New 30 day challenge: not replying to outside email

I just wrapped up two 30 day challenges (no sugar for 30 days and no iPhone for 30 days). I’ll try to report back what I learned soon, but in the mean time I wanted to alert you that today I’m starting a new 30-day challenge: not replying to outside email.

When I announced my first 30 day challenge and did a poll on what challenge to do next, “no email” was near the bottom of the list. But there’s good reasons for me to try to reduce my time on email right now:
- I have a big internal project at work (nothing related to webspam) that’s going to take all my time for a couple weeks.
- I’m also planning to take a couple weeks of vacation time in the next month.

So the fact is that I probably wouldn’t have had much time to reply to outside email in the next month anyway. Also, I’ve noticed that sometimes I spend 1-2 hours a day responding to outside email. I’d like to re-assess whether that’s the best use of my time. For example, if I spent that time on more scalable ways of communicating, it might help more people. Taking a step away from responding to outside email might also help me find better ways to manage that communication. Maybe someone else can help me. Maybe I can find ways to fix what people email me about (e.g. modify or improve the spam report process so that people don’t feel the need to email me directly with spam reports). This is a chance to re-assess how I’m spending a fair chunk of my time at work and look for a better solution.

I’m not taking the attitude that “if I reply to a single external email, then I’ve failed,” because emergencies do happen. Rather, I’m going to make a deliberate effort to respond as little as possible to outside work-related emails. At any rate, I think I’ll learn something new from this challenge, so I hope folks will support me in this experiment. Wish me luck, and feel free to provide suggestions or tips in the comments about how you tackle the email monster, or ideas for new 30-day challenges.

86 Responses to New 30 day challenge: not replying to outside email (Leave a comment)

  1. What? You won’t be answering the 100′s (or more) spam emails asking you “how can I raise my toolbar pagerank?”

  2. I like these challenges. You should write a book like Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, geek style. :)

  3. Is that not replying via email or not replying at all?

    We don’t mind if you tweet the answers instead!

  4. Conal Doyle

    well Matt, it seems this is a win win challenge!! if you do reply to an emergency maybe you will get the itch to reply to smaller and smaller emergencies! After all they are “emergencies”! Tis a shame though really as i was just about to Email you and tell you how to rule the universe in 1 small step. Won’t bother now.
    Just messin!!
    Good luck mate!
    Conal

  5. Katherine Tyrrell, I’m going to try not responding at all. I’m curious to see how it goes.

    Tamar, that might be fun–I’ve enjoyed the challenges and learned a lot. Folks can read the whole series so far at http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/type/30-days/

    Conal Doyle, :)

  6. now that your not answering email and i think you missed my tweet I guess ill ask here…
    I made a chrome extension SEO Site Tools it does a bunch of stuff but what I really wanted to do was make it so that it can detect “bad” SEO… Im thinking of having it detect elements outside viewing window, use of negative text-indent or white text on white background that kinda stuff… so now what im asking for :) i need some data to test with so i was hoping that you might be able to point me to some examples (cuz i cant find any in the SERPS) i haven’t figured out how im going to deal with false positives but i think a warning that then could be investigated would be cool… my twitter is @cartercole if you can think of any with a few diffrent problems off the top of your head that would we way helpful

    thank you for your time,
    i know your not emailing but… seobar [at] cartercole.com is another way to get to me…

  7. Cool, good luck. The best e-mail advice I’ve seen is to set some specific times when you reply to e-mails, to avoid constant interruptions. And not first thing in the morning, so that you can start with the highest priorities, not the interruptions. For better or worse, I ignore the time management gurus, and work reactively. I delegate everything, and then try to be as responsive as I can be. But I agree that most people, especially those with too many people clamoring for their time, need to follow the efficiency-experts’ advice for taming the e-mail monster.

  8. Bryant

    Good luck matt,

    whatever you do, dont stop the blogging or webmasters videos for 30 days!

    enjoy the vacation from non-work email!

  9. this one is going to be tough :D

    Good Luck !

  10. Matt, I like the human side of your blog when it is not all widgets for geeks etc, such as this post.

    For ideas for the next 30 days, maybe, use a different foreign language for your OS (if you use Linux for example, Windows it is not possible) and browsers and anything else you can switch languages for with ease. If you have always wanted to learn French try to change everything including google.com to google.fr for example, as well as Firefox.

    I have lived in Poland for several years now and it was a real jump start for my target language. I now use the Polish language for all my settings and I have learned a lot of vocabulary from just changing the language settings on my browser, paint.net program and google search for example. Just an idea.

