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

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.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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203 Replies to “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

    1. 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

  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.

      1. With Gmail it states “If a contact sends you several messages, this automated reply will be sent at most once every 4 days”. This would keep it from being annoying.

  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!

    1. 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

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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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  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).

  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

  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.

  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

  13. Tim,

    I’d love to receive more e-mails from clients and partners instead of so many damn phone calls. This is before using any autoresponder. I live in a culture where everyone thinks so much of speed that writing an email seems to take more time–and request more information and thought (duh!)–than making a call.

    Of course, my phone can’t do autoresponders and it can neither be closed, for more reasons than one. I tried asking, explaining, not answering (screening, if you please) instantly. And I can be as good as Jacobs’ Asha, I was trained to be good. What do you suggest?

    On a different note, I’ve realised some less than a month ago that once I solved a client request in my mind, I had little interest in executing it on paper or whatever support. It explains why I dream of outsourcing that part of my job every so often. I just need to figure out to whom. Indians are too expensive for me at the moment 🙂

    Thanks for confirming my thinking, at large. It shouldn’t be so damn hard; it shouldn’t be about retirement.

  14. Holy crap! How am I going to ween myself off of the crack-pipe known as my ‘Inbox’!?!?

    This is going to be tough…I mean, I’ve already checked this page three times for new posts! What should I do if I have OCD tendencies? Huh? I mean really…what would I do if I had OCD tendencies? OCD tendencies?

    Ha! Seriously – thanks for the info; this seems like a wonderful policy to adopt. Bye bye ‘new message alert’.

    Thanks,

    -TC

  15. Tim — Love the book and your approach to time/task management. So simple and effective. I read “Getting Things Done” twice and did not become as focused or efficient until I tried your email policy.

    For those of you who are afraid to take the leap of checking email 1-2 times a day just try it. As a managing partner of a small design/marketing/web agency my goal was is to always make sure the client feels taken care of. Well, after hearing the SXSW podcast I started scaling back immediate replies to clients and am now batching emails twice a day… Email from clients is much more focused and clear, the phone is not ringing as much, and we’re getting *much* more done and revenues are growing even faster!

    I have found Tim’s approach to communication to be similar to the “Girlfriend Factor”… When you have a girlfriend you tend to attract more attention from other women. Well this approach to communication has worked with clients and prospects. It has *increased* prospects’ need to work with us (I don’t know why but we’re closing a higher percentage of our deals this year) and, on top of that, our current clients are much more focused when they send in a request. Clients are even sending us their deliverables on time with fewer questions!

    1. many years later, not sure if youre still around here, but you got it all wrong about girlfriend. 🙂 its all in your head, or rather your self-esteem is higher when you get a g/f, thats why other notice you more, not because of her standing next to you. deal with your insecurity, and you’ll have any girl, even if youre single.

      as for the emails, i remember times i was scared to send emails back in 97 thinking was it really needed? when i can walk up to a person. soon after we started getting bunch of emails from the next cubicle, where quick talk would suffice.

      so now, i do check 2-3 times a day without even sending auto-reply. people get used to it, but then, i only deal with inside work email. people will get used to it anyway… give them more credit.

      as a client, i get used to other business dynamic, my chiropractor only works 3 days a week, and i know his hours when sending him message. same with other business… you notice their hours, and average time to respond. my shoe repair man always closes before 5pm on friday, i just note that and come back on monday.

  16. what email client do you use tim?

    do you use gmail, outlook, etc

    since you are mobile most of the time my assumption is that you are more web based to facilitate flexibility

  17. I work in a school and the most amazing thing has happened. Everything has become dependent on email and the internet. Now, mind you, I like email and the internet, but there is no reason in my mind to stop a conversation with a real live human being to read an email that has just come in on a blackberry. A most excellent idea to go on an information diet. Great idea. Thank you.

    Michael

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  19. Why should any Interactive Brand Manager be in favor of an “idea” that could possibly bring X amount of detriment to the whole economics of interactive marketing? Unless he wants to cause some volatility to his own ‘stability’ (i.e. job) in the interactive media industry. Perhaps? LOL 🙂

    Anyhow, twice a days sounds awesome! for TIME IS SCARCE.

  20. Wow – this approach is revolutionary – it’s about time someone came up with the idea and put it forward in a coherent manner! I’m in account management at an insurance/investments company, and find myself easily spending up to half my working day browsing my inbox. This includes cursory views (“in case it’s urgent”), re-reading emails that weren’t read properly the first time due to an “ADHD” tendency to be distracted by other incomings.. I’m going to try this approach starting tomorrow and see what happens. I suspect it will improve my productivity etc immensely. Having read comments etc on this topic, it dawned on me that inasmuch as “company culture” exists, so does one’s “personal culture” – i.e. you take a general approach to things for long enough, and reinforce it consistently enough, people begin to expect it of you and don’t think twice. The hard part of course is changing the culture.

