Let me first start off by saying this, best practices are usually common practices, and if I've learned anything it's that I know exactly what to expect from doing things the common way—common results. I've also learned that just because a process, practice, or discipline works great for one person or company does not mean it will work well for another. Keep that in mind.
Secondly, please know that I do not share these tips, rules, and disciplines with you because I have reached a level of success that denotes power to do so—it's taken me almost ten years of trial and error to figure these things out as well as a lot of great direction from those that have come before me. Success is not an achievement to obtain, it's a daily measure of your goals.
Too long, too short, too opaque, what's with the funny fonts and colors...no, I don't want to sign up for your gold membership for the fifth time. Oh and can we just all agree to stop sending "you've been successfully removed from our mailing list" emails?! If I am asking you to stop sending me emails the last thing I want is another email from you.
So you see, I get it—email has become a point of contention for many of us and as a result I think we've formed some bad habits. Let me just dispel the myth for you right now, 100+ unread messages is not a badge of nobility, it's a badge of laziness! I don't care how much you do in business over a given year, how many products you've designed, or what Fortune 500 company you work for, real people are awaiting your response. Give it to them.
The most important thing to remember is that YOU ARE in the communication business. I don't care if you're a photographer, a chef, a restaurant owner, an architect, or a consultant—communication is numero uno!
When I left my job at Apple just over six months ago I sat down and wrote a list, this list is written down in my phone, on a notecard on my desk, and on my computer. It's my measure of daily success. The first item on that list is to be available. I knew that if I was going to make it on my own I had to be change some of my practices, these are just a few as it relates to email...
- If it will take me two minutes or less to respond, I do it immediately. Stop whatever I am doing and write back.
- If it is going to take longer than two minutes to respond, I find a good stopping point for whatever it is I am doing and I respond within the hour.
- If it is something I cannot get to within in an hour due to whatever is currently on my plate I will write a brief note letting the other person know that I received their email and will get back to them shortly.
I've put these three important practices in place for me because I used to be awful at email, to the point that I would lose projects because I was too stressed out to respond. It was a terrible place to be in, but I know it's not just me.
A buddy of mine in Brooklyn called me a few weeks back at around 11:45pm. Normally I wouldn't answer the phone at that hour, but he's a friend and I hadn't spoken to him in a while. "Damn dude, you really are as available as you say you are" was the first thing he said when I answered the phone. We had a great chat and that would have never happened if I just answered in a timely manner. Sure I could have got back to him, but it made for a great moment at that point in time.
Straight up, people just want to be heard. When someone sends you an email, they expect a response and a timely one. Make time to check your email, get a system that makes it easier. There are so many great apps for email organization, find one that works for you, but keep in mind, the app is not going to take the place of discipline.
And be reasonable, don't ever let your work come before the ones you love. You have your whole life to work, but you might not have forever to spend with people. So if you email me and I don't get back to you within an hour, know I am probably spending time with someone I care about, but don't worry—I'll get back to you.
Keep making great art!
If you have any thoughts or questions, I would love to hear them! Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if just to test me!