We've all gotten auto-response emails before: "Hello! Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office." Auto-reply emails are an everyday occurrence in business. They inform us if someone is on vacation, at a conference, away from their desk, out for parental leave, or for any reason that our emails might not get an instant reply from whoever we are emailing.
Here's the thing, why do we think our emails deserve an instant reply?
Let's be honest, they don't. The only reason we think we deserve an instant reply is because we all carry tiny supercomputers in our pockets or purses that give us the ability to be connected 24/7. That's created the expectation that because we CAN reply instantly that we SHOULD reply instantly. Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should do something.
Distractions make the work day a struggle, especially for me. Turns out that at 38 years old my therapist and I have begun discussing the possibility that I'm ADHD, okay "possibility" is the wrong word. We are pretty sure I have ADHD and that all of the things I've been doing in my life to mask it or work around it have started failing. I'm doing what I can to try and fix that but it's not just a Neurodivergent brain like mine that struggles with distractions. Breaks that are needed and deserved aren't the issues, it's the involuntary distractions that are. The need to answer an email instantly, the unexpected phone call, or anything else that throws you off of your task or path. A study from the University of California Irvine found that "it takes an average of 23 minutes at 15 seconds to get back to the task" you were doing when you got distracted. Our emails are our biggest distractions and can take up 1/3 of our work days.
Off and on over the years, I've had an auto-response that is turned on 24/7. It's changed a few times as to what it says but it basically informs the sender that I monitor my email and will get back to them when I can. I was doing REALLY great at actually sticking to that and then March 2020 and COVID hit. The auto-reply came down and I started replying instantly to emails because suddenly every email from every client felt like the most urgent email they'd sent me. Two-plus years later I still struggle with having that auto-reply up because there's a deep sense of guilt that I feel if I don't get back to someone instantly. After a weekend filled with activities for my niece and nephew where I found myself checking my work email, I realized it was time to bring the response back, but it needed to be edited first. So today I made the necessary edits and turned it back on.
Here's the newest version of my auto-reply:
Thank you so much for your email.
In an effort to increase focus and productivity, I block out time throughout my day to reply to essential email correspondence. I monitor my email during my normal office hours which are Monday - Thursday 9 AM to 6 PM and Fridays 9 AM to 3 PM.
What does this mean?
• If you are emailing me during my office hours, I will get with you as soon as my schedule allows. I do my best to reply to all emails within one business day.
• If you are emailing me outside of my office hours, I will reply during the next business day.
• If you are a current client and your need is urgent, you may reach me by text message.
• If you are sending me a solicitation, I will get back to you if I am interested.
In an age where almost everyone has the capability of being connected 24/7 it is important for all of us to set digital limits and boundaries in our lives. Social Media Managers and Strategists, like myself, often suffer from burnout and have blurred lines between their work time and personal time. I appreciate your understanding and assistance in allowing me to focus and remove distractions from my work day, so I am able to create balance that allows me to disconnect during the evenings and weekends.
Owner + Social Media Strategist
I should include that the subject line clearly states that it is an Auto-Response. I've gotten a variety of responses from people when they've received these. Most of the replies are nearly instant and some version of "I love this!" or "This is great!" or a simple "YAAAAAASSSSSSS!" I've also had someone critique the hours. During summer it often listens the end time being noon on Fridays and it used to say 5 PM because I was fearful that someone emailing me at 5:45 when my office hours end at 6 PM would expect an instant reply before the end of the day. They criticized that if you counted the hours it didn't equal 40 hours, this was back when the response said 5 PM and noon. They didn't know me, what I do for a living or that I work for myself. As any self-employed person knows there are often nights when we log off at 9 PM, 10 PM, or even midnight. There's no time clock in my world and honestly, social media doesn't get that there are nights and weekends.
There are several other things that I do to create the boundaries in my life that help me to help me define the line between my work life and my business life.
On my iPhone or iPad, my work email doesn't show any notifications. There is no little red dot showing that I have 10 unread emails. There is no push notification telling me that I just got an email. It means that if I'm on a mobile device I get a little reprieve from work.
My Apple Watch has zero email notifications. This is for any personal or work emails. Before I turned all of these off it not only drained the battery but also increased my anxiety every time I'd feel the haptic notification on my wrist and see the subject line pop up.
My laptop only has my work apps open if I'm working on my laptop. If I'm not and I'm using it for personal reasons, which is most of the time I'm using my laptop, there's nothing work-related open on it.
This one I'm not as great about but it's a goal for Q3 2022 - at the end of the day on Friday that I close out all work-related apps on my iMac. That way if I sit down at my desk to check my planner, look at Facebook, or even check my personal email I don't see work-related items.
My biggest goal for Q3 2022 is something I'm calling Slow Down Sundays. That means no work on Sunday and the only reason I'm allowed to look at my work email is to clear out the junk emails so Monday morning I can reply to essential emails more quickly.
Do Not Disturb is my best friend. This kicks on automatically at 11 PM every night so that I can sleep without distractions. Sleep is something that doesn't always come easily for me. If you're an Apple user like I am they have created "Focus" which allows you to customize settings for Work, Sleep, Meetings, Driving, or any custom setting you want. I have one I created for Therapy. By customizing my Focus settings I choose what notifications I get when I've selected it and how long I want it to last. I even have mine set to automatically turn on if I'm using Zoom so that I'm not disturbed during a Zoom call. It's an awesome feature that I highly suggest you trying out if you have access to it.
While not everyone is on board with how I manage my email doing it has not only saved me time and helped me focus, it's done a lot for my mental health. Burnout is extremely high for social media managers. It's something I've sat through more webinars about than I can count. All were filled with tips and tricks to manage our lives to avoid burnout. It's something I've had more than one therapist help me with.
Setting boundaries is hard.
Sticking to those boundaries is often harder.
But you know what's harder than all of that? Realizing that you are burned out and there's no one else who can take over your job for you. I've been there. More than once. So I'm doing everything I can proactively to avoid that feeling. This simple email reply is one of them. It means that when I'm working I don't feel the immediate need to hop over to my email to reply. It also means that when I'm with my family, my friends, or even a client, that I'm focused on them and not my inbox.
How do you manage your distractions during your work day?