  21. It wasn’t until I started work in my current job that I realized how ridiculous email communication can become. Today I had a person attach a copy of a document I’d sent her for me to delete one paragraph, attach the revised document to an email, and send it back. It is for “urgent” needs such as that one that I must be available at my monitor for the whole business day (whether at home or in the office.)

    I just plowed through the book over the past two days. Your thoughts have confirmed the conclusion I’ve been avoiding — elimination is the only solution for my job!

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  23. We have been talking about Tim’s book quite a bit on our blog and podcast. My co-host, Jay, did a post about “Cutting the email leash” and I did a series called “The Information Diet”. If it interests you to see parts of the book in action please checkout our site by clicking on my name above.

    We have been so changed by the book and we cannot wait for our interview next month, thanks Tim!

  24. I have a contrarian view to offer on Blackberrys, Treos, etc. After years of working as a fitness trainer and getting on a computer only for short bursts, I find it easy to use the handheld on the “twice-a-day” basis. It’s when I sit down at the desk that I get sucked in to Web browsing, writing long messages that would be painful on the handheld, etc.

  25. Sweet! I just began reading about this 4hr work week book/site today. I already had this part executed. My inbox sends an auto reply stating something like, “my inbox requests stays full this time of year, so for immediate attention please call me.”

    I am in a performance environment where call time is monitored. My incoming call time and incoming call quantity is the highest on the entire sales floor. So is my revenue number and my margin number. I am the top performer here, so I can concur… THIS STRATEGY WORKS! ( I am happy to know that I am on the same page so far with this book/site). I will read on now. THanks

    Shawn

  26. Love this idea..but how to set it up in Hotmail!

    Famously the owner of a billion pound mobile phone company banned his staff from using email…his name was John Caldwell. Seemed to work!

    Thanks Tim for a great book. Hope to meet you one day. Life the workout routine too.

  27. Today I decided to try cutting back my email addiction by only checking my email twice a day. I sent out a brief email to my colleagues and my boss. It basically stated that I would be responding to emails at 10am and 4pm in an effort to become more productive and to call me if the matter was urgent.

    Instead of warm reception from my boss, I was told to retract my email, and to basically be at anyone’s beckon call. Any ideas on how to approach this from a different angle?

  28. Chris –

    I had a similar problem but I decided to get creative. Remember, this is about re-training those around you to respect your time. (or to develop new expectations about your responsiveness) I retracted my email auto-response by request and simply stopped responding to most emails except around 10am and 4pm. (and now only at 4pm pretty much)

    Simply speaking, I created a rule in Exchange/Outlook to move all incoming mail to a separate folder that I never checked except at 10am and 4pm. I added exceptions for a few key people, like my boss and a few key team members I work closely with. I also added one customer who is having problems right now. I setup outlook to download email every 30 minutes from my “VIP” folder only.

    For the first two weeks I responded to my boss pretty quickly. Now after a month I respond once a day. I just had to ease him in to it. Remember, its about giving the appearance of responsiveness, and even then, its simply a tool to wean people off of you.

    A partial remote work agreement is probably required or you’ll be judged more by your presence than your results.

    The key, however, was to demonstrate outstanding value in more important areas. My ever increasing response time became less important in a very short time as valuable work was being delivered that mattered.

    In about a month I went from 60 hours a week in the office where I responded to email constantly and attended many meetings per day to less than 10 hours a week in the office and probably only 30 hours per week total work time. I attend 1-2 meetings per week now.

    I even refuse meetings from my boss. ;^) I’m not kidding. However, after a month, he told me that I made him realize that he has too many meetings and that he should cut back.

    What has been the result of all of this? There are too many to list, but I’ve been asked if I’m interested in management, two different teams are fighting over me because they want me to work for them, and I just got rated in the top 10% of the entire organization. My past months accomplishments were cited as ‘proof’ of my value.

    I tested assumptions and found some ‘work arounds’ that paid off. Now everyone is trained to expect a slow email response time, but in their mind, I’m so busy with important stuff its okay.

  29. OMG, Tim you have to see this, this is hilarious and oh-so-sad; YES they really are serious:

    http://www.3dmailbox.com/trailer/index.html

    From the site:

    “New email meets the Bouncer (spam filter) at the entrance, takes a cooling, disinfecting shower then takes the plunge into your inbox and swims until you read it.Once read, they hang out poolside until you move them to a cabana (mailbox).Spam gets sent to the beach to await their fate at the jaws of the Great White Sharks.If the Bouncer can’t decide if email is good or spam, it chills in the Ice Rink until you decide. If you delete good mail, it goes to the trash alley.”

