If you hate managing your email inbox, try changing the way you use email – and stop giving clients your personal address.
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March 2, 2021 4 min read
Imagine this alternate universe: Email addresses were never assigned to individual people. Instead, they were assigned to groups of people — maybe because they’re part of a team or are working on a project together. What would have happened as a result?
Here’s what I think: Our workflow would have radically changed. And it is not too late to do this in your business.
By eliminating the connection between email and people, you will, with one grand gesture, destabilize everyone’s expectations about how communication should unfold, making it much easier for you to rebuild these expectations from scratch with a protocol that makes more sense. You can make your email inbox more manageable and shift how and when people communicate with you.
Consider, for example, how a company interacts with its clients. The client is generally used to contacting a specific individual in the organization whenever they have questions or issues. The client also has an expectation of a quick response. They will personalize these interactions and begin treating delays as a personal affront (Why are you ignoring me?!). Now imagine instead that each client is assigned a dedicated email address in the form of firstname.lastname@example.org. If you run Jane LLC and your client is Joe LLC, the email address might be email@example.com.
It’s now much easier to break your client from the idea that their messages are going to an individual person, who is seeing them right away and therefore better answer them quickly! By depersonalizing communication, you have many more options to optimize it. Perhaps a rotating team of individuals will respond, or emailed requests will be added to a workflow system that can be monitored.
I deployed this strategy to help manage my author communication. When I used to offer only a single email address, associated with my name, for readers to reach me, the messages became overwhelming — not in just their volume but also their complexity. When you think you’re interacting with an individual, it’s natural to assume they’ll be reasonable enough to read your long story and offer detailed advice, or set up a call to talk about your business opportunity, or connect you to relevant people in their network. I used to do this gladly, but as my audience grew, it became more difficult.
To improve my author communication protocols, I introduced nonpersonal email addresses. One of these, for example, is firstname.lastname@example.org, which my readers use to send interesting links or leads. On my website, the address is listed with a simple note: “I really appreciate these pointers, but due to time constraints, I’m usually not able to respond.” In my experience, if you put such a disclaimer next to a personalized address, like email@example.com, it will be widely disregarded, as our expectations for one-on-one interactions are so strong. But when the disclaimer appends a nonpersonal address, like firstname.lastname@example.org, I receive few complaints. Without preconceived expectations, you’re able to set them from scratch.
There are many different ways to build low-cost protocols into your professional life or organization, but in many cases, freeing email addresses from individuals provides a powerful boost to these efforts.
Excerpted from A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload, by Cal Newport, with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Cal Newport, 2021