Re-thinking email when you are writing

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about re-thinking email….

Many years ago, after reading the bestselling Tim Ferris book The Four-Hour Workweek, I started sending out an automated email to everyone who emailed me:

Out of embarrassment, I’ve now repressed the details, but I recall it said something like:

I check my email only once a day so please expect it to take at least 24 hours for a reply. If you need to reach me urgently, please call.

I quickly received mostly negative responses to this missive with most people making observations like:

  • I don’t need to know the inner workings of your business
  • I’m sick of getting this message every time I email you
  • Stop the explanations and just REPLY

As well, my auto-message went out to everyone who’d emailed me, including the spammers — not people I wanted to have confirmation of my email address. 

I quickly cancelled the auto-messaging and didn’t think more about it until recently, after seeing a post by Josh Spector containing what he described as “the best auto-email I’ve ever seen.”

Here’s what that email (from a successful lawyer) said:

Let me apologize — if you don’t get an immediate response. My phone may be turned off. I may be walking, and looking up, instead of down. If you are curious — and this is a workday — feel free to call my office. I may be in a meeting, or my “device” is on a “time out.” In any event, I am trying to be less distractible, more deliberative, and more mindful. I am hoping this will make us all more productive. If you need me — and this is urgent, or timely — please call my office or my cell. If this is a weekend, or an evening, and this is NOT urgent, let’s talk during the week. If this is personal, call me, find me, see me — let’s talk not text. Let’s try this.

While I’ve abandoned the whole concept of auto-emails, I LOVE this response, mainly because it attempts to redirect emails to other — better — forms of communication.

None of us, particularly not writers, need to be instantly available by email 100% of the time! I’ve worked with many people who have tied themselves in knots trying to write while also being responsible to bosses, to colleagues and to customers. It just doesn’t work.

In order to write, we need quiet and attention. If the back of you mind is constantly wondering what your boss/colleague/customer is going to demand next, of course you’re going to have difficulty writing. Don’t monitor your email while you are writing.

Instead, start re-thinking your use of email. Don’t even allow the little red numbered icon to appear (as shown in the photo, above), indicating how many unread emails you have.  My alert is permanently turned off. Other tips are available here.

When you write, write. When you do other things, do other things.

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