  11. Hmmm did you forget about the no Twitter challenge? Well no email from outside for 30 days seems quite hard to accomplish? What about emails from your wife, family or say other important people who would require a response?

    Would be interesting to see how you fair in this challenge

  12. Best of luck Matt, but I give you a week, tops ;-)

  13. Both personal and business email, or just one of the two? And will you still respond to blog comments? (Do you get notifications of new comments via email?)

  14. Last tip. Send an e-mail to timothy@brainquicken.com (Tim Ferris) to see his auto-response. (It’s OK, he tells people to do this). You can tell people to go to the Webmaster Help Forum, or whom to contact if they’re trying to sell you a link, etc.

  15. Hey when will your challenge start?
    You have already responded here :))

    This will give you much of the relaxation. At end you would learn to prioritize the mails effectively.
    Best of luck for your vacation.

  16. Quick! Someone email him a winning lotto ticket. :)

  17. hehe I have exactly the same problem and am approaching it the same way – not for 30 days though as this may be detrimental to my online profile. 2 weeks of responding only to “emergency emails” and other than that an autoresponder which basically says “Nobody home, resend with URGENT if URGENT”

    The reason being? Well similar to yourself, I am spending several hours per day on email and it would be good to use that time for other things and weigh up what is most important and if there is a more efficient way to communicate/deal with problems.

    Good luck with it :D

  18. What the What???? Wow if you can pull that one off then you have a mental will of steel. What happens though if your Mom emails you, or a long lost childhood friend, or a Nigerian prince who wants to transfer his sizable fortune to you in the next 24 hours in exchange for your bank account details…

  19. and does this mean you’ll just be doing 10 Xs as many @twitter replies :)

  20. RE: no sugar for 30 days

    Impossible and what’s wrong with sugar anyway?

    RE: not replying to outside emails

    They wont go away ya know. I’d MUCH rather keep on top of emails. I bet you feel the same on day 31 too :)

  21. Matt,

    Have you tried a program that helps you time-box your various activities, such as The Daily Goal Machine?

    Good luck with your challenge, anyway.

  22. Matt,

    I have been trying to compress meetings and tasks into half the time. I somehow managed to achieve the same amount of work / outcome in half the time when I mind to it.

    Could be interesting to try with your team once in a while, although I would guess you might be using agile / scrum meetings and they are short anyways.

  23. Not answering outside email – where’s the challenge in doing something that 99% of Google already do! :)

  24. sun

    Im sure if you amass 30 days of email, you’ll see patterns which you can address via this blog (informal FAQ?) and there are probably other ways to modify some of the webspam submission process to reduce incoming email. for example, I used to get a lot of questions about if handling was included in the shipping price. now the invoice states it is and I never get that question again.

  25. Yaakov

    Hi there
    good luck for your battle against your gmail.
    Speaking about mail, I have trying to write you one mail an it seems that you dont publish you adress very easily – no matter you have a cool blog – lets talk over here, and actually it might interest part of the reader around.

    I have been wondering about futur of comminucation and mainly trying to find out how to mazimize relevancy over bulk information. (which is also some kind of spam, btw)
    Since I am not a developper and I am bound to use what other are developping, I have been looking at some solutions around. One of them is called Rainbow from FF.

    There actual goal is exactly this: filter out the bulk.

    The thing is with definition of spam. Today we have a very binary definition of spam. Either it is spam or it is not. Spam is thus killed and crashed, and the rest (which include newsletters, facebook notification, alerts, groups….) just goes to the inbox.

    So okay, you can filter… but it has some limits.

    So what about using the power of contacts, and maybe together with google profiles, or just by labeling contacts, so that they get some meaning, and the mail I get from these contacts is automatically filters, or cluster to similar contact conversation.

    Same with Buzz – why what I am buzzing shuold go to everyone. If I buzz about science or if I buzz about lat jazz concert in town. Why people not in my town should give a shot about the last jazz concert, or why people that are not geeks should get the science buzz ?

    Today, I dont buzz mainly because I know that what I buzz is irrelevant to half of my follower. I also dont follow back because I have not way to filter out what I get from them.

    So today to srvive, one needs to develop high filtering skills like in Inbox Zero and similar, but it is just not what computing should lead to.
    Information technology are not here to make me become a filtering machine. I want to use information and technology and not to have to survive it.

    I dont who to write to, but because you seems to be a spam expert and be around for a while you might do something with this comment.

    thanks
    yaakov

    ps: again, good luck with your mail battle – btw maybe you would not have to go through this kind of thing if gmail would have provide from the begining more tools to face the flow of information.

