my coworker announced she’ll only check email twice a week

A reader writes:

Today in a meeting, a colleague announced that she only reads and responds to emails twice a week, on her “email days,” and if there were any immediate issues I would have to go down to her office in person to get a response. Our boss was fine with that, clarifying that emails should be answered within a week. Please, please tell me that this is weird and not how business is usually conducted. What can I say to our boss to convince her that this is not a good policy?

It sounds like your coworker is following a productivity hack that’s been making the rounds for the last couple of years, where you’re supposed to batch process your email only at set times, and ignore it the rest of the time. The thinking is that otherwise email will constantly interrupt you and pull you away from things that are actually higher priorities. Sometimes the advice says to check and deal with email once or twice a day. But there’s a more radical version that says to do it only once or twice a week, and to set up an email auto-responder that lets people know that’s what you’re doing.

Of course, the key for people doing this is to make sure that the interval they choose is practical for the sorts of emails they usually receive. If you run your own business and are your own boss, you can check email once a week if you feel like it, as long as you’re okay with your clients’ reaction to this. If you’re very in demand, your clients might be perfectly willing to put up with that. On the other hand, if you don’t work for yourself and you’re, say, an assistant working for busy people who need you to see their messages quickly, this probably isn’t going to work.

In your coworker’s case, it sounds like your boss is fine with her plan. There are a few possible reasons for that: Your boss might want your coworker focused on Important Priorities A and B, has made the calculation that email is interfering with her ability to do that, and has judged that the inconvenience to others is trumped by the importance of A and B. Or, she could be an email hater who thinks most things should be done face-to-face, and thus considers this an awesome plan that everyone else should adopt too. Or maybe she’s a pushover who’s just going along with your coworker without doing any critical thinking about the ramifications. Who knows — but you know your boss and probably have some idea of which of these rings more true.

In any case, if you rely on being able to email your coworker fairly regularly and need to know that she’ll see or take action reasonably quickly, then you have standing to express those concerns. You could point out (if this is accurate in your case) that it will take up much more of your time to have to track her down in person, find a time when she’s not busy, and talk in person about things that previously could be handled at both of your convenience with a 30-second email. You could also point out specific examples of work that will be negatively affected by this new policy. And if you think that people are likely to start coming to you or others for things they used to go to her about (since they’ll know they’ll have a longer wait with her), you should point that out too.

I’d start by talking to your coworker about this, but if she’s unmoved, it’s reasonable to share your concerns with your boss. She may be receptive to hearing this and may alter her stance. Or she might not. But it’s a reasonable concern to raise and see what happens.

For what it’s worth, I think “emails should be answered within a week” is an unusually long timeframe, but it also depends on the type of work you and your coworker do. There are some contexts where that really would be fine, most of the time. There are far more contexts where it definitely wouldn’t be — but what really matters are the specifics of your and your coworker’s work, so I’d try to look at it through that lens before you do anything else. It’s possible that your coworker actually is one of the (relatively small number of) people where this could make sense. If that’s the case, I’d try to give her the benefit of the doubt for now and see how this goes. If it does turn out to cause problems, you can always raise it in a few weeks … at which point your argument might be more effective anyway, since then you’ll have real-life data to point to about problems it’s caused.

P.S. Now I really want you to announce that you will only be taking in-person conversations twice a week, on your “in-person days.”

{ 265 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius

    You’ll need to cover your butt, OP, no matter what happens, so here’s what I suggest.

    I’ve worked with two people at two separate jobs who were notorious for being unresponsive over email and…every other aspect of their jobs.  But they had mastered the art of teflon in that they managed to escape any sort of scrutiny because they never took responsibility for anything and thus never responded to anything.  This also meant they liked to keep conversations face-to-face because later on they’d deny anything that came back to haunt them.  If they were reminded that they were emailed something, there’d be cries of “Oh but I’m so busy” and “I get so much email that I never saw that” or “I never got that email. Yes, I see you have a sent copy with my name on it, but I never saw that.”

    What does this mean for you?

    Anytime something critical arises and you have to have a face-to-face with this employee?  Email her a summary of what was discussed or a summary of your attempts to contact her along with what you need.  Even if she never acknowledges the email’s existence, you’ll still have proof of what was done/discussed.  Although she’s not checking email regularly, you still need some sort of time stamped proof that you did what you needed to do.  Email provides that, although it doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s more protection instead of a catch all solution.  

