Two E-Mail Autoresponses That Work

38 Comments

E-mail is the single largest interruption in modern life.

In a digital world, creating time hinges on minimizing it.

The first step towards controlling the e-mail impulse is setting up an autoresponse, which indicates you will be checking e-mail twice per day or less. This is an example of “batching” tasks, or performing like tasks at set times, between which you let them accumulate.

In this post, I will share two of my own tried-and-true e-mail autoresponses, one short and one long.

Your success with batching — whether laundry, phone calls, or e-mail — will depend on two factors: your ability to train others to respect these intervals, and, much more difficult, your ability to discipline yourself to follow your own rules.

So what works?

Before my current examples, let’s look at a basic template from The 4-Hour Workweek. Readers have tested this one in 30+ languages:

Greetings, Friends [or Esteemed Colleagues],

Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12: 00 P.M. ET [or your time zone] and 4: 00 P.M. ET.

If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12: 00 P.M. or 4: 00 P.M., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.

Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

The above is simple but works. Furthermore, bosses respond better than you’d think. Here’s a real-world example.

Now, on to my current faves…

The short one assumes that anyone without contact info can wait. The longer one provides links so that I can ignore hundreds of email entirely.

Of course, adapt for your own situation and preferences.

#1 – Short and Sweet

[VARIANT ONE - WITH ASSISTANT]

SUBJECT LINE: IMPORTANT — Please Email [Assistant's Name] if Urgent

“Hi All,

Due to other commitments, I’m checking email no more than once a week, often less. If it’s truly urgent (cannot wait a week), please call or email my assistant. If you don’t have her info, thank you for waiting until we get back to the inbox.

All the best to you and yours,

Tim

——————————————–
Invest in tech companies that I back (Past: Uber, Twitter, etc.)
https://angel.co/tim/syndicate

Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
A: http://five.sentenc.es

[VARIANT TWO - WITHOUT ASSISTANT]

“Hi All,

Due to other commitments, I’m checking email no more than once a week, often less. If it’s truly urgent (cannot wait a week), please call my cell. If you don’t have it, thank you for waiting until I can get back to the inbox.

All the best to you and yours,

Tim”

#2 – Longer and More Comprehensive

SUBJECT LINE: IMPORTANT — Please Email [Assistant's Name] if Urgent

“Hi All,

Sadly, due to deadlines, I am unable to read or respond to most email. Please don’t be offended, as this is true even for close friends.

If you genuinely need to reach me urgently (if it can wait a week, it’s not urgent) –
– If you have my cell phone, try and call or text me.
– Otherwise, please email [assistant's email address].

For other contacts besides [assistant], please go here:
[insert "Contact" page URL from website]

Thanks very much for understanding!

All the best to you and yours,

Tim
P.S. If you are emailing about publishing or book marketing advice, here are the resources I’ll point you to:

BOOK MARKETING ADVICE

1) For a popular recap of my launch for The 4-Hour Body, which hit #1 New York Times, here is 12 Lessons Learned While Marketing “The 4-Hour Body.”

2) I also found Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman’s book on book publicity helpful for my first launch.

3) All of the other advice I might give, probably more in many cases (as I can use
links) can be found here:
http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2014/02/04/how-to-get-published/

And here:
http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/category/marketing/

Hope that all helps!

Best,

Tim

——————————————–
Tim Ferriss bio: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/about/

Invest in tech companies that I back (Past: Uber, Twitter, etc.)
https://angel.co/tim/syndicate

What About Yours?

Autoresponders are both an art (due to wordsmithing) and an evolving science, as complaint rates, percentage decreases in inbound email, etc. can all be tested.

PLEASE share your own findings and autoresponses in the comments below! Non-English autoresponses are also welcome. What has worked for you and what hasn’t?

However, thank you for NOT spamming the comments with a bunch of your website links, unless relevant, as is sometimes the case with FAQs, etc. Spam will be deleted.

For more examples — both good and terrible — see below.

Further Resources

Not-To-Do Lists, Drugs, and Other Productivity Tricks
The Best (and Worst?) Autoresponders of 2007
The 4-Hour Workweek Tools
How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… And Have Your Boss Accept It

Posted on: July 14, 2014.

