Do you look at your inbox and want to cry? If so, you’re not alone. According to widely cited Radicati Group research, the average person gets 120 business emails every day. If you don’t manage your emails, you could end up in another statistical majority. People spend at least 14 percent of their workday on email alone. Is it any wonder that a recent Harris Poll found that only 45 percent of our workdays are spent on actual work? If you’re looking for the solution to your email woes, start with some of Silicon Valley greats.
BEZOS DELEGATES If you want to watch a corporate team start to sweat, see what happens when they get a “?” email from Jeff Bezos. Business Insider reports that the notoriously easy-to-contact Amazon CEO will forward customer complaints to his people and add only a question mark to the original query. Getting that dreaded mark is a little like getting the black spot from Blind Pew the pirate. You know that a day of reckoning is at hand. Follow Bezos’ lead. Instead of answering all emails yourself, ask, “Can this be better handled by someone else?” Forward it to your team and save yourself the time.
USE AUTO REPLIES You can also use auto-reply tools to manage the flood. Tommy John CEO Tom Patterson did just that after his emails skyrocketed from 150 to 400 a day. He tells Inc.com that “there weren’t enough minutes in a day to answer all of them.” So he didn’t; he set up an auto-reply to tell people that he only checked email before 9 and after 5 — and to please call or text if it was urgent. The result? “It forced me to delegate and empower others to respond,” he says. Suddenly the flow slowed to a trickle.
DO YOU GET MORE EMAILS THAN BILL GATES? And it really should only be a trickle; Bill Gates reports that he only gets 40–50 emails a day. Ask yourself, “Should I really be getting more emails than Bill Gates?” One possible cause for email inundation, according to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, is other employees sending too much email of their own. He writes, “Two of the people I worked most closely with ended up leaving the organization within the span of several weeks after they left I realized my inbox traffic had been reduced by roughly 20–30 percent.” If you have over-communicators in your ranks, ask them to tone back the digital flood.
SET BOUNDARIES Creating a hard buffer between your email and your life is another CEO tactic. Arianna Huffington doesn’t check her email for a half hour after waking or before going to bed, and she never touches it around her kids. That space to breathe is essential to maintaining a work-life balance. And if it gets bad enough? Etsy’s Chad Dickerson has a solution: email bankruptcy! He tells Fast Company that every few years, he just deletes everything and starts fresh!
Not all Silicon Valley gurus have it figured out, however. Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t get 120 business emails a day. No, according to an ABC interview, he gets closer to 700. He just gets up at the crack of dawn every morning and starts reading. Hint Water CEO Kara Goldin does the same thing, preparing for a 12-hour workday with a marathon email session. But as you can tell from the other people we’ve discussed, this is an exception, not the rule. Emulate Jeff Bezos or Arianna Huffington instead and watch your email stress melt away.
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