    Plus I’d like to think that in the adult word that all employees are responsible for the email they receive at their employer-issued email addresses, but I know many times that doesn’t reflect reality.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I would agree with this, not so much to cover your butt as just for organizational purposes.

      But I also don’t see any mention of the phone here–since it’s not excluded, I’d try phoning the co-worker or even texting her.

      Reply
      1. 2 Cents

        I second the motion to call her instead of traipsing down to her office.

        Also, I agree with the CYA aspect of Snarkus’ comment. It may not be true in your office, but in my OldJob, my boss was notorious for saying one thing face to face, then coming back via email with something completely different. I started summing up face-to-face discussions so I could point to WHY I’d done something a certain way (the way she originally asked for it!)

        Reply
    2. neverjaunty

      VERY much this. And even if the coworker is benevolent and responsive and trustworthy, people forget and make mistakes. Sending a confirming email means that there is a chance to correct misunderstandings, and there’s also something in writing you can both refer to down the line.

      Reply
    3. Alienor

      What is with those people who just never respond to anything?! The weirdest part to me is that they’re always *known* for it, so you can be having a conversation and someone will say, “Well, we could ask [name], but they never respond, so…” I may be biased because email is my preferred method of communication, so I answer as fast as possible in order to train people to contact me that way (because god knows I don’t want them “stopping by” to ask a question that I have to look up an answer to, and then looming over me while I search for it), but just never answering at all blows my mind.

      Reply
      1. Charityb

        I think it’s because they realize that no one will ever do anything about it. It never seems important enough to fire someone or give them a lower bonus, and as long as it’s not *that bad* it’s easier for them to continue as it is. Sure it inconveniences other people but other people aren’t real so it’s not really a problem morally.

        Reply
        1. Adam V

          If it’s a habit, you address it with their boss, and hope that their boss is keeping track, so that they get continual feedback throughout the year (“you need to be more responsive to emails”) and at year-end review time (“I had to remind you every other month to be more responsive to emails, and I recorded 42 different instances of people telling me you weren’t responding to them”). Is it something to be put on a PIP over? Maybe not immediately, but every time I do reviews, I look at the previous year, and I’d sure notice a pattern of “I had to address that with her last year, and it didn’t get any better this year, so she gets an even lower score this year and it’s probably time for a PIP”.

          Reply
        1. Alienor

          Looming is the worst! I will sometimes try to nicely dismiss people, like “This might take a few minutes, so if you need to get back to your desk…” but not all of them take the hint.

          Reply
            1. Regina 2

              This wouldn’t work with a senior manager or anyone above your boss though, right? I mean, their time is more valuable to the company than mine…

              Reply
              1. Alienor

                True, but the thing is, if it takes 10 minutes to find the answer, it takes 10 minutes whether they’re in their office or standing behind me, breathing down my neck. They won’t get the answer any faster the second way, but they will make me a lot more uncomfortable (and maybe slow me down because it’s hard to type with someone watching your every keystroke).

                Reply
              2. Sketchee

                I’ve done this with bosses before. They always seem take it as me acknowledging that their time is valuable. Like oh don’t waste your time waiting around for little old me, I’ll take care of it and alert you so you can be totally free to go loom over someone else. Great bosses love to delegate!

                Reply
                1. afiendishthingy

                  Love it! My boss tends to come over to my desk to loom while I’m on the phone… and I find phone calls kind of awkward to begin with, let alone when I’m wondering if boss is coming to say something innocuous or tell me I’ve screwed something up royally…

      2. Regina 2

        This is me too! I hate being contacted by phone or a drive-by — I’m a boss on email, so that’s the best way to get what you need from me! I’m fast, I’ll get you the answers you want, and it’ll be the most articulate version of myself.

        Even though text and phone seem quicker to some people, both of those things signify, “Emergency! Catastrophe! Death!” so I have lots of anxiety around them.

        Reply
        1. Alienor

          Right?! And especially when it’s information that you’re going to need to refer to later or forward to someone else. I’ve had people stop by, ask a question, receive a verbal answer, and then forget on the way back to their desk and email me with “Uh…remind me, did you say it was X or Y?”

