In early June, I embarked on a radical experiment: I gave up email for 30 days. Here are my results…
When I started the trial, I felt completely overwhelmed by email, and I just wanted a way out. I was waking up every morning to an incessant barrage of PR people, sales letters, chain emails, people wanting me to write about their product, companies wanting me to promote them without compensation, and–generally–a bunch of junk. Not “spam”, really, because it was sent by real people (sadly.) But a ridiculous pile of useless crap that wasn’t easily filtered.
Since my email address is public, and my blog is popular, it seemed like every day I’d end up on some list that I didn’t ask to be on. People would sign my email address up for everything from political updates to PR posts about seemingly random companies sent from a “do not reply” address.
In short, my email inbox was a micro-Hell waiting for me every morning.
The First Seven Days: Transition
I woke up the day after I wrote my “I’m done with email for 30 days!” blog post, and realized I needed to have systems to handle my inbox. Email filters weren’t cutting it–I needed a real person’s help.
In Google Apps (Google’s Gmail solution when you have your own domain name), you can “delegate” access to your email account to another person. So I set Susan, my virtual assistant, up with an @erica.biz email account so I could delegate my inbox to her.
Now came the tricky part: Actually distancing myself from email.
Getting Rid of the Crap
I set up a brand-new email account that only Susan, Parnell (my co-founder), and Brian (my boyfriend) had access to. I disconnected my erica.biz email from my phone and set it up so that my phone only had my private email account on it.
Whew! What a relief! Finally, I had disconnected from what seemed like an endless stream of email. I set up a mind map so that Susan, with her new access to my email, could do routine tasks like automatically deleting PR junk and unsubscribing me from lists. She also sends me a summary email every morning. Here’s one summary email she sent me (names and sensitive data have been blurred out):
You can see how much time this saves me every day. Instead of having to go into my inbox and wade through a pile of junk, filtering messages one by one, Susan does it for me. Based on her daily emails, I tailor my mind map and give Susan further instructions on how to reply and/or filter specific types of email I receive.
The Next Step: An Autoresponder
I then implemented an email autoresponder that would respond to anyone who emailed me. If you’ve emailed me since June, this will look familiar. Here’s what it said:
Hello, and thank you for emailing me! Please read this carefully…what I’m about to say is important.
I’ve made a radical change in my life, and I’m taking a sabbatical from email. (Note: I’m still around and working–just not replying to email!) This means that the email you just sent to me will likely NOT be read.
Please read this blog post for more details about why I am doing this:
What should you do now?
1) If you are a Whoosh Traffic customer, please email [redacted] for assistance with your account, and our staff will get back to you quickly. (Always email [redacted] instead of me directly in the future.)
Please note that [redacted] is for Whoosh Traffic customers only. Any non-Whoosh Traffic-related email that is sent there will not only not get read by me, but will likely get you permanently banned from emailing that address again.
2) If you and I have corresponded in the past and you need to get in touch again, feel free to call me or find me on Skype ([redacted]). (Note: If you are a Whoosh Traffic customer and need help with your account, please email [redacted] instead.)
2) If neither of the above situations apply, please find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ericabiz and send me an @ reply there. (I will be checking once a day.) Alternatively, you can find me on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ericadotbiz . I will also be checking this once a day.
Thank you for your understanding.
I wondered if putting our Whoosh Traffic support email address would cause people to email us with all kinds of junk, but during the entire 30+ days, I only received one out-of-context email there (and promptly banned the sender, as promised in the email.)
As I implemented these solutions, the noise died down. I get just 2-3 pitches a day now (and I quickly reply asking them to remove me from their email lists.) Susan handles my inbox with aplomb.
In short, my 30-day trial was successful. The only drawbacks were few compared to the hours I gained back. The biggest negative was a few Whoosh Traffic potential customers who weren’t sure whether it was okay to email our support email address. I fixed that by updating my autoresponder. This is what I use currently:
Hello, and thank you for emailing me! Please read this carefully.
I am not currently accepting guest posts on erica.biz.
If you are a PR company emailing me about your product or service, I ask that you please remove me from your list.
I read all emails, but I may not have time to respond to you. My assistant, Susan, also reads my emails and may respond where appropriate. If she responds, you will see her name in the From field and also in her signature. If it says it’s from me, it’s from me.
If I do respond, it may take a week or more. For Whoosh Traffic-related issues (sales *or* support), please email firstname.lastname@example.org, use the live chat feature on http://whooshtraffic.com, or use the contact form on our site. Please do not send Whoosh Traffic-related issues directly to me, as I can’t respond as quickly as our support team can.
Thank you for understanding and for helping to keep my inbox clean.
(Note: This was different than the autoresponder I had previously…you may notice a few comments on this post referring to my old one.)
This cleared up those issues, and that’s what I plan to stick with in the future.
How Much Time Did It Save/How Much Did It Cost?
Susan spends about an hour a week on my email, so that’s a bit over $60/month in direct costs to me.
I use RescueTime to show me exactly how much time I spent on email then and now. RescueTime measures how much time you spend on each website and in each application on the computer you’re running it on, and is now my “gold standard” to see where I’m wasting time. If you want to know where all that time goes when you’re on the computer, RescueTime is your solution.
I went from spending 1-2 hours a day on email to 3-5 hours a week. That’s a savings of approximately 5 hours a week. At my consulting rate of $500/hour, that’s a $10,000/month savings.
Of course, not every hour I saved could be billed out at $500. But even if every hour I save is worth $50 (and I think that’s a fair assumption), I saved $1,000/month.
In other words, unchaining myself from email massively benefited me in terms of both having more time and having a better emotional state (which is, frankly, priceless.) I don’t hate waking up and getting on the computer any more. That’s huge.
Apply This to Your Business
As business owners, there are a lot of little things we do that are total time-sinks. I don’t even think we’re aware of them.
If you claim you don’t have time to do something, it’s time for you to get better delegation skills. If outsourcing your email scares the bejeezus out of you (like it did me until I reached my breaking point), that’s reason enough to try it. You may be pleasantly surprised with the extra time you receive back in return for having the courage to make a tough choice.
- RescueTime. Sign up for a free account and start seeing where you’re wasting your time. I am a huge fan.
- How to Hire an Employee. My complete step-by-step guide to hiring an amazing employee.
- How to Make Money on the Internet. There are three things you need in order to make money on the Internet…