    ROFL.

    Enjoy that one.

    Cheers,

    Andrew

  30. I just went to send you an email, seeing that I finally bought your book, and I was going to forward you the Amazon confirmation of that blessed event, and, Lo and Behold, I didn’t have your email address any more. This, then, must suffice.

    I hope sales are going well. Do you think getting rid of your trailing “s,” that embedded sibilance, would lighten your load, revamp your feng shui, and increase your productivity still more?

  31. A lot of people put Email as priority #1 each day. It is the first thing they do each day… which usually means that their entire day’s plan is shot to hell.

    Avoid this habit. It is better to recognize that the morons who are emailing you first thing in the morning for something they want done “now” are the people who need to be prioritized.

  32. Check email triple a month? Hm, maybe it’s better to cancel using email at all than? I think it’s near optimal to check emails every two hours or so. It’s not too often and not too seldom.

    Tim

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  35. This wouldn’t work for me. I am freelancer, if the client sends an email s/he wants to know NOW if I am available. Phones take too much time and interstate calls are expensive here.

    I just use the old filters if it’s one of my clients I receive the message in my cellphone.

  36. I can see this being a very good thing but in the posistion I have I feel that this would give me more work!

    Most of the humans I work with needed stuff yesterday! and I’m the only human who has access to the color printer (do to humans abusing it) there for I get at least 12 e-mails a day asking me to print something up before their 2pm meeting or 10am meeting They all meet at different times!

    If i don’t print right away they do call me and make sure i got the e-mail! And the same goes for packages i get last minute packages sent at 10am and needing them done by 12 noon and printed.

    My question is if i take action on your blog and only check e-mail 2-3 times a day (every hour would be best) with the last minutes i get on a daily basis how would this help me and my time managerment?

    Please repsond I love your blog but this has always been hard for me to wrap my head around!

    BTW I work in radio on demand company you ask you get period. no expeations or find a new job!

  37. Just read the lastest issue of Fast Company (September 2007). ‘The Scoble Show’ column extolls the virtues of Twitter, although I guess he’s speaking more to the marketing opportunities than to the productivity loss/gain derived from using it.

  38. One of the reasons I have a BlackBerry is for the freedom it gives me. That might seem like an oxymoron, but hear me out. Since I have the BlackBerry, I can justify leaving work/client sites/whatever much earlier than I could otherwise.

    One really simple way to apply the principle discussed here (I’m considering using it) is to switch the profile on the BB to a Phone Only profile for hours outside your email check, and then back to one that allows messages and calls during your email time.

    Thoughts?

    ###

    Hi Steve,

    This is completely viable IF — and it’s a big “if” — you can control the impulse to check e-mail when a computer is sitting in your pocket. Another friend canceled his data plan on his Blackberry, so he is unable to send e-mail but still able to send text messages.

    Thanks for the suggestion!

    Tim

  39. I guess I just don’t understand this… The reason why I prefer email to phone calls is that I can check it whenever I want, and people are NOT expecting me to get back to them right away. I guess it must have to do with the fact that I don’t work in an office, so people don’t think I am glued to a terminal all day. But they do expect calls to be returned quickly, maybe within a couple of hours. It seems there is much more leniency towards email, though. Which is why, though it is my preferred mode of communication, even my closest friends and nicest clients keep calling me… I actually even considered putting my email address on my outgoing voicemail message, to encourage people to email me instead of leaving a message.

    I am often either in session, concentrated on a project, or otherwise engaged, so I rarely even pick up my phone. When I then listen to voicemail, I often have to deal with the ramblings of the person leaving a message. Or worse, they tell me “Can you please call me back?” even when they just want to chat or something. I find the phone to be the single biggest interrupting annoyance.

    With email, I can chose to skim it, delete it, or reply later. I can read email while I am on hold (which happens a lot during my phone interpretation work), or, if I had a Blackberry, on the noisy train, where phoning is hard to impossible. Email also gives me the opportunity to ponder an offer, think out a careful reply, cut and paste directions to my place (maybe even add a map!)… But, most of all, I feel like I can read email whenever I want. Which, ultimately, is what you are talking about: design your own time, and not be at everybody’s beck and call. Though I totally understand advising people to cut back on the frequency with which they check email, I really can’t wrap my head around asking clients and colleagues to call instead. That seems to be asking to be interrupted all the time.

    Thanks for your blog! Really enjoying it!

