30 day challenge for March: no external email

In January 2014, my 30 day challenge was to limit my social media. That was a productive month.

In February 2014, my 30 day challenge was to eat more slowly. I did that by counting to ten between chewing bites of my food. I tend to wolf down my food, which doesn’t give my stomach time to say “Hey, I’m full enough to stop.” I was also raised to finish everything on my plate, but sometimes it’s better to stop eating and leave leftovers on the plate. It’s actually been a really great challenge, and one I hope to keep doing in some form.

For March 2014, my 30 day challenge will be not to reply to external emails. Email continues to be my nemesis. It’s so hard to prioritize important things over the pelting of lots of emails that claim to be urgent. Answering emails provides the illusion of progress, but it’s one of the least scalable ways to communicate. When you answer an external email, you’re usually helping one person in private, as opposed to helping many people at once like with a video. And of course when you’re answering emails, you’re usually reacting rather than plotting an active course forward.

Last night I got the chance to hear Fred Brooks talk about different aspects of software engineering and management. He told a story about the IBM System/360. Apparently a few months before the public launch, a smart manager concluded that the team need to focus on work with no distractions. So the manager decreed: no meetings with sales people or other non-related internal staff. What the team needed was to “just be mean” and buckle down and focus on the most important goal, which was meeting their launch deadline.

March is a great month to do some deep thinking about the future and various work and personal projects. So I’m going to try to do more of that and less answering email. Sorry in advance if you write but don’t get a reply from me.

32 Responses to 30 day challenge for March: no external email (Leave a comment)

  1. I am starting to love that 30-day-challenge idea, I think I will copy it.
    Is that OK or will I get in trouble cause of the duplicate content??

  2. Like the idea of eating slowly, think the majority of people wold be guilty of wolfing down food. I hear eating off a smaller plate is good way to psychologically change your thoughts on eating, which can help with loosing weight.

  3. Best of luck Matt. Hope you’ll suggest some good ways to get on new height in Google search, after this season.

  4. The future of email is chat. It sounds like you use the wrong tool. Use chat instead of email, especially group chat. Chat is the future.

  5. We’re using Hangouts a LOT internally, and email is primarily for external/client correspondence.

    We’ve also reduced a lot of ‘noise’ by assigning tasks within bitbucket and adding the relevant notes there directly and not sending attachments in email. The added benefit is all the info relating to the task is in one place should there be enquiries later.

    Sometimes noise can’t be avoided, but using specific purpose built tools has definitely helped with our focus.

    We were trying a lot of different tools but near the end of 2012 we decided to reduce the number of tools we use, so that there are less places team members need to check for info.


    Formal and Client Correspondence – email
    Internal correspondence – Hangouts
    Tasks and task related info as well as source docs – Bitbucket
    Management forecasting and sales cycle management – Trello

    Good luck with your the challenge 🙂

  6. Goodluck with it Matt! Are you going to use autoresponders, make more phone calls, just leave it – or a mix of both. I bet we could all benefit from using these tactics to free up time and communicate more effectively. I love email and hate the phone, but have been pushing myself to pick it up more – and things get sorted much more quickly than a back and forth email ‘conversation’. I also try to only check and reply to email at 2 set times per day, can’t imagine answering NO external email 🙂

  7. Best of luck Matt… Hope upcoming next 30 days will give us some more innovation in SEO.

  8. I enjoy following your 30 day challenges. I’m constantly fighting the email battle but I don’t think I could ignore it for a month. Even for a day!

    On top of that, I’m still working through figuring out why we are not ranked better (losing our page 1) for our keyword. I understand the algorithm changes within Google but for the life of me – it still doesn’t make sense for us. We daily create fresh content to meet the needs of our visitors, (articles, videos, the “Hysterectomy Checkpoints” which is a brilliant section that matches a date with specific content – just for her specific needs – and provides it to her without her having to search for it….) Sorry for the fuss here. It’s just so confounding to me….especially since our goal is always to meet the visitor’s needs. You and I have talked about this – years ago. Could you be my superhero?

    Good luck with your month without email. I’m looking forward to hearing how you managed it.

  9. Eating slowly is why Italians live to a ripe old age. We take our time when we eat, then again lunch is a 3 – 4 hour abbondanza. Good luck on the new challenge, my question is how will you catch up when the 30 days are done?