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38 comments on “Two E-Mail Autoresponses That Work

  1. Hi Tim

    I’ve tried this with my boss. Sadly it didn’t go well. I’m mostly responding to internal requests, so, in my case it’s probably better to be strict with myself and batch and reply at certain a times of the day etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If your responding to email twice daily (or even just once per day) there is no need for an auto response, that just clogs up peoples inboxes. If its something very urgent they would not be emailing you anyway.

    If your checking email once per week or less, then an auto response makes sense

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. I use a rule that replies to messages marked High Priority with an email that reads a lot like TIm’s auto-response. Normal/Low priority emails get answered during my two batch times.

      Like

  3. I have only been checking my mail twice a day for the last week and it’s already proving to keep me focused on finishing items on the to do list. I think with out knowing I used to look through my emails to find something to help me procrastinate. I heard you mention this on your podcast an have adopted it. I don’t have the volume yet for implementing an auto responder (about 50 a day) I know some would be jealous of that ! Keep up the good work Tim an a few more podcasts with just your thoughts would be good although I’m loving all of them !
    Cheers JD

    Like

  4. I really like this one:

    “You have successfully reached me. I am, however, terrible at responding to emails. Rest assured, I have read your message, and you may or may not receive a response from me in the next day to decade. I realize that this could result in a missed opportunity for me. If you think this is too important for me to pass up, please email my wife, and if she finds the message important, she will not sleep with me until I respond to you.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This was life changing for me when I implemented it years ago. My only complaint was technology itself. Ћ email server my company uses forced me to auto respond to every incoming email or none at all. Some permit respond every “X” days or so.

    Thanks for Ћ great info!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For my side project Web site, I’ve focused more on “semi-automatic” responses, using text expander tools and–surprisingly useful–the “canned response” capability of Gmail (which I find handier to use than using signatures in Outlook).

    For the day job, the one upside of my daughter being in the hospital for the next several days (she’ll be fine) is that it gives me an unimpeachable reason to use the twice-a-day email autoresponder. Assuming all goes well, I’ll announce that it has really boosted my productivity, I’m sticking with it, and people will presumably not freak out because they’ll have seen already that the sky doesn’t fall if I check email twice a day.

    [Moderator: Email removed]

    Like

  7. Great to see how you do this. I’ve recently added a line to all of my email signatures that says I only check email twice a day and to please call if it really is urgent. It’s really helped to get off the email drip. For those of us not quite as rad as Tim (yet), and that don’t get the same volume of email, this could be a good alternative.

    Like

  8. These may seem like great ideas, but I think they send the wrong message. “You are not important”, or “thanks for your email, but I’m not going to respond” is just a very impersonal, bordering-on-rude way to respond to people who may be writing personal emails that deserve a response. There has to be a better way to weed out the “junk” and find the “gems”. I disagree with this approach, wholeheartedly. Try imagining yourself on the receiving end of one of these email responses, how would you react?

    Like

  9. Hi Tim – Interesting that you use the five.sentence.es snippet at the bottom. I recently “stole” that from someone else I saw using it and love it. I’ve gotten a few comments on it. And most importantly, it has liberated me – I feel more OK sending very short emails, so I’m spending less time in my inbox.

    Like

  10. Here is my out of office reply and it works WONDERFULLY:

    +++++

    Thank you for taking the time to write to me and I’m sorry if I don’t get back to you.

    I’m now getting emails at a level that I can’t respond to everyone. This is an automatic response to an email you sent to scobleizer@gmail.com.

    I will make a best attempt to get back to you, especially if you are sharing world-changing technology or if you are building contextual software or services, since I wrote a book with Shel Israel on that trend. Our book, “Age of Context,” has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext

    I also am looking for best-of-breed tools to help people build companies on top of cloud infrastructure, due to my role at Rackspace.

    I do read every email, but I only can reply to about 5%, sorry.

    Unfortunately if I don’t answer you within two or three days, it’s the same as hearing “no.”

    To PR people, if you want me to cover your product you’ve got to give me more than one day warning. I don’t do press-release rewrites like other tech bloggers. It’s best to get in touch with me at LEAST A MONTH before you launch.

    If you are looking for more about where I’m publishing, or just want to have an informal chat, visit https://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble which has links to all of my blogs, and social media accounts.

