How to Decrease E-mail Overwhelm in 2016–The First Step

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Ferriss_booze

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I’m often asked how to handle e-mail overwhelm.

While I do use some great apps to help stem the flood, the most important shield is still low-tech: a rock-solid e-mail autoresponder.

This unsexy tool allows you to ignore some or all correspondence.

Answering every inbound e-mail faster might seem like the cure-all, but it’s a Phyrric victory. Robert Scoble observed long ago what is now standard: for each e-mail he responds to, he gets ~1.75 in response!  It’s an unwinnable game of whack-a-mole.

The only sustainable solutions involve selective ignorance.  Step 1: Answer fewer e-mail (or “Ignore more e-mail”). Step 2: Give your e-mail address to fewer people (or “Use a decoy email that goes to your assistant”).

Below is my current autoresponse, which you might be able to adapt or borrow from. More examples follow.  If inclined to dismiss the concept based on my example (e.g. This doesn’t apply to me!), read this real-world example from a radio station employee in Austin, TX.

These things are highly personalized, of course:

Subject line: Tim is off of email — please read this

Hi All,

Thank you for reaching out.  I’m currently on deadline.

We often receive 1,000+ e-mails per day, and it’s sadly impossible for us to respond to every message.

Please don’t take offense if you don’t hear back.  This is true even for family and close friends.

PLEASE NOTE:

– I’m no longer doing startup investing or advising, so I will not be responding to anything startup-related (excluding current portfolio companies).  AngelList is a great resource for finding the right investors, but I’m out of the game.  Here’s the full(er) story.

– I never respond to cold e-mail intros.  I am touchy about having my private email addresses shared.  I much prefer people to ask before making intros.  My inbox is otherwise unmanageable.

– I’m no longer doing book blurbs.  I get sent 20+ books per week and have to turn away friends, so I’m saying no to everyone.  It sucks. (But good news: Blurbs don’t do much for book sales anyway. These things have far greater impact.)

– Book marketing advice?  All the advice I might give, and certainly enough to hit the NYT lists with a good book, can be found at this link.

– I’m taking a break from most unpaid speaking engagements. (Looking for speakers? Search “TEDx [insert nearby cities]” on YouTube to find good speakers.)

Thank you for your understanding!

If you genuinely need to reach me for an emergency (and emergencies only) — [Insert emergency email for yourself or assistant] with “Emergency” somewhere in the headline.

All the best to you and yours. May you live well outside of the inbox.

Tim

Before setting up such an autoresponse, I will separately email (BCC) my lawyers, accountants, team members, etc. to ask them to text/SMS or use Slack if they need my attention. I indicate that my inbox should be treated like a black hole, unless they SMS/Slack to ask me to see a specific email (e.g. “If it’s not in SMS or Slack with @Tim, it will not get read”). I reiterate this before vacations or extended travel.

My approach has evolved over time, and one my past templates may work better for you.  Past examples:

Reader example from SXSW (2007)
Two real autoresponders that work (2014)

Good luck!  Please share your own autoresponse or email strategies and tools in the comments.  I’d love to see them.

May you live well outside of the inbox :)

Tim
P.S. If you want more inspiration for the new year, here is my favorite commencement speech (20 minutes) by the amazing Neil Gaiman.

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Facebook Bankruptcy Template

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The following is an e-mail I received from Paul Colligan, which inspired me to finally take the leap and get Facebook under control. To tame the beast and use it, instead of having it use me. I hope you find it useful, or at least entertaining.

Paul, if you mind me putting this up, please do let me know.

Short version:

Moving to a “Fan Page” model at Facebook to make more sense of things. Would love you as a “Fan” here –

http://budurl.com/paulfanpage

Long version:

It’s not you, it’s me …

REALLY

When I joined Facebook, I didn’t think it all the way through.

And now I have to do something drastic …

(and it’s going to take a couple of weeks)

By mixing business and personal in the same account, here on Facebook. I was no good to anybody. Here’s a few highlights:

* Personal friends and family who weren’t interested in my business found themselves with lots of marketing messages. I’m amazed at anyone who ’stayed a friend” – but that’s another note all together.

* Business partners, associates, etc., got a bunch of confusing personal updates when they were trying to get work done. So much for “Market to Message Match.”