  40. “My business e-mail autoresponder, on the other hand, gives me the option to check email once every 7-10 days. Shoot a note to see how it’s done.”

    I didn’t get the auto-response 🙁

    Would love to see it!

    ###

    Hi Goby,

    I also use SpamArrest, so a few people receive the confirmation e-mail in their spam folder. Just “whitelist” the e-mail in the book if you can (make it an always-approved e-mail address) or look out in your spam folder. Thanks for the comment!

    Tim

  41. A few comments…

    1. Tim, thanks for a great book. I got the audio version and listen to it on my iPhone.

    2. To all the people who are saying, “I want to check email on my Hotmail account”: What the hell is stopping you? If you want to use the strategy of checking email twice daily, what is stopping you from only logging in to your Hotmail account at 10am and 4pm? Stay away from it and set alarms at these times if you need reminders. Maybe I just don’t get it but why would someone ask how to check web email twice a day?

    3. SpamArrest. Tim, you don’t need whitelisting or challenge/response to keep spam out of your Inbox. I use a simple strategy called Mail-Washing that I describe here http://www.iadam.org/. Ping me off-list if it does not make sense or if you want me to set up a test of it for you. I get virtually no spam at all and I don’t make people type “Pretty Dog” into a box to confirm that they are human or ask them to state why they want to contact me.

    4. To the folks who would rather have email because they can answer it on their own time schedule and it is not as immediate as a phone call: Have you heard of voicemail? GrandCentral.com has a free voicemail account that you can refer folks to as your contact number. Voice messages are sent as .wav or .mp3 files to your email account, which, as you know you check twice daily on your own schedule. And just because the phone rings does not mean you must answer it. Which leads me to…

    5. BlackBerries and iPhones and bears…oh my! Here is an interesting thought: What if you wanted to have mobile email to give you “freedom” away from a computer, but you did not want the interruptions? What if it were possible to turn the email alert button on your iPhone or BlackBerry to “silent” (not vibrate), and then set an alarm on the unit to go off at 10am to remind you to look at your blackberry and process email? Hmmm… requires a lot of self-discipline but the thing has both an off switch as well as a silent setting!

    6. To the fellow who had the boss who got mad at him for not being responsive enough to an email sent at 9pm: Been there, done that. You need to look for a new job and give your notice. It is simply unhealthy working for someone like that. Run…now.

    7. Regarding notifying the office that you’ll be checking email twice daily: Why notify them at all, just do it and mention it in person when you see someone. If you send out an all-office email it just becomes ammunition for those who want to sabotage your job or torpedo you. Just do it. They will get it if they want to get things from you. If they have a problem with it, meet in person to discuss, that way there is no written record of how you respond to their whining.

    8. Good rule of thumb: If it’s longer than two paragraphs or you’re writing longer than 2 minutes it really should be a 2 minute phone call. Get a timer and practice cutting yourself or the other person off after two minutes.

    Thanks

    Adam

    boettiger@pobox.com

  42. hmm.. I’d love to do this, but unfortunately, email is the best method for gathering information, and email conversations take place, meaning I ask a question they reply with info, I reply with other questions or more info. Things get sorted via email better because you can read and re-read what they say and spend time figuring out what they mean and want.

    I prefer email to phone because then I have a written record of the information that I can refer to. I don’t want to scribble notes while i talk on the phone, plus I can better phrase the questions via email. Oh, and the phone is a worse interruption than email. it’s an annoying noise that i MUST respond to at that time whether I want to or not

  43. I’m halfway through your book. I read this…I spend at least 3-4 hours a day checking and responding to e-mails (and I have a sophisticated outsourced spam blocker). That is……until tomorrow (it’s now Sunday!!). Thank you for the freedom suggestion :o)

  44. To send a automated response to every (spam) email will only result in more spam!

    I’m sure people realize that business people WILL respons as soon as they can! Why send that email?

  45. Just found this from a friend that has read your book and is truly implementing the checking of emails twice a day. I asked if he’d explain it, but he just pointed me to this post…LOL

    Picking up the book and I GOTTA implement a lot of some of these strategies!!

    Thanks tim!

  46. Yes this is awesome because i receive 50-100 eamis a day and it is a bad habit to keep checking. Nothing is ever that important and 11 and 4 is just fine. It is all habits and i am determined to change because life needs to be lived out and not worked out.

    Great idea. Thanks.

  47. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for sharing your great ideas.

    However, I’d like to mention some aspects that I think need to be taken into account in customer service interaction.

    1. First of all, your own issues and problems with productivity, time management or whatsoever should NOT become a customer’s problem or concern.