          Reply
          1. Sketchee

            Whenever I’m on the phone or in person, I’m always repeating “Hold on, I’m writing this down. Okay so to make sure I got it, I wrote xyz.” When someone is talking with me and giving them a verbal answer, I’ll offer to email the answer, write it down, or ask them if they want to get a notepad

            Reply
      3. FiveWheels

        In my case when I’m not responsive it’s because I’m too busy firefighting to stop the urgent tasks on hand and deal with email. Until I get a TARDIS, unfortunately I need to triage my workload and some things get cut.

        I don’t have the luxury of “email days” but I can certainly see that it would be quicker for me to deal with 125 emails twice a week than 50 emails a day as they come in. Non responsiveness could be laziness or bad time management but it could also be down to overwork.

        I once knew an attorney who said he never responded to emails or voicemails or even the first letter, in the grounds that “if it really matters, they’ll write twice”. Ahhh, if only…

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I think I met that attorney. I called him and he has not returned my call. It’s been over 20 years. I knew something was wrong from the start. The first time I met him his shirt looked like he had slept in it for at least three days, probably longer. I have never seen so many wrinkles on a shirt.
          I am not sure how these attorneys or anyone like this stays working.

          Reply
          1. FiveWheels

            1 – very good at job
            2 – very cheap
            3 – all his clients are friends who are too embarrassed to fire him

            Any of the above really!

            Reply
      4. Stranger than fiction

        Yes I have a manager here that’s like that. Apparently she’s exempt from the norms the rest of us follow since she busy managing so many departments, but it really gets to me sometimes because I literally have to drag everything I sent her to a special follow up folder I created, which just seems ridiculous to me.

        Reply
    4. Dorothy Lawyer

      I do this all the time – with clients and opposing counsel, especially. My standard form: “Thanks for taking the time today to visit with me about X. As we discussed, I’ll do Y and Z and follow up with you next week on A and B.” Dated, time-stamped, and a memorandum for both parties of the conversation and both parties’ next steps. This is great CYA.

      Reply
    5. Trisha Clay

      My ex-boss judiciously avoided responding to email. He would follow-up verbally on almost everything. I work in technology, so this was maddening. You could never refer back to what he told you to do. I eventually took the same tack as other commenters: I would follow-up via email saying “I understood you to say to do X in Y time-frame”. This was necessary to CYA, which I’m sure was his point in only interacting verbally. He avoided any kind of accountability that way.

      Reply
  2. Worker Bee (Germany)

    Interesting read. Never heard of this befor. But I would love to just have one email free day a week to get some of the day to day work done.. I have been wondering about this for a while. Or maybe just checking emails once or twice a day..

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I don’t think checking once or twice a day is all that disruptive.
      Nor would one email-free day be that big a deal in many places, especially if it’s the same day every week.

      You could get an almost-email-free day if you allowed yourself to define more email as “OK to answer tomorrow,” and developed some sort of stationery or cut-and-paste answer to reply with. Then you just spend about 10 mins. zipping through what’s come in during the last 3 or 4 hours, and go back to your main task.

      Reply
      1. Revolver Rani

        I check my email about twice a day – sometimes more often, but the key point is that I turned off the notifications so they don’t pop up on my screen while I am working. When I do check email, then checking email becomes the task I am doing right then, and I take a “Getting Things Done” approach to it: If the email can be addressed in 5 minutes or less, I just address it. If the email creates a task that will take more than 5 minutes, I file it in one of my working folders and add the task to an appropriate to-do list (and send a quick response to the sender if needed). If the email is material I need for reference, I file it in the appropriate place.

        This works fine for me, because my job rarely has emergencies that need to be dealt with right away. It’s also very common for people to be away from their desks (we have a lot of meetings) so we don’t have a company culture of “answer my email right away”.

        Reply
        1. SusanIvanova

          I have a spare laptop – too old to be used for real work – and use it for email so it isn’t a distraction where I’m working. I’m a software developer, so there will be times when the computer is busy and it’s fine to, say, read this blog – so those websites are on the spare laptop too.