  26. One answer to email overload: Canned responses. With plenty variations but especially “…due to the sheer volume of emails received, I cannot personally answer to all…”

  27. @Sean

    lol,

    but sometimes these challenges are at their logic ending and when that 1% happens, they do a few replies :)

  28. Matt, great idea. Can’t wait to hear how it works out.

    As for,

    Tyrrell, I’m going to try not responding at all. I’m curious to see how it goes.

    , I’m wondering if you’d learn more if you relaxed the challenge and allowed alternate, innovative responses. One specific example: Mike Volpe of HubSpot always says to people who don’t have time to blog (paraphrasing here) “If you’ve got time to reply to email, you’ve got time to blog. Most of my blog posts come from my “Sent Items” folder. If one person thought I was the expert who could get their question answered, chances are others need the same question answered. Why not leverage my effort by posting the Q&A to the world?’

    Soooo, my suggestion (and I do have one) is that you try autoreplying to every email with this message “I’m not replying to emails but if you don’t mind a public Q&A you can post your question to [this Posterious account or some SEO forum host like DigitalPoint Forum or some other autopublish mechanism] and I’ll try to respond publically”

  29. Hi Matt,

    Is there any chance of a blog post on your 2010 Conference Attendance Schedule. I want to attend a few conferences towards the end of the year namely PubCon; but do not know if you are going to be there or not. I am coming from India and I really do want to listen to what you have to say…Can you also tell me about say 5 super conferences for SEO’s as a must attend every year. TIA.

    Regards,
    Pulkit

  30. That’s a very interested challenge. All of us are so hooked on technology these days that the thought of little to no e-mail usage would be a disaster. I commend your goal, and I bet you do pretty well! It’s unfortunate all jobs are so e-mail prone, i would really like to see someone attack a challenge that involves NO E-MAIL for 30 days!

  31. This would be a tough challenge for myself. I’m hoping some of those outside emails will bring me work!

  32. I never realised how much email has intruded into my life until I’ve found my self up at 3 am & 5 Am checking my Droid. Best of luck with the 30 Days!

  33. Matt,

    Your convictions are awe-inspiring as they really speak to quality of life. What did we do with our lives without emails and iPhones? We are so much more productive today ;>)

    Here are some other great quality of life ideas that may set you back a decade:

    1. 30 Days of a Normal Night’s Sleep
    2. 30 Days of No Social Media
    3. 30 Days of No Public Speaking

    Good Luck

  34. EGOL

    This one would be really tough for me. It would be a battle of conscience.

    I don’t like to ignore people who write to me. Some deserve to be ignored but others don’t understand how much email I get and why I can’t reply to everyone.

    Good luck, Matt. Let us know how it goes and how you feel about not answering email. Also, if you have advice for others about how to reply less to email.

  35. George

    Matt, if we assume you are actually trying to help those you respond to and that you are doing it for the right reasons, doesn’t it seem almost like you are shortchanging yourself, Google, and the people who are emailing you?

    Would an overworked priest ever decide to not hear confession for a month? No, he still wants to help. He might try to find a better way to improve his efficiency but to cut off the people who need him would drastic.

    I think the answer is that Google needs more people to help you answer questions. If Google truly wants to lead the universe in search and be the best they possibly can be, shouldn’t they also want to help the people who are trying to do the same thing using Google as their tool to get there?

  36. HI Matt,

    I hope we don’t see 30days challenge not to blog, I like the twitter challenge. This one must be very tough because huge pile would be gathered after 30 days and how would you reply them to all after 30days? Or you are not going to reply any of the emails. Matt what if someone from Google email you something official? :D

  37. BradleyT

    http://two.sentenc.es/ for external e-mails.

    Time cut by 75%.

  38. i would outsource all the repetitive queries you get anyway or refer people to blog posts, it takes serious discipline not to handle the things you are used to doing yourself (I find)!!

  39. Hi Matt,

    This sounds intense!

    I don’t know how many e-mails you get every day…but for 30 days…haha, I don’t believe you will make it, :p

    Good luck, man!

    BTW, do remember to turn automatic vacation responder off.

  40. You might find this funny but every time someone in our office complains about getting too much email the standard comment is “Well imagine how many emails you would get if your name was Matt Cutts”.
    Theo

  41. All I can say is good luck on that challenge but I am sure you can do without it. No one had an email 15 years ago and we all managed.

  42. If there is no rigging in this 30 days challenge I guess this time u’r going down. Coz every once in a while everybody gets an email which has to be replied.