    2. With customer you should only share information that concerns that customer in some way, otherwise, your behaviour is unprofessional.

    Therefore…

    If you decided to make a personal email policy, then it’s your personal business, not your clients’ business. So there’s no need to send the whole essay about your ‘great time management skills’ as a reply to your client’s email.

    You talk about cutting your information intake, so do the customers. In the first example that you provide ” I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through…”, if the customer receives such an email, it will take him/her a few minutes to read/get annoyed, and not ask you for anything in the future, or better he/she will simply ignore it as it’s not worth spending time. What’s the use of telling your clients what you eat for breakfast or how you brush your teeth? Do you think they should bother? Definitiely Not

    What I suggest is cutting your replies to short answers including only required information without enthusiastic notes on making the world better.

    An example of such an auto-reply would be:

    ” Thank you for your email,

    We will answer your questions between 1 and 4 p.m on weekdays.

    We appreciate your taking time to contact us.”

    Kind Regards,

    Efim.

  48. Sounds like to me, you have just made yourself into a slave. Now, no matter what else you may need to plan, you have setup an expectation that you read AND RESPOND to emails at set times each day.

    If you have a Dr’s appt, better make sure it isn’t at 11 or 4.

    If you REALLY want to become more efficient, try NOT using your telephone. Email is MUCH faster, better and cheaper, plus gives you a record of the conversation.

    I have a personal policy of not using voicemail. I will not leave anyone a message on voicemail and I never have voice mail in my company offices. Ify you want to be more effecient, drop this voicemail addiction and us systems that queue up callers on hold so that 20% of your office time isn’t spent listening to voicemail, noting instructions, phone numbers and the like, and then calling someone back; just to get THEIR VOICEMAIL.

    Or better yet, become ultra effecient and quit wasting your time with stupid blogs that eat up your time.

    Take a TOTAL INTERNET break, if you can, and that would be impressive.

  49. For the email I mentioned in my above comment, you can use the subject lines:

    ” Your email to [CompanyName] ” for external communications and

    ” Your email to [DepartmentName] ” for internal communications.

    There are lots others though, ask me for more.

    Regards,

    Efim

  50. Tim:

    I’ve been trying this out and I have to tell you I have not had a single person even call me with an emergerncy yet, They all wait. I did have one confused Realtor (surprise) who sent me junk mail every day and t hen couldn’t seem to get why he was getting the same message 10 times a day. lol.

    I also had an attorney who told me I should can the auto-responder as it is obnoxious and seems as if I feel too self important. (trust me, the pot is definitely calling the kettle black).

    All and all, a great experience although I find that I still CHECK my mail too often even though I don’t have to. The addiction doesn’t wear off too easy.

    One last tip, if you do respond to your email at any other time people WILL ignore your auto-responder because you ignored it. DOI NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE!! (trust me)

    Thanks,

    Jeff

  51. Came to the realisation that I was spending too much time in the inbox a while back but hadn’t thought about setting up an autoresponder to let people know I’m now only checking emails once a day. Great idea and much more polite than not letting people know 🙂

  52. The discipline part is where I struggle. There are times I check email 4-5 times a day. There is just too much important information coming back to me that I have to get to.

    Tim Do you outsource this task to a V.A who can then filter out the very important emails to the ones that are low priority and have them brief you on which ones to need immediate attention? I was thinking of doing this for the future.

  53. Have only discovered Tim but boy am I glad.

    It was only after I read this site and watched “Fireside Chat with Tim Ferriss” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8fyIhsvjhc that I realised how much email was in control of my work life and the impact it was having on my personal life. Since I got an iPhone with its mail push function it has been, on reflection, out of control.

    Up until 2 days ago I checking my mail at 6 am when I got up, reading it while having breakfast with my 1 year old son, refreshing it constantly as I walked to the train station, replying to mails while on the train only stopping when it went underground – and that was before I went into work! So in effect I was using email 2 hrs before I even got into the office. When I got home I was bathing the kids, again while accessing mails, I even was access them will reading the kids there bedtime story – madness I know but it is amazing how you don’t notice these things if they become habit.

    Anyway here what I have done and even after just 2 days I feel like a massive load of my shoulders

    iPhone – I disabled both my work and gmail accounts on my iphone. So that I won’t cheat I got my wife to change the passwords on both accounts – therefore even if I tried to set them up again I couldn’t without getting the passwords from her – as she will not release them believe me!

    I then moved my mail app icon to the last page of my apps – completely out of the way with all the other useless free apps I have downloaded.

    While I was at it, I moved the 3 news sites apps I was also reading nearly every 5 minutes to the last page of my apps – I now realise that I don’t need the latest news every 5 minutes. Once a day is more than enough.