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        2. Stranger than fiction

          I’ve turned off those notifications too , years ago, they drove me bonkers. I think I check mine every 20-30 minutes but mostly just to check for anything urgent. Otherwise I just flag it as a to-do and/or drag to the appropriate folder. Right now I’m up to my eyeballs in month end so I’m checking more like hourly or I’d never get any reports done .

          Reply
      2. FiveWheels

        This, for me, would multiply my work rather than reducing it. For audit purposes I have to have hard copies of every communication on file, so that would mean printing the initial email, filing it, printing the reply, filing it, and then coming back to it all the next day to actually deal with it.

        Plus the ever horrifying choice of whether to leave filing in a pile to be sorted and dealt with later, or get the files, put the paperwork in, return the files to their cabinets and then repeat tomorrow… I’m exhausted just thinking about this

        Reply
    2. Temperance

      If I’m in a time crunch, I check email ever 90 minutes or so instead of leaving it up. Depending on your industry, why not schedule email times?

      Reply
      1. Not me

        Works great for me, too. I have one big email marathon in the morning. I also check throughout the day, but handling the majority of it in the morning keeps it manageable.

        Reply
        1. Doriana Gray

          I now check email in the morning as well. My new job is such that my deadlines are much shorter than the position I left a few weeks ago. Then, I was able to respond to email as they came in without causing any delays? Now though, if I did that, I’d never get through a task. So mornings are when I officially sort and handle my emails (this is a great thing for me to do while drinking my coffee and trying to wake up). I find I’m more efficient this way, and if something’s really urgent, I’m in the kind of field where someone would call before they’d email.

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    3. Worker Bee (Germany)

      Thanks everyone for your awsome advice and ideas. I am off today but the first thing I’ll do tomorrow is turning of the notifications. Sadly the main issues remains. Usually the emails from my boss are the ones interupting my day. It is usually an request for some bigger picture items rather than day to day stuff. And she usually expects me to drop everything else to make it happen. This is due to her being bombared with these questions from the corporate office (in a different country). It has gotten better since I am have some one to help with the day to day stuff and can focus more on the bigger tasks. But still I just sometimes need time to do the day to day stuff.. Thinking about it now I just might need to have a workload / priority conversation with her. More back round info, we bought a competitor who is about half our size but due to their structure my work has essentialy doubled (accounting/ finance planing)

      Reply
      1. Kalli

        Yep, that is clearly a culture/priority issue.

        My recommendation would be to turn off notifications, be firm that you will get things done without her pressuring you, and book a time where you can do the day-to-day bits without interruption. If you get on well with her and can demonstrate that it’s making you less efficient for her to be pulling you onto big tasks at random, she should be able to understand it’s an issue and let you work out what’s best for you in fixing it.

        Reply
  3. Adam V

    Two days a week just doesn’t seem like enough to me. Why not something like “from 10:30-12 and 3:30-5 every day” instead? That’s 15 hours a week instead of 16, but it gives you the guarantee that your email should be seen (and hopefully responded to) by no later than the next day.

    Plus, I’m not really a fan of “announcing” something like this to your colleagues – I feel like this is something you bring up and float as a trial, instead of a unilateral decision that everyone else will have to deal with and support. Even if your boss is okay with it, it just seems heavy-handed to me.

    Reply
    1. MaryMary

      I’m curious about the etiquette of announcing a time management technique like this. I’m honestly torn between wanting to be transparent and set expectations, and feeling like it doesn’t seem professional to announce how you manage your time.

      I also wonder if OP’s coworker is purely internal, or if she interacts with people outside of OP’s office. I work with one vendor who recently added response expectations to their email signatures (3-5 business days), and I have a client whose voicemail message says she returns calls between 3:00 and 5:00 daily. Both rub me the wrong way, a little bit. I can’t figure out if it’s the cmmunication, or the fact that I don’t feel they’re being responsive enough. 3-5 days seems like a long time to answer an email, and the client is the sole HR contact for her company (I suspect she gets some calls she really should not wait until 3:00 to answer).

      Reply
      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        It’s off-putting because they’re announcing personal rigid time management guidelines and the implication is that everyone else will adjust to that instead of figuring that stuff out on your own and adjusting it to a case but case basis, which is what most workers do and are expected to do.

        Yes, that was a long sentence.

