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Email productivity, vacation auto-responders & beating FOMO [Weekly Brain Tools #103]

Jul 30, 2019 | Posted by Cristina in Newsletters

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The text below was first sent to our newsletter subscribers, in July 2019. If you enjoy it and want more, subscribe here.

I love summers. I love the crazy high temperatures, I love long days, I love not having to feel like an onion, wearing layers over layers. And, above all, I love how everything slows down and there’s less noise. People aren’t in the mood to work anymore, cause they’re either on vacation, or thinking about their upcoming vacation, so only the essentials get done.

This seasonal downtime can do wonders in terms of productivity and creativity boosting, especially if it’s supported by a true holiday, where you take real time off from work, with no screen time allowed. Disconnecting from day-to-day chatter and issues allows you to zoom out and come back with fully charged batteries and a completely refreshed perspective.

That being said, The CEO Library newsletter group (me, Cristina, and my multiple personalities, that is 😛 ) is taking a well-deserved beach holiday in the following weeks, with too many books packed up (ahhh, one of the few perks of traveling by car).

This kind of digital detox, where I won’t do anything other than read on a quiet Greek beach, remember to apply sunscreen, drink frappes and exploit every afternoon nap opportunity, has been my favorite summer routine. And I do hope you have something similar planned this summer!

I’ve scheduled the upcoming newsletters, and there’s also lots of new content that will be be published on our website and social media, so don’t expect any Fridays without your weekly dose of brain tools!

Moving on to this week’s resources, this series is dedicated to email management and taking dark vacations, when you completely disconnect from screen time. Hope you’ll enjoy em as much as I did! (I re-read most of them, they’re not new).


1. The Atlantic: Don’t Reply to Your Emails

An article from The Atlantic that makes the case for inbox infinity instead of inbox zero. Reaching inbox zero has always been my dream when it comes to email, but also any other messaging platform. It feels like fighting Hydra, you cut off one head, and three more pop out in its place. You reply to all messages, you’re highly satisfied and you pat yourself on your shoulder when you see the “No new email!” message from Gmail. And a few moments later, there are more emails than they were before digging into them. It’s impossible to win this!

I experimented with all sorts of email management techniques and tools and systems. Even with all the hundreds of rules and filters, that automatically archive most emails so they don’t end up in my inbox (newsletters I’m subscribed to or emails on projects that aren’t so important at the current moment – they all go to separate folders), I’m still unable to manage it – at least not while maintaining my sanity.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the problem isn’t related to the email management system itself. Instead, it’s caused by my expectations and the need to keep it under control. Perhaps I should just let it go and stop trying to make inbox 0 happen, as it’s making me feel overwhelmed and burned out. Instead of helping people one email or direct message at a time, maybe I should just focus on creating valuable content that will improve multiple lives at once, and accept that some little bad things will happen (such as not replying to all the messages I receive).

As a side note: a few years ago, I was listening to a podcast conversation between James Altucher and Ryan Holiday or Tim Ferriss (I really don’t remember exactly) and one of the things discussed was this: some high performers have a rule to only reply to emails from those who are patient and perseverent enough to send three follow-up emails – as a way of filtering through the noise. Never thought about this perspective before. I’m telling this to any marketer or journalist who tells me that they’re “too shy or too introverted” to reach out to strangers and they’re afraid not to bother.

2. Neal Stephenson: Why I Am a Bad Correspondent

Author Neal Stephenson talks about his interactions with readers and why he rejects most requests, from replying to emails to speaking at various events. Neal argues that those small time commitments would affect the uninterrupted blocks of time he needs to work on new quality novels. I highlighted this paragraph, but do go ahead and read the whole piece!

“If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly. What replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time, and that will, with luck, be read by many people, there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons, and a few speeches given at various conferences.”

3. Brian Scudamore in Forbes: Work A Little, Play A Lot: The Antidote to Hustle Culture

Serial entrepreneur Brian Scudamore wrote about the problem with the hustle culture and why it’s important that we schedule real time off. Brian’s been through a period when he wouldn’t leave his office until midnight every day, and he was the first to arrive next morning. Despite those sleepless nights and days when he worked really hard, his business wasn’t growing. He suffered from anxiety and panic attacks before starting to impose self-care limits that helped him improve his health (and his business also got back on track thanks to it).

