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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

This CEO's Email Strategy Is So Smart That You'll Want to Copy It

I’m a pro at reaching inbox zero. With that said, I’m not far up the ladder yet, so I only receive a handful of emails an hour.

But as you start to climb the ranks, that notification number gets bigger and bigger. And more importantly, so does the number of other responsibilities you take on. Basically, email moves to the bottom of the “things you must do” list because it has to.

However, that doesn’t stop messages from piling up. While many people use apps and hacks to manage the flow, CEO Tom Patterson takes another approach. According to one of LinkedIn’s highest rated articles of the year, he’s solved this problem by using an OOO message while he’s in the office:

I am currently checking email before 9 AM and after 5 PM EST so there will be a delayed response. If this is urgent please call or text.

Pretty clever, right? As a manager, this allowed him to focus on the things that mattered while simultaneously encouraging his team to solve their own problems. Betty Liu, a top LinkedIn influencer and author of the article, sums up why this approach works so well:

“Matters that seemed urgent resolved themselves without 200-plus emails flying across a ‘Reply All’ terrain. Things that were really urgent warranted phone calls. And if Tom’s people knew he was only to be interrupted for really important matters, they took it upon themselves to make their own decisions. None of that would have happened if Tom were available all the time by email to take care of every little detail.”

With this said, you’re probably no CEO—which means this technique may not work for you, and may even annoy some people above and below you. But what this suggests is that there are ways you can use OOO messages to help you out, too.

When you’re about to go on vacation, for example, you can set up your OOO message a day early to reduce unnecessary back-and-forths. Or, you can create an auto-response to go off every weekend to train your boss to send fewer messages after work hours. Or, you can use it one afternoon for your internal team when you’re trying to wrap up a huge project and won’t have any time to respond to non-urgent matters.

It looks like this:

I’m spending this afternoon completing the quarterly data report. In order to get it done in time (and make it look good for all you fine folks), I’m only responding to urgent emails between 1 PM to 6 PM today. After that, I’ll get back to everyone. Thanks for understanding!

My point? You don’t have to be a CEO to take control of your inbox. You just have to be willing to find an approach that makes sense for you (and your team).

Photo of person on laptop courtesy of Photography by Bobi/Getty Images.