  43. Consider juicing: carrots + fresh turmeric + raw red potatoes + (celery or beets or tomatoes) = clarity of thought. In the mornings and breakfast after mid day. Great recipe for getting rid of brain fog and sugar and wheat cravings. Almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds for snacking. Turmeric is essential.

  44. theBear

    Hey Matt,

    Just uninstall your email programs, that’ll make it a lot easier ;-) .

    Have a good one.

  45. Now thats some will power . I love my sugar once tried cutting down on it and didnt last long .

  46. Mike Kern

    Hi,
    No email will be a walk in the park compared to no sugar! I quit flour and sugar some time ago, and let me tell ya, you will get in touch with the bitch within. I embraced my bitch, as I was committed to the goal, and it passed.
    There are some serious up sides to no sugar, obviously there is weight loss, but one you may not have realized is clarity of thought. It amazed me to learn, how doped up on sugar I was!
    Good Luck with both quests!
    Mike Kern

  47. Sad to hear that you’re not going to reply on outside email for 30 days, it means that there are issues related that won’t be directly cleared.

  48. Adam J. Humphreys

    Hi Matt,

    I’m just curious if you could recommend any good time management software, or project management software. As an IT professional it would be cool to know just how much time I spend daily on each task. Hope you’re doing well!

  49. Matt i think challenging yourself in many different ways can really help your personal growth. It’s surprising that so many of us don’t and fall into the same routine day to day without realizing that a simple change will (a) keep you more focused (b) broaden your perspective on what’s important (c) you have more time to focus your efforts elsewhere.

    Changing and adapting to ourselves as we grow is probably not as easy as it sounds, but if you commit yourself (like you’re doing) than the benefits are fruitful indeed. Great post, glad i commented here on your blog!! :-)

  50. The one reason I like replying to outside email is that it the questions sometimes help shape my words in a good way. Eg, if someone asks me a question and I respond in-depth, then I have a set of facts to include in the question that give context to my answer. When I post my response on my blog, it seems to me that people understand why I advise what I advise.

    Maybe this isn’t true for you; it might just be my personality.

  51. I am wondering if you are preparing us for a 30 days with no blogging so that you can spend 30 days on vacation somewhere…. :)

    Good luck with your challenge!

  52. Rob

    If you can do the iphone one, then you can do the email one. Did you completely do away with a cell phone or just all the features of an iphone?

  53. The thought of going thirty days without replying to outside mail sends chills up and down my spine. Best of luck with your challenge and please keep us updated – I, for one, am pretty interested to learn how this one works out!

  54. vaibhav pandey

    Dear Matt!

    I really like the way you have responded to all of us for your big project. Wish you all the best and I am sure you are going to discover something new from this big project.

    we all waiting to hear soon from you.. Come back soon on the blog.

    Vaibhav Pandey
    Noida India

  55. OK… so I assume this means that you’re likely not going to be available for our Matt Cutts Space Launch on April 19th? We just finished our promo video for the launch (http://www.prospectmx.com/matt-cutts-in-space-promo-video/). Maybe you could make part of your “vacation” coming to watch it on site (obviously kidding… or maybe not).

    Have a restful vacation.

  56. VK

    Matt,

    I think this new 30 day challenge smells the coming April Fools’ Day ;)
    I can’t believe you can keep yourself not replying to outside email ;)

    Let’s see…

  57. Hey Matt!

    Great blog, love the content, and I love these challenges. Thanks to this post, I’ll be starting a similar email challenge, right now I’m overloaded!

    I’ve done the no twitter challenge, I like not having Twitter showing updates every .5 seconds on my computer, but it can be useful and fun.

    Thanks for the great post, keep it coming.

  58. Peter

    Here’s a 30 day challenge:

    During 30 days, make as much money as you can with your blog, not using adsense ofcourse, and donate all the earnings to a charity or development project of your choice.

  59. …just be sure you don’t “try and catch up all the emails” when you surface.

    I recommend hitting select all …then delete. ;)

  60. This is completely off topic but where better to comment on this than on Matt Cutts Blog?
    Kudos to Google & Topeka (see blog post here) – what a funny April fools prank! I was fooled at least a little bit for about 45 seconds after reading the post. :)

  61. Hi Matt,

    I agree with Sean.

    Sean March 24, 2010 at 12:22 am
    Not answering outside email – where’s the challenge in doing something that 99% of Google already do!

