Betty Liu, Founder/CEO at Radiate
I have two words to say to everyone: I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I’ve been so swamped I haven’t gotten back to you, either by phone or email. But mostly by email. It’s a hard pill to swallow, as a while back, I wrote a post about the virtues of organization and getting back to people on time. I thought I had a great system–collecting all my emails at the end of the day and replying to them in a rapid fire succession. I would find that article I wrote for you except I’m too busy to look for it.
In the past few months, I’ve gone from busy to … I don’t even know what to call it. Stupid crazy busy? As you may have learned, I’ve started a business around our Radiate podcast. The number of people I need to talk to has doubled, on top of a full-time job that thankfully–knock on wood–has been graciously understanding. But the insanity has to stop, which is why it piqued my interest to hear how one CEO controls his inbox before it controls him.
His name is Tom Patterson, the founder of Tommy John undershirts for men. You may have heard of them–they’re like Victoria’s Secret for men except their unmentionables are actually comfortable.
On a recent episode of the Radiate podcast, Tom and I commiserated on how, despite all these new messaging apps, the email tsunami continues. In the course of a year, he described how incoming emails went from 150 to close to 300 to 400 in a day as the business grew.
“There weren’t enough minutes in a day to answer all of them,” he said.
His novel solution? Don’t answer them.
Starting late last year, Tom set up an automatic message to people that told them he wouldn’t be checking email from the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The reply looks like this:
I am currently checking email before 9am and after 5pm EST so there will be a delayed response. If this is urgent please call or text.
The result was remarkable: Tom was able to step back and “focus more on operations, strategy … it allowed me to be more present and impactful,” he said. “It forced me to delegate and empower others to respond.”
Matters that seemed urgent resolved themselves without 200-plus emails flying across a “Reply All” terrain. Things that were really urgent warranted phone calls. And if Tom’s people knew he was only to be interrupted for really important matters, they took it upon themselves to make their own decisions. None of that would have happened if Tom were available all the time by email to take care of every little detail.
“If anything, it’s been great for people who know that I won’t respond for a certain period of time,” he said. “It makes people more comfortable. They stop wondering ‘Did he get the email?’ or ‘Did it go to spam?’ There’s more certainty.”
Tom said it took him a while to break the email addiction, but since he put the process in place, he now routinely and religiously checks his emails before 9 a.m. and just after 5 p.m. I can’t imagine what cornucopia of messages lie in his inbox at the end of the day, but I assume if he’s been doing this for several months, it’s clearly working.
Before we hung up, Tom gave me another “hack” he uses to save time. He downloads an app called Pocket that allows him to save articles and videos to read when there’s no Wi-Fi connection. “I use it on the subway to and from work,” he said. “I’ve found it extremely effective.”
Now that commitment I can make. Blocking emails for a whole day? Give me some time to think about it–check back with me in 2018.