  10. Wait until you have kids, Matt. Then you’ll understand what wolfing your meal down is all about. When you have to eat in 30 seconds or less because your kid is covered in spaghetti sauce and she wants you to clean her up, remember this comment. 😉

  11. have a good time matt
    is there any new huge update by next days !!!

  12. Your 30 day challenges are always inspiring Matt. Good luck with this one! As technology folk, it’s important for us to walk away from technology and be more present in life during our down time. I agree with Adam about the kids point, you do learn how to get tasks done “super fast” when you have littles watching/waiting your every move.

  13. It seems that every website owner gets pelted on an almost daily basis with phone calls and emails soliciting something. It’s easy to ignore the spammy SEO offers and (in my business) other real estate agents marketing their listings. However, over the years I’ve had to just learn how to say no to seemingly beneficial offers as well (brokers offering to take me out to lunch to discuss their company or listing agents who genuinely want my feedback on a new community and are willing to chip in a $150 gift card to make it worth my while). A lot of offers come from people who want to give back in some way – they’re not looking for a straight hand out. When the people offering are nearby (in my own city) or when I’ve worked with them previously or I know that they’re simply trying to improve their business and value my feedback, it’s harder to say no. But you have to “just be mean” because if not, you’ll get run over in the business world. At some point you’ve got to think about your own goals and (in my line of work) helping buyers and sellers because that’s my job and that’s what I love to do.

  14. Now you will be able to see how many spam emails you get each month. But one thing you have forgot is that it will take you 60 days to filter through all those emails

  15. Well Done Matts..
    According to my point of view “Paul Lovell” is absolutely right it will take you 60 days to filter through all those emails.

  16. This is interesting, although perhaps only relevant to a few who get the volume that you do, Matt. I have noticed some more webmaster videos this month (and in depth ones too) so it’s clear that more time for you benefits everyone out there.

  17. I did also go on 30 days challenge to eat only green and no sure ( including chocolate ) , trust me it was very tough and challenging and I should admit that was the best thing I have don’t to get my body back to normal after traveling to mexcio and getting sick for long time . I d like to thank you Matt for bringing this challenge to your blog which was a reason for encouraging me to do it too.


  18. 30 days completed matt… waiting to hear something from you.. what is your next update? Is there any shocking news for us?

  19. His next post will be in a month Nishant explaining how he took a 30 day challenge not to blog.

  20. You better not be having any deadlines at work.

  21. Eating slowly works with me as well. and that’s not a 30 challenge.. 🙂

  22. Hello Matt,

    I think you are correct about eating slowly and totally wrong on the email ideas you have.
    Also I think the guy you are listening to about software development and management is wrong.

    There is no way to write to Google and unfortunately for people you are the only option. I know you will never admit all the mistakes and unfair penalties your team gives out, however I see these Google mistakes weekly and who should people that feel they need to email Google write to?
    Yes I know how GWT works and it is defective and not good enough.

    Your CEO says successful companies blow it by not seeing how the future will impact their business. I think Google’s unwillingness to at least read people’s emails and respond to them if needed is a good example of how Google could lose market share moving forward. I hope in the future a good search engine with better ideas about communicating and emailing will take market share from Google, as this appears the only way Google will change it’s mindset that Google users that want to email Google are “not a pain in the ass”, they are instead treated like a valued client. I believe this a major cultural defect that Google has, and you should work to change this poor attitude regarding external emails.
    Why is the only solution trying to email you, that seems ridiculous to me.
    Google should have a highly qualified team to respond to external emails and build brand loyalty.

  23. I wish I could ignore emails, that would be great! I swear my days are a lot more productive when I don’t have to respond to client emails all day long. I hope that challenge went well!

  24. Just wanted to know how the external email boycott was going. I just found your blog, not long ago. Figured it was time to ask.

  25. Hi Matt,

    That’s a very interesting stance on email communication but it just doesn’t seem plausible for 99% of SaaS businesses whom rely on fast turnaround implementation. Do you see a workaround there?


  26. Hi Matt
    I do not agree with the sentence “the team need to focus on work with no distractions”; A great result requires also a great ambiance/distraction. A team that performs well is a team that feels great within its environment.

  27. Did you manage to full this thing off? I wish I can do that as well.. 🙂

  28. I hope i can do a 30 day challenge someday to stay away from internet and succeed. 🙂

  29. You better not be having any deadlines at work.
    it is a good story and this is a interesting ,although perhaps only relevant to a few who get the volume that you do, Matt.

  30. Social media use as part of its social responsibility, Congratulations Matt…