    I have also added the following auto responder to both work and personal emails

    Thank you for your email! In an effort to spend as much non work time with my kids as possible I have begun a new personal and business email policy. As such I am only checking mails at 12pm AET on weekdays. If you need anything immediately please call me on my mobile, it will be good to chat with you. Thank you and have a great day!

  54. Dear all,

    I am happy to read this book and I had implemented most things written in books and am helping all my clients to achieve such life style using my mobile based erp software called Mobileerp.net

    Checking emails once a day may not be practical idea but replying fast thru blackberry whenever u are free or comfirtable will be good idea.

    I check my emails mostly in travelling or when I am watching tv or free. If important I reply else forward to my VA.

  55. Great to read this but take in mind that reading and deleting auto responders takes tremendous amounts of time on yearly base. Email is not a telephone so an answer may take some time. It is much better to reply after one day with a complete answer than after an hour with an email you will reply tomorrow. Effective emailing starts with stopping to use auto responders unless you are away for more than 2 days.

    Switch of voice mail!

    Than also take in consideration an other time waster that is voice mail as you call someone to speak to him if he does not answer you can send an email or try to call back later, no you can’t because cash you connected to a voice mail

    Voice mail is just a great money collector for telephone company’s 3 times cashing for 1 message: 1 call speak in voice mail, 2 listen to the voice mail, 3 call back and if your lucky you reach him otherwise the whole thing starts over again.

    Happy running, Myckel

  56. I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  57. Hi,

    Does anyone know how to create an autoresponder in Apple Mail (Tiger) and MS Outlook 2003 (Windows), that can be limited to be send only once every 4 days or let’s say a week to the same recipient, is customizable (text and title, so not with the default “Out-of-office” title) and is running/working even when the computer (client) is is powered off???

    I’ve been searching for hours and still haven’t found the solution. :((

    Your help is very much appreciated!!

    Greetz,

    Vincent

  58. One thing that’s reduced inbox clutter for me is unsubscribing from useless newsletters. I repair computers for a living, so a ziff-davis email saying “Join us for this executive roundtable on enterprise security” is useless to me. I never removing myself from these lists until I started digesting what’s in The Four Hour Workweek.

  59. Nobody knows the answer to the question I askes earlier?!? Not even you Tim?? Or are you busy dancing and scooba diving? 😉

    If you’re back and by accident see my messages. I need your help! 😀

  60. I’ve given this a try in the last 2 weeks. Here are some of my thoughts.

    1. I already have my productivity systems like GTD in place so this works well in them, I even had a few people asking about it. Thing is, I realize I much prefer getting emails then I do phone calls. So what can I do about the “If you need an immediate time-sensitive response, please don’t hesitate to call me XXXXXXXX so that I can address this important matter with you.” I don’t want phone calls!

    2. I thought of putting “send me a text message at XXXX XXXX” which is better, but I prefer emails instead of text messages and I tend to note them and then leave them…

    Or are we suggesting here than most won’t be sending/calling me anyway? Then what do we do about those ppl who consider their issue important but arn’t really high on my priority? I still don’t want their calls!

    Am I being to demanding?

  61. “If you don’t yet use Twitter, don’t start. It’s pointless e-mail on steroids.”

    I read that line and then, on the same page saw the link “Follow Tim on Twitter”.

    How can that be? Is Tim starting to ignore his own advice?

  62. Hello,

    Is there a tutorial on how to setup outlook to only check e-mails twice a day? I can’t seem to figure it out. I am so excited to try this technique at work. My day seems to be bogged down by e-mails and I can’t wait to feel ‘free’ again. Only a quarter of the way through the book and this is becoming a life-changing experience. This is totally against the methods that I was tought in business school. Can’t wait to get outside the box where I feel most comfortable 🙂 Thanks so much for this amazing read.

    Kind regards,

    Nick

  63. My entire network has been out of control (email, twitter, rss, etc) and I’ve been reading a ton of articles to get some ideas.

    I really like this idea, and I actually set it up tonight. I’m really hoping this will be a life changing step for me. We are about to have our first child and I want to change some of my habits before he arrives. I have an ipad, iphone, macbook air, imac, and they are all beeping, chirping, or notifying me of something that it wants me to attend to. It’s become out of control.

    The google reader is another one for me that is hard to break. I check it all day, all the time, and I end up starring tons of “stuff’ so that I develop a back pile of “starred” items I feel I can’t ever get caught up on (as if the info really means anything…..ha,ha). It is going to be so hard to go from getting a message in “real time” to only a few times a day, I really hope I can do it.

