendees were online and either emailing or Twittering during ALL presentations!

    The point of the autoresponder, and much of what I recommend, is controlling the frequency and quantity of your information intake. You need both to prevent overload, but how each of us will implement the tools differs.

    Good observations,

    Tim

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  11. Like the concept, but the volume of emails is still in your inbox. Do you simply ignore the rest that you cannot get to at 11 and 4pm? How do you prioritize them without actually reading them (or at least the 3 line preview?) Seems like you might just be ‘batching’ the same volume of emails, but just in one bunch (which is also more productive) but I’m not sure I’m convinced yet that you’re able to address the inquiries that come into your inbox.

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  12. Hi Kris,

    There are a few approaches to reducing volume. I’ll have a PDF manifesto coming out soon with ChangeThis (started by Seth Godin) that discusses that in depth. If an entrepreneur, you (re)design your business with information flow in mind. If an employee, you use 80/20 analysis applied to how your performance is measured to determine which tasks/emails/people should be responded to at what intervals (daily, every Friday, every two weeks, not at all).

    You will need to accept that some people are more important than others, and some people aren’t important at all, as it relates to your goals. This isn’t being cold, it’s avoiding inevitable overload. This means that you can take simple steps, like not responding e-mails that don’t ask for a response or contain a question, and you can take more absolute steps, like depending on an autoresponder to set expectations that allow you to ignore responding to most altogether.

    There are ways to do this without alienating everyone. In fact, there are ways to do this that will make others respect you more. Keep an eye on ChangeThis — my manifesto should come out in a few weeks, and I’ll announce it on the blog.

    Good questions!

    Tim

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