This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.

I’m not the only one who struggles to manage email. Recall the McKinsey study revealing that the average “interaction worker” spends 28% of work week managing email. (I’m not sure what an “interaction worker” is, but I’m pretty sure I am one.) This equates to nearly three hours per day, on average. Add meetings on top of that, along with the actual work we’re expected to get done, and we’ve got a reliability crisis on our hands.

I haven’t found the silver bullet for this challenge yet, but I have found some resources I wanted to share. A quick Google search for “how to manage the email madness” reveals quick help like:

Long-time readers know I’m a big fan of distinctive email auto-replies as a way to both manage expectations about your responsiveness and be in touch, in a way, even when you’re out of touch.

I think my all-time favorite expectation management approach, though, got delivered to my own inbox just last week. It was embedded in my client’s reply to an email I sent him. His signature line includes this paragraph, which appears BEFORE his actual signature, so it shows up right under the body of his message:

Like you, I could spend my entire life sending and responding to email. While I try to get through all them, I don’t want email to get in the way of making an impact on projects for my clients and <company name>. If time sensitive or if I just haven’t gotten back to you, send me a text or call me at 555.555.5555.

I really like this. It’s empathetic. Focused on his commitment to having an impact. And bold.

I sometimes use a wimpier version in my email signature block (it’s buried under all my contact info):

In an effort to maintain my sanity my regular email hours are weekdays 9a – 6p ET. If you need to reach me urgently outside those times, please call my mobile.

I can certainly be better with my own email management. I do think setting and managing expectations is a big part of dealing with the reliability challenge. We advocate a lot in our workshops for the value of a quick and simple “I’m on the case” reply (or a “Yikes, can’t get back to you until Friday” reply).

I also just plain long for the olden days of actual conversations, when things are really important.

Make It Real

This week, look for small ways you might be a more reliable emailer. Or if you’re really good at it, share your wisdom with someone … though preferably not via email LOL.

Learn More


Read about the benefit of returning calls unbelievably fast, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on all the ways to accelerate your trustworthiness in Chapter 21 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).