    I have also found that my use of technology has caused me to set unrealistic expectations of other people (I think that everyone should ping me back as soon as they get my email. I want “real time) but many people don’t communicate like that, and I don’t want to set the expectation that they have to. People often say, “Not everyone is attached at the hip to all of those devices. ”

    I also want to be present where I am. I don’t want to think I always have to be checking rss, email, twitter, facebook, etc all the time. Many times I just want to watch a movie with my wife, or go to dinner without checking all my “pings’ non-stop. It’s simply not healthy. I hope your advice will help!

    I’d be interested to hear any feedback you have on controlling the urge for “information.” Seriously google reader is like the black hole of information that actually has zero importance, but I feel like I’ll be so out of touch if I don’t read my feeds. Another struggle is that by the time I read all my feeds, and click refresh, they have all updated again, so it’s like a black hole. Not good.

    Thanks again for this advice!

  64. My opinion is that the first step to successfully reducing the number of times you check your email is to put your “self” in check. You must remove the stress and anxiety from your life and be willing to release some control over the social messages we all receive on a daily basis. Once you accept relinquishing control then you can establish a consistent routine of returning emails at set time intervals. Hope this advice resonates with some people out there!

  65. hey Tim, great book, enjoyed the article, mentioned it in my post today on the Sync Blog (Canada’s # Technology Blog) in reference to a new app for Gmail called courteous.ly, the auto-reply works way better.

    Cheers

  66. Given my current type of work, I need to implement this policy for myself. I won’t set an auto-reply but will let know my boss about this attempt, so that at least he knows if there is anything urgent he can always skype me.

    I use online gmail for work, and many of my documents are in the email, so I am exposed to the browser the whole day. So blocking the site (i.e keepmeout.com won’t work in this case). Any tools to aid discipline the checking inbox? Maybe a schedule reminder?

  67. To check the mail twice a day is not a big deal. We can easily do it by maintaining our busy schedule. The best way is that you must check your mails as soon as you sign in to office and at that time you should only go for checking your business related mail. And at home when you are done with your supper, then you can check your friends and family member’s mails. according to me this is the proper way to check your mail twice a day.

  68. I work as a Customer Service Manager/Cube Monkey, and tried this immediately after reading the chapter in 4HWW.

    Within 48 hours our CFO said “That is horrible customer service” nixed it. Pretty sweet huh? So I created a LinkedIn poll to show how unoffensive it was. Received 100% support from the poll.

    Cheers,

    Nathan MF Crooks

    You know what the MF stands for.

    1. French it company atos banned email internally (not externally). It really is inefficient when information could be shared via knowledge management (wiki, sharepoint, other social tools that would fit the situation).

  69. So tell me, of those of you who moan about Tim’s ‘method’ of clearing your life of the email checking addiction, how many of you that disagree are living the life Tim is? Hmmmmm? Remember the 80’s any of you?, there WAS life before computers and even mobile phones diseased our lives and sanity. People used to call the landline ‘when it was important’ and if not, they sent ‘snail mail’ and expected a response some time in the not too far away future. Business still went on, people made money, the pace was fast but controllable, we had answering machines for the landline when we were too busy to answer the phone right? People didn’t complain then and why should they now. Seems all of you that are having trouble (listen to yourselves will you???? really!) have no life goals during email reading time as it is ALL IMPORTANT. Tim, great advice mate, I guess you are on a beach somewhere, I’ll expect a response to this some time in the next month. Relax people, night will come, eventually (as emails will be read, eventually.) Cheers all, Aussie David.

  70. I love this idea and am starting straight away.

    As a newbie copywriter, self-employed for the first time, I really want to instil best practice from the beginning. I’m so guilty of checking over and over for replies to bids for work and it’s just this drip-drip of constant distraction tinged with disappointment – Does not make for a good creative flow!

  71. I use Outlook 2007. I am trying to figure out a way to have emails that I receive “released” at certain times. For example, check for e-mails at 7am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Meanwhile, I would like e-mail that I send to go out immediately. Additionally, I would like e-mails that come from specific people (such as my boss) to come through immediately.

    I think this would help in not being such a slave to e-mails – but I am not sure if Outlook has the functionality to do this.

    Thoughts? Thanks.

    1. It’s going to be a combination of self-discipline – you literally shutting down your Outlook program unless and until you need to SEND an email, and you using a product called AwayFind http://awayfind.com/ that allows you to specify special alerts from domains, important addresses etc. – in essence create a White List.

    2. Just set the send and recieve advanced option in Outlook to only send every n minutes, up to 9999 :), or if you go with the twice a day option every 200 minutes.