    Another way to get through is to talk with my producer, Rocky Barbanica. You can reach him at rocky@rackspace.com.

    Thanks and sorry if I don’t get back to you.

    Like

  11. Hi Tim,
    I have read your book 4hww and was wondering how you would handle all those canned response stuff and autoreply etc. from microsoft outlook. A lot of people need outlook for work (corp. exchange servers etc.) So do you have any suggestions about handling mail from outlook (2013)? [Moderator: Link removed]

    Like

  12. Tim,

    I’ve tried to do it since I’ve read 4HWW.

    Unfortunately my boss didn’t fancy it too much.

    So, what I did when I was traveling was something like this (customer didn’t know that I was traveling):

    —————————————
    Dear Sender,

    Please know that I’m experiencing issues with my email, so, perhaps it’ll lake me a while to respond (I will do it TODAY, nonetheless).

    If you need urgent answer please cal me at my mobile.

    Thank you in advance,

    /Martín
    —————————————

    It worked perfectly! I was s whole week visiting Paris, and worked jut in the early hours of the day and at night….

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My choice for life regularly takes me out of country from where my actual business resides. A short auto-response (and often the opening line to the e-reply) seems to allow my clients to understand that, I’m there for them, simply not in the same part of the world at the moment!

    Thank you for your email. I am in another time zone at the moment, so please excuse delays with any emails or phone calls between us. I will reply as soon as the sun rises!

    This allows for email batching (on my time), avoids repeat emails from clients (because they know I will respond) and gives a client just enough of a glimpse into my life to make me (and my business) intriguing.

    Like

  14. The autoresponder might be a good idea if you get a lot of unsolicited emails from strangers. If you do not, this is a great way to piss off your friends, family and coworkers who email you often.

    Batching email responses is a great way to handle that kind of work. Not everybody needs to know you’re doing it, though. Maybe a notice on your contact page is a less spammy way to let people know not to expect a response immediately.

    Like

  15. Hi Tim, I just read martynalexandro comment below and I think that there are a few people in business who use the ‘I am experiencing email problems’ to delay responding to messages.
    Seems like for some that could be a secret solution when company structure prevents you for using an autoresponder to control the flow of email.
    Thank you Tim for all the guidance.
    David

    Like

  16. Great advice, though I’m wondering – why wouldn’t you leave contact for your assistant in the first example? At least jut an email. Or have you tried that and it backfired?

    Like

  17. Checking mail twice a day in fact a good idea. Configure your mail client like that. But: Do not set up an autoresponder! Consider all your friends who already set up those responders. don’t you think getting these headless mails everytime you leave a message is annoying?

    a feature inside our mail clients would be great that sends those respondermails only once to each sender. maybe it’s already possible… I don’t know.

    Chris

    Like

  18. If you’re interested, here’s the one I have been using. It’s been very effective so far:
    +++++++

    Hello friends!

    Thank you for you email, but please know that I will do my absolute best not to read it. I am trying to avoid email at all cost. Hopefully for the remainder of my life, but certainly for the next several months.

    To that, this email account is only being monitored only sporadically.

    If you need to get in touch with me:

    1) Text me. If you don’t have my number, it’s because we’re probably not friends IRL. No worries, try this:
    2) Forward your message to my personal email. If you don’t have it, it’s because we’re not tight. Sorry. You can always:
    3) Let your email sit in the inbox here, where it will eventually be read by Jeff, who will get back to you.

    If you absolutely need an *immediate* response, please contact my Director of Operations at [[redacted]]

    For those interested in why I’m avoiding email, please consider this: in the fullness of time, I hope to accomplish many things. While I trust the span of my life to be long, it is undoubtedly finite.

    In the end, I would much rather have it said of me, “he wrote a lot of great things” rather “he responded promptly to emails.”

    With all respect, I hope you understand that I am removing my time and attention from the latter of those two things to focus on the former.

    Snuggles,
    Roman

    +++++++++++

    My main inspiration for not checking email is Neil Gaiman, who said in his commencement speech at the University of the Arts, “There was a day when I looked up and realized that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.”

    And, also, my friend Tim, who is near as big an inspiration to me as Neil.