I’ve been through all phases myself, from burning out (multiple times) to feeling like I’m too lazy and comfortable. It’s like I’m dancing all the time, oscillating between being too stretched and stressed, and days when I’m selfish and I only care about getting my mental and physical health back on track. What I do know for sure is that my body isn’t able to keep up with the hardcore working routine of my younger self, my threshold is now much lower, with real (physical health) consequences if I ignore the fundamentals.

Btw, we also interviewed Brian a few months ago, check out our interview here – he talks more on the subject of why he enforces a ‘going dark’ vacation policy in his companies, but also about the books that made an impact on him and how he created a reading habit, despite struggling with ADHD: Serial Entrepreneur Brian Scudamore on Digital Detox and Books That Made a Difference in his Entrepreneurial Journey

4. The Atlantic: The Most Honest Out-of-Office Message

Another interesting read from The Atlantic on the subject of email management. The author suggests a radical approach: what if you deleted all emails received during vacation? I’ve been thinking about this article ever since I first read it – and fantasizing about experimenting with it, though I’ll probably never try it, I’m not brave enough to beat FOMO. 😛

The writer comes with insights from professors, authors and researchers who created interesting email management restrictions in order to escape the prison of social interactions.

“Our email boxes became a boundless ocean of mostly useless things and a few useful ones, waiting for us to wade in every morning.”

Even with this very newsletter: there’s no need to read it the very minute you received it, there’s nothing burning in it. Postpone it, open it later – a few hours or even days, when you have the proper mindset and time to dedicate for it (just make sure that you do open these emails at least once in 10 weeks 😛 ).

5. Ryan Holiday in Thought Catalog: This Is What Email Overload Looks Like

A few years ago, while in his honeymoon, author and media strategist Ryan Holiday planned the longest break from email in his life: two and a half weeks.

He left a 2,000 words auto-responder in place, where he laid out the reasons for totally disconnecting from email, and how in the past he’s had anxiety attacks, felt his heart sink and beat out of his chest, he’s interrupted meetings, parties, and other major life events for the sake of supposedly urgent emails.

Since he’s also an inbox zero fan, he imagined that he’d return back from his holiday like after a hurricane. In this article, he describes his experience with email overload and the perspective given by time spent away from it.

6. Cal Newport in Harvard Business Review: A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email

An article published in 2016 in Harvard Business Review, written by professor and author Cal Newport, on how a world without email would look like. “A World Without Email” is also the subject and working title of his upcoming book (btw, hope you already read his previous ones?).

7. Adam Grant in NY Times: No, You Can’t Ignore Email. It’s Rude.

And since you know I love purposely looking for opposite opinions, you should also check out this article from author and professor Adam Grant. Adam argues that we shouldn’t abandon inbox altogether and not answering email is rude – we’re all busy, but constantly missing emails means that you’re either disorganized, or you just don’t care and it’s just another way of saying “you are not a priority”.

He also talks about how we can send boundaries and why – especially after The New York Times magazine published an article about him in 2013, where he talked about how responsive he is to helping people through emails and he ended up flooded by too many of them.

If you’re curious to learn more about Adam’s email management system, he recently gave a dedicated interview on the subject, you can read it here: How I Email: Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist, Wharton

8. A lil bit of shameless promo 😛 We got lots of ??? interviews scheduled by the end of the summer – we don’t announce them all in this newsletter, so keep an eye on the dedicated page to make sure you don’t miss any.

You can start by reading our book-talk with Alexandra Stroe and Iulia Ghiță, the co-CEOs of Bookster, a Romanian startup we love. Bookster works like a modern library designed for companies: it’s a a subscription-based platform that gives access to more than 80,000 books and delivers those books to their customers’ offices, based on a subscription offered by the employer. It’s now used by more than 700 companies in Romania (and has +65,000 readers).

We also recently published a list of interesting non-fiction books coming out in July (in the article you’ll find links for the books that came out in the previous months).


Ok, enough productivity talk for a Friday! Feel free to share any interesting email systems or approach that you’ve experimented with or thought about – I promise I won’t delete your emails and I will read them all when I return 😛

And if you’re curious to know what books I’m bringing with me in this vacation: well, here’s a preview

Have a sunny, e-mail free weekend!

– Cristina

The text above was first sent to our newsletter subscribers, in July 2019. If you enjoyed it and want more, subscribe here.

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