  72. I also use outlook 2007 for all my emails and it is amazing how much email comes through. I will look into adding an autoresponder and see how that goes. I love the idea of checking email twice a day, but it is hard to adhere to it.

  73. I had to adopt a more passive-aggressive approach because my employer was a startup (we were just acquired by a large computer company, so that attitude will have to change) and there is still a premium placed on heroics (i.e., “Drop everything and do it now!”).

    I’m a software engineer with a lot of my own work to do, but I also handle some escalation cases, and it torques me off when I get a case and then the support engineer wants to schedule a GoToMeeting for the same day: “I’ve got the customer on the phone, can you look at it now?”

    I’ve managed to train people to use Exchange for scheduling meetings, and at the start of every day, I put in a big 12-hour private appointment: this results in my schedule being booked solid for the day.

    This way, if someone wants to schedule a meeting, it has to be tomorrow.

    So far, it’s working well: I don’t get dropped into a support issue without sufficient time to read the case and get caught up on the issue.

  74. Hi Tim, I love your approach towards email. I have tried your approach now for three weeks (checking mail once per day @ 11pm). My self discipline is starting to work out. The reactions from my colleagues vary a lot however. Most are positive. Especially in the first week. Now I have some colleagues that are starting to get really pissed off because of my auto-response and are steering towards a conflict situation if I do not turn it off. Do you have any suggestions in addition to the suggestion in your book to offer to help to create a mail rule for them?

    1. Apply Tim’s 80/20 rule i,e if 80% of your colleagues are supportive of you new approach to time management concentrate maintaining effective relationships with them. As for the other 20% certainly don’t cc them into anything to avoid the commencement of a new email trail.

  75. I am currently investigating which email triage strategy is more efficient and satisfying for users out of continuously checking email or only checking them once or twice a day as my final year psychology dissertation.

    Does anybody know of any scientific publications, websites or anything else concerning either this or the effectiveness of other email management strategies? At the moment I am struggling to find anything more than a few articles that are only somewhat related and any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Also if anybody would be intersted in participating in my study let me know and I can provide further details, if not sorry for the spam/self promotion.

    1. Hi Adam –

      I write about the topic you’re doing your dissertation on (and similar issues). You can reach me at adam at digitalminimalism dot com

      Best,

      Adam

  76. I’m a third year psychology student and for my dissertation I am conducting a study investigating the effect of different email strategies on productivity, including testing a strategy somewhat related to the one discussed in this article.

    Sorry about this self promotion but I thought this could be mutually beneficial as the results of your email efficiency with different strategies will be made available to you.

    If you are interested and want some more information let me know.

  77. Hi Tim,

    I just finished reading the 4-Hour Workweek, and I wanted to thank you. The book is brilliant, and the concepts resonate with me. I had already been heading down this path before I found your book, but once I read it, it just solidified everything and reassured me that what I was doing was right.

    I’ve been also working towards much better email efficiency.

    Thanks again,

    Brad

  78. Depending on where we work, what kind of work we have, or whether we work at all (maybe some of us are students), we’ve got to adjust the idea to our lifestyle. Some people have decided to remove internet from their homes altogether (I’ve tried that), some people try to set limits to internet or computer use through “SelfRestraint” softwares. Others create email checking frequency policies. Other’s work is AT computer, checking and answering e-mails. To each their own. I think it’s about experimenting and finding what suits your work ethic, personality, and productivity needs. Let’s keep firing the ideas.

  79. Yes, Tim, we used to be able to get lots of work done before email!

    I try NOT to respond immediately to every email because otherwise that tells the person I will respond within seconds and then they send more. And on and on and…..

    I do scan the subjects every hour to see what emails have come in and I delete spam beforehand to make less clutter. When I do carve out time to read them I make sure I print out the more detailed and respond appropriately after I clear out all of the unimportant, less needy emails.

    Also, I have found people will put more information in initial emails if they know I only read email occasionally. Unfortunately, there are email letter “bombs” where someone is demanding I contact them right away and they are disappointed when I don’t react within minutes of receipt.

    Yes, we used to get more done before emails…..but we had less information.

  80. A good auto responder a colleague used coming back to work after two weeks on holidays was “I will be too busy to read all the emails left after two weeks away (approx 400) so therefore I will delete them all. Anything that is very important and not been sorted out in the meantime please resend your email”

    Excellent!

  81. This is a great approach to take, and well worth the effort to set up and do a bit of “tuning.”

    I’ve been trying this rule for about a month and reckon it saves me 30 mins to 1 hour in “less emails” per day, and 10 – 20% increase in productivity through staying in flow.

    I’ve expanded on this thinking, and given a couple of tips on my blog if anyone is interested in finding out more.