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PRODUCTIVITY

Autoresponder: Not Just for Vacations Anymore

Steal this simple but often overlooked productivity hack from some of the world's busiest--and most successful--entrepreneurs.
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You know email is a huge productivity suck, but you might be shocked to learn exactly how much of your day is wasted responding to less-than-essential emails. One study from McKinsey found that the average worker spends 28 percent of her working hours managing email, another that an incredible 40 percent of our time at the office is spent handling internal emails that add roughly no value to the business.

So what if there was a way to reclaim this 30 percent to 40 percent of your workday for truly important tasks?

According to a host of supersuccessful entrepreneurs, this amazing feat is actually possible--and all it requires is a simple tool you're probably using already. What's this miracle email zapper? Just good, old autoresponder.

Who's doing it?

You no doubt already set up canned messages to let clients and colleagues know when you'll be out of the office for whatever reason, but as Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder of Swissmiss, CreativeMornings, and TeuxDeux, told Fast Company recently, the same tool can be used for everyday email management. "About a year ago, I really hit a wall of feeling such anxiety and guilt around my inbox and not being able to keep up," Eisenberg said. "The thought of disappointing people and not being responsive and not getting back to people, that really stressed me out. It got to the point where it wasn't healthy, so I put the autoresponder up to adjust expectations for people that email me." 

Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes has taken similar steps to tame his wild inbox. He told Fast Company of his routine autoresponder that directs emailers to others who can help with various tasks: "I was spending a lot of time on these things that I didn't need to rewrite every time, so I'm just going to put this in front of people so they can go and chase down and be self-empowered. Some people might call that douchey, but I just think it's getting people in touch with the right thing. Hopefully, I do that in a way that doesn't turn people off, but I don't want to spend my life being a switchboard operator."

The everyday autoresponder, in other words, has a couple of functions. It sets expectations among senders in order to relieve your guilt that you're not responding to every message instantly, and if it's well crafted, it helps your correspondents redirect queries to others who might be more helpful to them without wasting your time.

How does it work?

Recommendations from this caliber of entrepreneur carry a good amount of weight, but if the names endorsing the idea have you convinced, that still leaves one very important question: How does this actually work in practice?

Enter best-selling author Tim Ferriss, who is another fan of the autoresponder. He went through the exact wording he uses on his on his blog recently, offering sample messages for various situations. For example, he suggests this short and sweet message if you're simply trying to convey that you have more important things to do than constantly check your inbox:

Greetings, Friends [or Esteemed Colleagues],

Due to a high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily, at noon ET [or your time zone] and 4 p.m. ET.

If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either noon or 4 p.m., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.

Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

Looking for more ideas for other work situations? Check out Ferriss's complete post for his other go-to autoresponder messages.

Are you tempted to join the ranks of those with always-on autoresponders?

Last updated: Aug 4, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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