“I reply to my emails within 10 minutes if not sooner. My team loves it. My clients always know that they come first.”

“What? That’s ludicrous. I see why your team and clients like it, but how do you run your company that way? Do you do anything but put our fires?”

“Uh … “ (silence)


Whether you are a billion dollar company or a million dollar company, you have to deal with email. Every single leader I talk to in our Acumen community has discussed email and its benefits and pitfalls.

How do you manage it? What’s the right amount of response? When to use email vs face to face, phone call, or texting? Are you shrewd with your time?

What I’ve found is that there is not ONE best way. You need to find YOUR best way and then actually implement it. When you do, you’ll acquire that coveted time to work on strategic projects and with your team instead of urgent firefighting. When your email is in control I find that leaders are bad at time management and it’s easier to respond to email than it is to stop, think, and plan the most valuable use of time for that hour or day.

Here are common challenges I’ve heard.

Email runs me
Email is your to-do list. Email sets your day, actions, and priorities. You are a firefighter and email is the 911 call to get dispatch on the line. The call comes in, and I send out the firetruck or ambulance. It’s easy to respond, and I know the answer, so I do.

Email consumes me
I spend more time on email than any other part of the business. This happens a lot in service and technology organizations. The majority of work is communication and digital work product, therefore, you spend most of your time in front of a computer. It’s easier to lead from a computer than outside the office, in the market, with customers, or employees.

I lead via email
When you spend time leading via email, you set the pattern for your team to send ALL communication via the email channel. FYIs, questions, complaints, ideas, all come through and the organization starts to sink further and further into email-ia – the country of management by email. The more email that flows, the more time people spend on it, the more people respond and pretty soon, no one talks to each other. It’s dangerous.

The above challenges mean that you have problems prioritizing. It might not be today, but your reliance on management by email will stop your company from growing.


Get clear on communication modes
Communicate which channels are for what and the best way to respond. For example, texting is for things that need to be done today, the phone is for fires, and email is longer term. Guardrails around what to use and when help everyone know the expectations. The challenge here is to not adhere too strictly as people can only call you for fires.

Set expectations via time
Some clients will only check email once or twice a day – mostly beginning or end of day. By setting a specific time to read and respond you can quickly get through your inbox and work your plan. Your team also knows that they won’t get a response until that time. You will be amazed at how people find, fix, and solve things when there isn’t an immediate response expectation.

If you read, respond
Yes, you can flag, mark unread, and put into another folder for later. That just means you’ve wasted double the amount of time having to read and think through your answer-response twice. If you don’t have time to respond, don’t read email in the first place. Side note:  please disconnect your email from your watch. It was cool a year ago. Now it makes for the rudest lunches and meetings.

Squirrel! Ooh, just spam. Now what was I saying…?

Get techie
Email platforms are robust and full of great features and we use about 10%. What folders, rules, systems can you introduce into your email management that will improve your workflow and reduce your time? For example, productivity and leadership mentor, Michael Hyatt, suggests that you create a rule where any email you are copied on should go into a cc folder. It’s low priority by virtue of being copied on it. That way it stays out of your main inbox. Take two hours and think through your email strategy from a technical perspective. What makes sense in your world?

Send less email
If you want to get less email, send less email. Do you need to send that email from a customer with “thoughts?” to your entire executive team? Do you really? Your time is the most valuable resource you have (and your team has) respect everyone. Send less email.

Stop using email
That’s right. People are what make your business move and grow. Get out of your office and into, the market, the floor, the conference room, heck the phone – someone – just not electronic. Face to face communication and the phone will always be a leader’s best mode of communication as it will have the most impact.

If you hear yourself saying “I couldn’t do any of those.” Then you’re right. You can’t. But what if you could?

Step One
All of these ideas have pros and cons and work in certain situations and not others. The best way to know what works for you is to decide on a process, inform your team, and try it for a week or a month. Pivot and evolve as necessary.
What other ways do you manage your email?

Dan Cooper
Post by Dan Cooper
September 10, 2018
Dan Cooper co-founded ej4, a video-based online training company, in 2003, and was its CEO until selling in 2012. During his time with ej4, he grew the company from a startup to a nationally-recognized firm, serving clients including Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Honeywell, Monsanto and Syngenta. Channel partners included SAP and Oracle. As of the 2012, ej4 was serving 1,000+ customers, delivering millions of program views, was highly profitable and debt-free. Today, he is the CEO of Acumen, a mastermind community platform built for CEOs and Owners of strong and growing companies. He and his wife, Ali, have three children and attend Cure of Ars church in Leawood, KS. Dan enjoys running, all things soccer — coaching, playing and watching —and burning all types of meat on the backyard barbecue grill.