    Like

  19. Hola Tim,

    I wanted to send you a big thank you on behalf of my wife and three (3) boys from Tampa, Florida. Your book and blog “Four Hour Work Week” played a tremendous role in my family taking a 18 month leave of absence from the company and life in the USA to live in Northern Spain without a car, phone or watch.

    I read your book the summer of 2008 and later that same year my wife (she is also still my girlfriend) set a goal to move to Spain with our 3 young boys to learn the language, culture and to remove our American glasses. We just returned to the US and the experience was life changing for all 5 of us.

    Now, I have returned to my company and have even bigger personal and business goals and dreams.

    Keep up the great work.
    Roberto Kantor

    Like

  20. I’ve tried it but I realized that autoresponders are not for everyone. Tim Ferris is a public person, so he gets many requests. But I don’t.

    Also, people HATE autoresponders. I can’t believe that some of you use a full page reply!! No one wants to waste their time!!

    I prefer to set up rules to receive the most important emails and move the other ones in a folder and clean up once a week.

    Like

  21. Here’s mine:

    “Thank you for your e-mail.

    I do not like checking my e-mail. So I stopped doing it.

    If this is for business, contact me at my business e-mail address.

    If you know me personally, you can find me on Facebook, text me, etc. You know what to do.

    Otherwise, if it is truly important, I’m sure you can find another way to contact me.

    Thanks!

    -Louis

    (This is an automatic reply. If you send me multiple messages you won’t get this every time. But I still won’t see your messages.)”

    I set it up mostly because I was sick of wasting time on e-mail and trying to find the right way to say “no, I ignored that 5 page article you sent me, because I don’t actually give a shit” to friends and family on the phone.

    After I set this up I’ve checked the e-mail only when I really need to get something. I haven’t had any big problems from ignoring it. Maybe some late fees, missed invites to bullshit, etc. Whatever, big deal. Not wasting hours on e-mail is worth the small cost of these minor mishaps.

    Like

  22. Hey Tim and team!

    Firstly, appreciate your time. Thank you.
    Quick enquiry: I’m a filmmaker writing a feature film. It’s based loosely on a journey I made in 2009, walking from Sydney to Brisbane (Australia) with my two closest mates. I’m using the emotional journey we went through but expanding on the location for a more dynamic landscape.

    Would you be able to recommend any cross-country journeys, that may appeal to film? Potentially including dynamic landscapes such as; coastline, sand dunes, rivers/lakes, mountains/ranges, iconic locations etc.

    Happy to include you in the credits :D xo
    Pete

    Like

  23. Here is mine:

    ***
    I know… Boooo!!!! Auto responders are no fun!

    I am sorry to be sending you this as an auto-response. It’s really impersonal, but I want you to know a few things.

    1) I really appreciate your email. Thanks for sending it.

    2) Because of my client and travel schedule I don’t always respond right away. I try to craft out time twice a day just to give to my e-mail, but this doesn’t always happen.

    3) I will write you back as soon as I can. If this is REAL SUPER AMAZING IMPORTANT and I don’t get back to you right away please feel free to e-mail me again to remind me.

    It is not that I don’t care, but I might read your email between clients, not have time in the moment to write you back, and then miss it in my inbox later. Nothing personal, I just sometimes get distracted by shiny objects.

    Thanks,

    Gene

    Liked by 1 person

  24. The way I deal with emails is to avoid entering into ping pong. If I receive an email that I think needs a reply I write the reply there and then but set it to be sent just before 6pm. That way the person gets a timely response but I do not have to attend to their reply till the next day at the earliest. Also they know I will not see it till the next day so they may think a little more about their reply rather than just fire something back immediately.
    It is also about managing people’s expectations.

    Like

  25. My favourite is to avoid the massive buildup of emails that occur when you are away, from my old boss:

    __________________
    Your email has been deleted.

    If it is important, you can re-send it when I return to the office on [DATE]

    Regards,

    [NAME]
    __________________

    Like

  26. Hey all,

    I’ve been working on an auto responder for work through my Apple Mail software. Unfortunately, it seems that there is no way to prevent an endless circle of emails if I receive something from someone who has an out of office or someone who has a similar auto responder. After doing some searching it seems that the only fix is upgrading to Outlook. Has anyone else had any experience with this?

    Like