The New Habit Challenge: Use An Email Autoresponder Every Day

We once dubbed the autoresponder "The Greatest Productivity Tool You Never Thought Of." But were we just being hyperbolic? You tell us.

Inbox zero is a myth, an urban legend relayed by merry pranksters who want you to go crazy trying to respond to every email you ever receive.

At least that’s how I feel.

Upon returning from a recent three-day vacation I was met with a little more than 180 unread work emails. My out of office message subdued some emailers from immediately following up upon my return, but is that enough? Studies have shown that the average person receives more than 50 emails a day and a quarter of us receive more than 100.

What if every day you could acknowledge that you have received your emailers’ messages and simultaneously manage their expectations for an immediate response? That’s where the email autoresponder comes in.

Several famous busy people like HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes use a daily email autoresponder to keep people’s expectations in check, their guilt at bay, and their time to themselves, and it’s so very easy to do.

Check out our article on email autoresponders to see some great examples and more on why you should start deploying this productivity hack today.

Is this the "greatest productivity tool you never thought of" as we claimed? For the next week, I plan to put our advice to the test, and I hope you'll join me. For inspiration, here's the email autoresponder that I'll be using:

You’re receiving this automated message to confirm that your email has safely evaded my spam filter and made it into my inbox. Hurray!

Since you are receiving this message, there is no need for you to follow up on your email. You may not hear back from me immediately, but you will hear back—I guarantee it!

I appreciate your patience, and I hope you have a swell rest of the day.

Try it out yourself and tell us what you loved and hated, if it worked or totally bombed, and we may feature your response in an upcoming Fast Company story. Responses must be submitted to habits@fastcompany.com by end of day Thursday, July 31, 2014.

[Image: Shutterstock]

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13 Comments

  • shuet

    I dislike these email auto responders unless it was actually reporting an exception or information that I would not otherwise have known, e.g. I am on holiday, I am on maternity leave, I have left the company.

    Simply telling me you will get round to responding to my email is pointless. I don't even both reading those messages and get annoyed at another piece of junk in my inbox.

  • Nope. I can't stand these kind of auto-responders and I shy away from doing business with people who use them.

    In my mind it translates to, "I don't know how to manage my time and workload, so be warned: you're not a priority and I'm going to procrastinate as long as possible before getting back to you."

    A well managed inbox allows you to get back to people quickly when needed, and hold off a few days on things not urgent.

  • I am totally use this - word for word (sorry). I am so freaking slammed everyday with meeeeeeeeetings, I don't have time for proper electronic mail norms. Though I am sure it violates so sort of HR policy, I am riding this horse as long as a I can.

  • Inbox zero is not a myth. We use it at my company with great success. Those who claim it doesn't work just aren't willing to commit to a personal productivity system. Plain and simple.

  • Then you work at a well-resourced company where people have time to achieve this. I spend about 2/3 of my time in meetings, and we are discouraged from emailing in meetings. Outside of that, I spend most of my day managing my staff. Then, when the workday is "over", I respond to emails on my hour-long commute home and again the next morning on my way back to work. Ameer is partly right, in that I'm sure inbox-zero is possible for some people without them losing sleep or getting divorced. At my organization, given our staffing and resources, and that most decisions are made by consensus, email is a mountain nobody can conquer.

  • Inbox zero has been incredibly successful for me, and I'd put myself in the category of people who get 100+ emails a day. I've tried to figure out why it doesn't work for other people. I'm not so sure it's always about not committing to a personal productivity system. Definitely for some people, but for others, I think it might be more about personality, style, time spent away from the computer, their ability or desire to quickly make decisions about the emails that come in, or even things like their typing speed. Some people just have no idea how it would help them or how to get started I imagine.

  • The problem I have with this suggestion are the spam emails that DO make it through to my inbox. Many of which are simply bots trying to verify a legitimate email address. By replying it flags as a real address. Which then gets added to additional mailing lists and sold. I.e more spam. No?

  • Frank Qi

    What if two people used this system and one of them sent an email to the other. Infinite email spam? lol

  • Simon Hughes

    Hey Frank, A lot of systems have loop prevention, and only respond to 1 emails from the user every day so if you send 10 emails to that person that day, you will only get 1 auto responder email.

  • I wish I thought of this at my previous position! I would get hundreds of emails a day and was expected to answer all of them by the end of that day. It was a nightmare! An autoresponder would have definitely eased the tension!

  • The problem with this is that you are now bombarding everyone else's inbox with extra "auto-respond" emails regardless of whether they were expecting a response. Argh! More email!