QUESTION: Pat, like many people I have some peak times when I must have a block of uninterrupted time to work on a project or meet a deadline. I can easily send my phone calls to voice mail, but email is something else. Do you have a suggestion for how to deal with the constant influx of mail? Thanks.

ANSWER:  That’s a common issue, and I struggle with it myself sometimes.  I have seen a few different ways that people have chosen to handle it, some I even agree with!

The obvious solution is to close out of your email, or at least turn off notifications.  We have trained ourselves and others to immediately open and respond to emails.  I am trying to untrain myself and get back to a system where I receive and respond to emails at designated times of the day.  For example, I usually check emails first thing in the morning, and again some time in the afternoon. Productive workspaceThe problem with that is I am on Eastern time, and sometimes my clients are a few time zones away, so “first thing” is ambiguous. I am now checking emails between 9 and 10 am EST, and again between 3 and 4 pm EST. What I have not done is to start training my clients to that cycle. I will be setting up auto-responders to let people know when to expect an answer, and how to reach me if they must have a response sooner.

I saw one such auto reply that I found extraordinary – and not in a good way. What do you think?

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.

It certainly gets the point across. However, to delete the email and ask someone to keep track of when you will be back and then resend is not the kind of customer service I support.

I plan to use a response something like this:

I regularly have “mail call” when I read and respond to emails between 9 and 10 am (Eastern time) and again between 3 and 4 pm. This allows me to be more productive throughout the day. If you have a pressing need for a quicker response, please leave a text message at 757.359.0251, which I check frequently. Thanks for understanding.

If I am going to be at a conference, training, or otherwise unavailable for a day, I will let people know that also.  It’s common courtesy to not just leave people hanging, wondering if you got the message, or what is happening with their questions.  I’m much more comfortable and have used Out-of-Office replies regularly for these times; now I need to adapt for the daily use.

Our time is a resource we can easily squander if we are not attentive to it. Scheduling our work so we can be at our most productive or creative is important to our sanity and survival. I think most people will appreciate knowing when to expect a reply, and that means, of course, we must honor that as well.

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