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One theory to combat this vicious cycle is to simply tell people that you won’t be responding to people. Lily Herman at The Muse says that one way to reduce the number of emails you receive is to turn on your auto responder -- even if you’re not out of the office or on vacation (as much as you wish you were.) This way, people don’t expect an instant reply, or even a reply from you. It also buys you a bit of time, so you can focus on actually getting work done, rather than checking your email every time you see something incoming.
Of course, you may need to float this idea by your boss, as I know some of my previous employers would at least need a bit of persuasion to use this tactic, or else I would have been fired in a heartbeat. However, using an auto responder can help streamline the communication process, especially internally. If you have a large team, and each of you has an individual role, it may make sense to set up yours to help redirect incoming email so that the sender knows who can best help them -- and faster. Instead of waiting for you to forward to an email to the support team, an auto responder such as the following may be beneficial to the whole team -- especially if your email is one of the most well-known in the company:
“Hi, thanks for your email. I’ll do my best to reply within 2-3 days. If you have a tech support question, please email email@example.com. If you have a billing question, please email billing at firstname.lastname@example.org. It may also be helpful to read our FAQs at http://www.company.com/FAQ. Thanks!”
You’ll notice the auto responder sample above also included a link to the company’s FAQs -- including these in an auto responder (or, alternatively, a link to your support docs or blog) may help the sender answer their own questions so you don’t have to respond at all.
This strategy is used by many who run their own businesses to help them focus on work. For those who work in an office, the same technique may be beneficial to improving productivity and keeping your inbox manageable.
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