    Why not have a challenge of responding and solving 300% more of outstanding issues, especially fixing Google mistakes. Just forward emails to your staff and have them respond. I am not talking about junk emails, I am talking about all the real webspam related emails you have been ignoring for a long time.

  62. Does the challenge mean that you won’t answer the mails or that you also won’t read them? However it might be an interesting experience but I couldn’t imagine it for myself?

  63. If I could get my employees to all subscribe to this challenge I think productivity and profitability would show noticeable increases.

  64. Morris Rosenthal

    Matt,

    You got to tell Google to get a life with these stupid April Fool’s stunts. I’m going to be stuck on the phone all day explaining to people that they their computers haven’t been taken over by viruses, etc.

    Morris

  65. No iPHone why? Why tourture yourself like that. People always ask me if I think I should unconnect for a bit and de-stress. I feel more relaxed with my iphone. I take it on my runs and just knowing that I could check my email if I wanted to makes me feel more relaxed.

  66. Good luck Matt “Odysseus” – but be aware of the secret power of the email monster. Once you look at it – it sucks you in – even paralyses you! So you better be wearing some anti-reply glasses (available at your nearest igNOre-store NOW) before you have a look at your inbox.
    This comes free of charge ;-)

    Andreas

  67. Matt,

    I think you can do anything you put your mind to. Good luck.

  68. Matt I would agree with @Gil Reich comment. You must have heard of the book “Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss. I’m sure he would love to help you fix your email communication challenges.

  69. I was just thinking about my own 30 day Challenge to not use and have no activity with Google at all.Maybe I will even develop my own Ranking system for blogs :) Yeah I see a bunch of things I don’t like and this company is loosing any and all influence with me and many bloggers FAST :)
    May make it more then 30 :)
    May even work hard and BUY GOOGLE one day
    whenever I have a set back I work harder
    OH I will still study those chrome extensions on the DL LOL :)
    Man Google needs to respect the people that are building their index hosting their ads etc :)
    For real

  70. Does that mean you’d read all the emails but just won’t reply?

  71. David Mulder

    Didn’t read through all messages, but thought I would point out there are applications available which allow you to select a standard response after reading an email from various templates (not sure whether any have integration with gmail, but there is definitely a thunderbird extension for it which I am not going to name, as it would seem spam-like). Most templates will then also contain an explanation that you are not the best person to contact and suggestions who better to contact, without being as asocial and dangerous as an auto-reply. If you set it up correctly you can scan through your email and finish them at a rate of about 5-10 seconds per email.

  72. Wow, good luck. I would think the easiest way would be to just not check your email at all so that then you’re not tempted to respond to less important things.

  73. wow, must be a hard thing to do. i would not last 30 days without responding to emails.

    Good luck

  74. I am not sure which one would be tougher the email or cell phone challenge.

  75. Thad

    I think the next 30-day challenge should be not to use Google for 30-days. Yes, you have to work on the back end. But not actually use the Google search engine, gmail, etc.

  76. This is a difficult challenge for anyone. Now for a person that is not managing a website or needing to respond to potential/current clients emails or they were not involved in affiliate marketing, it may be easier to implement. For those of us who are in need to reply back to customers or need to interact with verification emails and the such, forget about it. It would be a great way to go out of business. lol. Interesting idea though. It would be nice to have a 30 day vacation.

  77. This is no doubt a great blog for internet marketing. I do internet marketing in India and I have really learn lots from your blog posts. Keep posting more like the same.

  78. I tried a 5-day email challenge; I gave up in 45 minutes.

  79. Well Matt….

    How did it go then, you must be at the 30 days now (probably still on holiday though) but it would be great to see if you had the resolve :)

  80. Dear matt, if my grandma or my mum in the coutryside in China see your challenge, they will be laughing together and continue to be launghing as they never use emails.
    why dont you ask them to suggest you an idea?

  81. It’s really great, thanks Matt.

  82. If only I could do that:-)
    I once got a serious health challenge which forced me to be offline for two weeks. It reduced my stress. But, when I’m back to the normal life (works etc), the stress level doubled!

    It’s amazing if you can do that while you’re still employed…

  83. Hmmm 30 days seems like a long time… Perhaps to start little – like a week without something and then, if it works, increase the dosage :)

  84. Great article. Nice tips. I liked the post so much that it was really very informative to me.
    Thanks for sharing.

  85. I know, the post is kinda old. Still: I agree with the people who have mentioned Tim Ferriss and the 4 Hour Workweek email approach. It’s not easy though. Like stopping smoking from one minute to the other, depending on how much you’re hooked to it. Hope the experiment went well :)

    Regards from Greece,
    David

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