* I couldn’t “use” Facebook like a normal person (with 4000+ “friends”) and here I am trying to figure out what Facebook means and how normal people use it …

So, here’s what I’ve done about it:

* I’ve asked my assistant to unfriend EVERYBODY in Facebook and send them this note. The best man in my wedding is on this list – so please don’t feel offended.

(I did figure I wouldn’t unfriend Heidi – too many implications there)

* I’ve sent you all this note.

* I plan on “refriending” my friends and engaging in active business dialog at the “page” discussed below – I think it will turn out to be the best of both worlds.

You have three options:

Option 1-
I’ve set up a “page” at Facebook where I’ll be focussing on the “Business” and “New Media” side of Paul. You can see it here (please click to become a “Fan”). It should be a fun place to meet up and chat.

http://budurl.com/paulfanpage

To encourage others to become a Fan, I’m hosting a special Webinar on Facebook for free where I’ll walk through every stop of this process and share what I’ve learned along the way.

Details will be emailed to everyone who has “fanned” me on that page through a Facebook update.

This will be the most appropriate action for most of you.

Here’s the link one more time –

http://budurl.com/paulfanpage

Option 2 –
If we really are friends (i.e., you know my kid’s names) feel free to friend me again on Facebook – I’ll respond shortly.

Also know that I’ll be seeking to replenish my friends list very soon anyway, and I’ll eventually find everyone again – but feel free to speed up the process.

Option 3 –
I’m sure this move will offend a few. Please understand it is certainly a drastic move – but one I needed to take.

Didn’t mean to offend – sorry if I did.

+++

Yup, wacky …

This social media stuff is fascinating. I look forward to (and, I’ll be honest, equally as much) using Facebook like “everyone else” and sharing with those interested what I learned along the way.

Thanks for understanding.

Paul

For those interested in seeing my 2nd-round Facebook attempt, which has worked like clockwork and turned out to be both more fun and more useful, take a glance at Tim Ferriss 2.0.

If you own a business or brand, the analytics alone are worth the effort of setting it up as a complement to your existing profile.

Use your tools. Don’t let them use you.

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Preventing Email Bankruptcy: From 1920's Postcards to Video Confessions

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Auto-response from Gary Vaynerchuk:

Subject line: Thanks for the email — click the link

Hey, here’s a link that will explain everything!
http://tv.winelibrary.com/garyvs-inbox

Before the economic recession hits us like a Pamplona bull, we will have long entered an digital recession characterized by lower per-hour output from digital workers and a higher incidence of problems like “e-mail bankruptcy.”

This Chapter 7 of personal productivity is a failure point where the user — physically incapable of responding to the number of unread inbox items — deletes all messages and sends an e-mail to all contacts asking them to resend anything still relevant.

Last Saturday’s front page article in the New York Times, “Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast,” [Tech tip: Use BugMeNot to get throw-away usernames and passwords] highlights the measurable extremes of information overload and how the same tools that helped create the problems seldom fix them… Read More

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Conversation with Pete Cashmore of Mashable.com

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I had a fun conversation with the smart and well-dressed Pete Cashmore of Mashable after speaking at the SF MusicTech Summit, where I was interviewed by Derek Sivers of CDBaby fame.

Pete and I discussed/answered:

1. What is the single most important thing that CEOs can do to conquer information overload?
2. The value of heirarchical thinking as a CEO or manager
3. Next plans for Tim Ferriss? (Forewarning: I’m evasive)

Have a great weekend!

Attention Aussies: I’m off to Sydney for about 10 days, so let me know if you’d be interested in doing a meet up with readers and having a few pints ;)


Bonus video for those left out of my tweets this evening.

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The Best (and Worst?) Autoresponders of 2007

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Reflecting or deleting e-mail can be an art form. (Photo: marinegirl)

An increasingly popular approach for escaping the inbox is the routine use of e-mail autoresponders.

Love it or hate it, reflecting or deleting e-mail can be an art form.

I’ve collected some of my favorite autoresponders of 2007 from Gmail and included them below.

The styles range from polite and hat-in-hand to direct and full-frontal, and include examples from both employees and business owners… Read More

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The Holy Grail: How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again

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What if you never had to check e-mail again?

If you could hire someone else to be spend countless hours in your inbox instead of you?

This isn’t pure fantasy. For the last 12 months, I’ve experimented with removing myself from the inbox entirely by training other people to behave like me. Not to imitate me, but to think like me.

