Cool Boss Moves is a series where we share the tips, tricks, and strategies we stole from other great managers.
This week: The email moratorium
Emma: Andy, when was the first time you realized that some people just…don’t do email for a while?
Andy: I mean, I’ve sent a lot of emails that never received answers, which implies it’s pretty common practice. But the first and only time I’ve seen it done explicitly, my boss sent a message to his 14 direct reports saying he was underwater with email, and he wasn’t going to reply to anything in his existing inbox. If we needed an answer, we’d need to re-ask.
Emma: I’m totally in awe of this move. I saw it for the first time last year working on a contract at Amazon. A few weeks before Prime Day, the event program leads stopped accepting email. Just poof. My jaw dropped when I got one of their auto-responses. I felt like a little country mouse, totally unaware of how to work the system. Email moratoriums are my one takeaway from six months of working there.
Andy: It’s so freeing when we discover that an unchangeable fact — my email inbox is always open and the system is always functioning — is just a thing we all agreed to believe in. And I love how utterly practical it is to shatter that shared belief: Hey y’all, I have too many emails. By the time I can answer yours, whatever crisis will have come and gone. Hallelujah.
Emma: I’ll admit, I’m still pretty intimidated by this move. Fielding queries is a core part of lots of jobs, and it feels like a pretty bold decision to simply opt-out of that responsibility. Plus I have all the usual hang-ups: Is this a shitty and entitled thing to do to people who are asking me for help? Will this make me look like I can’t handle my job? Who is going to bear the brunt of this decision?
Andy: For sure. A power play is a power play all day long. If you’re using your power to simply shunt emails to a person who can’t shunt them onward, you’re a shit funnel, plain and simple.
Emma: Lol yes. It’s not really working the system if you’re just playing email no-nose.
Andy: But you can use your power for good — maybe to temporarily relieve your team from non-stop email pandemonium, or to get honest with people you’ve kept waiting for too long. I do think everyone has times when “too many emails” is more than a water-cooler complaint. It’s an opportunity to find a real solution. When I treat the sentences I’m saying as if I can actually create change, I’m so much more powerful.
Emma: And the reality is, we’re all going to do it anyway. It’s an informal moratorium every time someone’s waited a week for a response, wondering “should I follow up?” Calling it out might surprise a few folks, but it also replaces the mysterious black hole of your inbox with real next steps: Yes, follow up. No, don’t follow up. If you need an answer, please corner me at lunch and ask your question over my soup-salad combo.
Andy: Ooo I love a soup-salad combo almost as much as I love clear expectations.
How to Announce You’re “Not Doing Email” Right Now
Ready to surrender to your inbox? Any announcement should include these elements:
- What you’re doing
- How long it’s going to last
- Instructions for contacting you OR for getting things done without contacting you
- Optional: Why you’re doing it (comforting context, but also not necessarily their business)
Here are a few examples to get you started.
Email Bankruptcy: When you’re so far behind that you need a fresh start
SUBJECT: Email backlog / Please resend important emails
I have a backlog of 800 emails, many of which are no longer relevant. I am archiving the entire backlog today, and will not be responding to emails sent prior to July 20, 2020 at 9a.
If you have an issue that needs a response, please resend your email and I will get back to you in the next two days.
I am also available for office hours today from 1p–4p in Conference Room B, and Friday from 9a–11a in Conference Room R, if you’d like to meet to discuss anything in person.
Email Moratorium: When every message is just going to languish in your inbox
SUBJECT: RE: [Their subject line]
We are in the last two weeks of preparation for the Anniversary Sale. From now until we launch, I will not be replying to email. If you require my assistance, please contact one of my deputies, listed below:
Email Has Moved: When queries should be delivered to a more effective place
SUBJECT: Autoresponse: Use Asana
This is an auto response.
Please post your request in Asana. I’ll get back to you there.
There is No Inbox: For those times when something’s gotta give
SUBJECT: Email Moratorium & In-Person Scrums
As you know, Zoom has experienced an extraordinary surge in customer service requests since the start of the pandemic.
To best serve our customers, the entire CS team will not be replying to internal emails until our response times return to pre-quarantine numbers.
In the meantime, we will be holding in-person scrums at 9a, 1p, and 4p in the Training Room. Please join us there.
Albert, Han, & Katherine
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Moratorium Edition
Pssst… did you see our first real-life Good Boss Achievement Stickers? Check ’em out!