Help! I'm drowning in a sea of email!

I’m snowed under. I’m awash. I’m overwhelmed. By email. Lots and lots of email.

istock_000002649953xsmallHow bad is it? I’m on a trip to Australia. Away from the office. And today, I logged over 5 and 1/2 hours reading and responding to the emails I received since yesterday. That leaves precious little time to actually do the work that’s important to me.

I’ve put practices in place to try to deal with my emails more efficiently and keep the important ahead of the urgent. I try to touch each email only once, deciding on first reading if I need to respond or if I can delegate any necessary action. I quickly delete emails that have been sent simply to me to “keep me in the loop.”

But what remains takes too much time.

And as I ask myself why, I think I’ve seen a pattern. The emails that take most of the time are those that ask my opinion. In many respects, it’s the emails that are asking “what should we do?” or “what is your opinion?”

Now, if this were a face to face encounter, I would respond by asking the questioner what he or she thinks we should do. The smart, competent people will always supply an answer that I can quickly agree with or that we can refine together.

But I find it tougher to respond to an email in this way. It seems rude. Worse, it also delays a decision and can turn into the dreaded email ping pong exchange. So, I invest my time to think through the question – and then I write a considered response. And that can take a lot of time. Over five hours today alone.

But I simply can’t keep going this way. I have to get my head up above this email tsunami.

But how?

What do you do to keep email at a manageable level? Can you do this and still do your job if as a manager? How can you do it without offending people? Is there no other way than to step back into another century and hire an assistant to divert most of the flow?

Can you throw a guy a lifeline? What can I do to get my head above the email flood?

Managing through the recession – One Win at a Time

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my thoughts on what Thornley Fallis and 76design and companies like us should be doing to survive the recession. In that post, I pointed out that retaining existing clients is a critical first step to keeping your business healthy. Now more than ever.

Well, this past weekend, I received some great news. One of our senior account managers had just succeeded in renewing two client relationships. Not only did he renew them. But  he expanded the scope of each one with a modest budget increase.

That’s great news to be receiving. It reflects hard work on the part of the account manager and our team. And it provides evidence that we may be on the right track to not only survive the recession, but to emerge stronger.

Here’s the email that I wrote to the manager. I also copied it to the other managers in the firm.

One win at a time … that’s how we’ll not only survive but thrive in the recession.

I’ve just learned that you are on the verge of getting an additional assignment from [an existing client].

Last month, you won us a renewal and budget increase from [another existing] client.

One win at a time.

It’s also about picking and choosing. Retaining and growing the clients we have is SO much more efficient and effective than the competitive pitch. And if we hang on to all our existing clients, then we can be choosy in the new pitches we do, picking the ones that are blue chip (they will actually pay their bills) and want us because they’ve come to us.

One win at a time.

Keep going in this direction please.

Why am I writing this series of “Managing through the recession” posts? Not to boast about how well we are doing. It’s way to early to be that smug. I hope with these posts to share the lessons I’ve learned through my experience in the last downturn. Hopefully, that will help you and managers in other companies. Of course, I also hope that the people in my own companies will read and consider what I am suggesting.

So far so good.

Managing through the coming recession

While I was on vacation two weeks ago, the real world kept intruding by way of reports of a plummeting stock market and world leaders in full-out crisis mode. On Friday of last week the Conference Board reported that Canadian consumer confidence is at a 26 year low.

Economic CrushThe warning signs are inescapable. Challenging times lie ahead.

What does this mean for companies like Thornley Fallis and 76design? We have to prepare ourselves to receive telephone calls that start with, “We’ve decided to reduce the budget…” or “We’re holding off proceeding with the next phase…” or “We’ve decided to consolidate our spending with one agency.”

What are we doing about it?

Well, first, I am changing my own thinking from “grow, grow, grow” to “cash is king.”

In the coming recession, there will be surviviors and there will be casualties. I made some mistakes in the 2001-2002 downturn and I’m determined not to make those mistakes again.

This simple change of mindset will drive a whole series of cascading decisions. We won’t stop growing where we can, but we will be more selective in our investments. More cautious. Less open to higher risks.

How does this translate into our day to day reality?

Zero Budget

First, we’re resetting all of our discretionary budgets to zero. This will force each decision-maker to make fresh decisions about how we spend money. What worked yesterday may not work today. So, let’s reexamine what we’re doing to be sure that we put our resources behind those things that work and match up against the new tighter economic realities.


Second, I’m asking each manager to maximize the use of our current human resources – the people who are the essence of our company. Instead of recruiting ahead of our need for people, we will wait until people are working flat out before we hire new staff. In tough times, it’s much better to be too busy and working very hard than to be sitting in an office in which you know that there are too many people for the work to be done.


Third, we will be more selective in the new business opportunities we pursue. The best opportunity is a happy client who says, “Let’s keep working together.” Next to that, we will scrutinize closely the opportunities and make pragmatic decisions based on our assessment of the prospects for success of the potential client, their business strength and why they have come to us. We won’t participate in any competitions for business unless the prospective client tells us that there is a clear reason that they have come to us. If they know our core strengths or one or more of our team and they really want to work with us, then we’ll compete. If they’ve selected us off a list so that they can round out a competitive roster, well, sorry, we’ll pass that one by.

But wait. There will be opportunities to grow

Ironically, at the very time that things are tightening, there will also be opportunities to grow and to plant the seeds for future growth.

There will be companies that look to make more effective use of their marketing budgets. There will be suppliers whose core business comes unstuck and who shed good clients as their ability to service them is diminished.

By paying attention to our business fundamentals through zero budgeting, maximizing and choosing, we will be able to answer the call when those opportunities arise. If we do this, we can emerge from the recession with all our capabilities intact and as a stronger competitor.

What’s your view?

So, that’s our gameplan this week. I say this week because in this time of uncertainty, we are  reexamining our assumptions and assessments as every week goes by. What seems right to us today may not seem quite so right next week. And we will be ready to change our stance as the world changes around us.

How about you? Have you already felt the effects of the downturn? What are you doing at your company to weather the recession?