It’s easy to let your inbox get out of control.
We’ve all been there: staring at line after line of emails that probably-no-definitely need a response, receiving another three every time we answer one.
Tom Patterson, CEO of men’s undershirt company Tommy John, feels your pain.
On a episode of Bloomberg anchor and Radiate founder Betty Liu’s Radiate podcast, Patterson told Liu that as he’s built his 50-person company, he’s become more thoughtful about how he spends his time. “I would say in the last couple years I’ve really got into time-hacking, so to say, and how do you hack efficiencies so you can get back, or get the most out of, the time that you have,” he said.
“At the end of the day, you owe it to the employees at your company to be focusing on the things that are going to continue to allow you to have success,” he continued. “And if you’re bogged down in the details, to me it means there’s something wrong.” He went on to say that hiring an assistant to manage his calendar made a huge difference in his productivity, but his thoughts on getting bogged down in the details apply just as well to another conversation he had with Liu, which she shared on LinkedIn: how to manage his overwhelming inbox, which he said was getting up to hundreds of messages per day.
“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.,” Liu writes. That message reads, “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. If I haven’t responded in 2 days, kindly resend.”
Patterson told Liu that because he doesn’t respond immediately, he finds employees feel more empowered to take control of issues or problems that come up without his go-ahead. Plus, it manages people’s expectations. “It makes people more comfortable,” he told her. “They stop wondering ‘Did he get the email?’ or ‘Did it go to spam?’ There’s more certainty.”
It’s not an ideal solution for people in customer service jobs or in jobs where emails do in fact require a prompt reply — or, for that matter, working for bosses who require a prompt reply — but it’s one solution to keep your mind on productive work rather than wandering to your open email tab. And, if you’re interested in giving it shot, it’s likely to be effective on a collapsed time frame as well: An auto-reply keeping you out of your inbox just until noon, for example, could have a similar effect without sentencing you to after-hours emailing.
If you’re looking for more strategies to wrangle your inbox, consider five tricks to keep email from running your life or take a tip from successful people like Tim Cook or Jeff Weiner, who manage to keep their email under control.
Or, you could follow the example of Life Is Good founders John and Bert Jacobs, who have sworn off email altogether. They told Business Insider that they’re able to “spend more time on high level questions, puzzles, or projects and to be more creative because we have more mind space for that now.”
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. In their book, the Jacobs brothers write, “We kept wondering if people were going to get upset, or if the email police would come to arrest us, but they never did.”
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