Here’s the upshot: I get more than 1,000 e-mail a day from various accounts. Rather than spending 6-8 hours per day checking e-mail, which I used to do, I can skip reading e-mail altogether for days or even weeks at a time… all with 4-10 minutes a night… Read More

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E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend

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First, the 4-minute mile couldn’t be broken. Then, men couldn’t land on the moon. Now, most have accepted e-mail as the permanent bane of their working existences.

But not all of us.

The following came to me via the prodigal Cameron Johnson, originally in USA Today. Below it are my recommendations for making this weekend one to remember:

SAN FRANCISCO — Overwhelmed by e-mail? Some professionals are fighting back by declaring e-mail-free Fridays — or by deleting their entire in-box.

Today about 150 engineers at chipmaker Intel (INTC) will kick off “Zero E-mail Fridays.” E-mail isn’t forbidden, but everyone is encouraged to phone or meet face-to-face. The goal is more direct, free-flowing communication and better exchange of ideas, Intel principal engineer Nathan Zeldes says in a company blog post.

E-mail-free Fridays already are the norm at cell carrier U.S. Cellular (UZG) and at order-processing company PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services in Alpharetta, Ga.

Prominent techies are tackling the problem individually by declaring “e-mail bankruptcy” — deleting or archiving an entire in-box and starting over. Among them: prominent tech bloggers Jeff Nolan, Michael Arrington and Vanessa Fox, and venture capitalist Fred Wilson.

E-mail overload is caused by the sheer volume of messages zipping around the globe. Each day, about 39.7 billion person-to-person e-mails, 17.1 billion automated alerts, and 40.5 billion pieces of spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) are sent worldwide, researcher IDC says. White-collar workers often receive 140 messages a day, executive coach Marsha Egan says.

E-mail can be a useful communication tool, and people who write a lot of it are more likely to receive it, IDC (IDC) tech analyst Mark Levitt says. But it can quickly get out of hand.

“I didn’t even have time to figure out where to start,” says Edward O’Connor, a Web developer from San Diego who declared e-mail bankruptcy two weeks ago. O’Connor had about 750 messages dating back three years, almost all of which needed a reply. “I was completely overwhelmed,” he says.

Egan says even the busiest e-mailers can, with care, keep control of their in-boxes. Her tips:

•Don’t use e-mail to avoid unpleasant tasks. “I couldn’t believe people who had never talked to each other but worked in the same office,” says Scott Dockter, CEO of PBD. Dockter started e-mail-free Fridays about a year-and-a-half ago. Since then, the number of messages his 400 employees send has dropped by about 75%.

•Don’t constantly check for new messages. It can take four minutes to refocus on work after checking an e-mail, Egan says. Jay Ellison, chief operating officer of U.S. Cellular, estimates that his 7,000 employees spend about 1½ hours a day on their in-boxes. E-mail-free Fridays give them more time to solve customers’ problems, he says.

•Respond to important messages first — even if they’re difficult. Less-pressing issues can wait until a free moment, Egan says.

###

So, how to save your weekend from e-mail or — worse still — the mediocrity of “what should I do?” and having it end before it starts?

I’m just as lazy as the rest of the world about weekend planning, so here’s the trick: I asked people to describe dream “dates” in detail in the second-to-last post. Now, in the comments, you have beautifully detailed itineraries for having an unforgettable 24 hours in dozens of cities and states, including:

Las Vegas
Honolulu
Utah
New York City
Washington, D.C.
Chicago
Los Angeles
Toronto, Canada
Boston
Atlanta
Munich, Germany
Seattle, Washington
Perth, Australia
Sydney, Australia
Jerusalem
New Orleans
Portland, Oregon
Missouri
Namibia
Jerusalem
Sedona, Arizona
Sydney, Australia
Cambria, California
Raleigh, North Carolina
Malaysia
Esfahan, Iran

Here’s the challenge: using the comments as samples, create at least one day this weekend that is truly amazing and put it in the comments here.

The reader whose description I like the most will get at least 36 copies of the 1st printing of The 4-Hour Workweek as early X-mas presents. First-edition manuscripts have sold for more than $1,500 on eBay, so these are nice stocking stuffers :)

Photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, and such are not required, but some evidence will help prove the experience wasn’t just your imagination.

So, make haste — plan now and play hard!

[P.S. The winners of the dream date competition are mthorley, malia, AF, donovan, andrewrogers, ryanmcknight, macewen, and adam (seattle date). Please check your inboxes for further instructions.]

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