        Reply
        1. OwnedByTheCat

          Yeah, I’m trying to imagine how that would impact my work. I need a ton of input from other departments and if a coworker announced they would only be on email twice a week I’d now have to spend an inordinate amount of time managing when and how I could get a response from them. It would not work!

          Reply
          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Well, not really. You could call (and leave a voicemail if she’s not there), or stop by (and leave a note if she’s not there).

            I agree that this kind of policy should be created collaboratively, but I don’t believe that it would cause the level of disruption you’re anticipating. And while the policy should be created collaboratively, it’s near certain that not everybody who communicates with a given person could be included. It’s reasonable for an employee to go to a manager and say they’re having trouble managing email, and for the manager to work out a system that works well for 85% of the people the employee communicates with. (I mean, that happens without intentionality all the time. If I don’t have enough time to manage my email, my accidental policy ends up being that it takes me 2 days on average, sometimes 5 if your email slips through the cracks, sometimes 30 seconds if I happen to be looking at it when it comes in, etc.).

            Reply
            1. peanut butter kisses

              I wonder if you could leave a note that says –

              “Missed you in the office. Stop by my office when you have a minute.”

              or

              “Missed you in the office. Let’s play phone tag.”

              or

              “Missed you in the office. E-mail me to see what’s up.”

              Reply
            2. Honeybee

              If the goal is to reduce disruption and distractions, it seems like having people stop by constantly or call you would be far more disruptive than creating some email rules and sorting through mail once a day on your own time. Not to mention that the coworker in question is offloading their disruption onto me by requiring me to stop by their office to discuss something simple. We also don’t have company phones at our desks, and I don’t know all of my coworkers’ cell numbers. The alternative here would be to ping them on Skype, but that also seems to defeat the purpose of dealing with email only twice a week. And what if I need to communicate something to a large group of people, as we do often? What about time-sensitive announcements from directors?

              Maybe it’s just my office, but I’m failing to see how this will actually reduce work.

              Reply
        2. Sadsack

          Eh, I think letting your coworkers know you have this new policy for reading their emails is a courteous thing to do, rather then letting people wonder what’s up and only figure it out after a frustrating period of not getting a response. The idea of only looking at emails a couple times a week is what’s throwing me, but maybe it’s a legit policy for these people.

          Reply
          1. NotAnotherManager!

            I think that there is a difference between announcing it (which is what sounds like happened) and throwing it out there to see if it’s going to disrupt the team’s workflow. Yeah, they have to know, but asking if it’s going to have a negative impact on the team is going to go over better than telling people that you’re only reading email once a week.

            It also shows a total disregard for others’ productivity. It may just be shifting this person’s less productive time onto others, who now have to work around him/her.

            Reply
            1. OhNo

              It is nice that this coworker is letting everyone know that her responsiveness is going to be changing. That’s info they need to have, the same as if she was changing her schedule to Tues-Sat or only working until 2pm every day.

              But, I agree with you about the difference between announcing and suggesting it. “Announcing” means to me that there is absolutely no flexibility to it; she is handing down an edict on How Things Are Going To Be, and it’s now everyone else’s job to jump through hoops to make things work.

              It’s possible that this really is how it needs to be for her, which is fine, but it sounds like the presentation could have been better. Hopefully if the OP addresses this with the coworker it will clear things up a little.

              Reply
          2. Not So NewReader

            I am curious though.
            What if everyone decides to form their own email schedule? Then, what? Do they create a chart so all will know when their emails will get answered?

            Lucinda M, Th 2pm-3:30pm
            Bob Tu, F 4-4:25pm
            Cathy W, F 8-9 am

            Okay so next problem, if we have to go to their office to speak to them, we should probably have another chart of when they will be in their office. (Example similar to above.)
            Two charts per person and how many people in the office? If this is a ten person office, then this is 20 charts.

            OTH, what is preventing from OP from saying, “I don’t do office visits for simple questions. I only use email…”?

            If it were me, I would do “commuter runs”. I would wait until I had 3-4 questions and then travel down to her office. I think she’d be back to using email in a fairly short time.

            Reply
        3. Elsajeni

          Yeah, I think that’s exactly it. It’s also basically outsourcing your “inbox triage” to your coworkers — you know, I don’t feel like it’s my job to sort my requests for Lucinda by urgency for her convenience, but Lucinda is making it my job by announcing that she (in effect) refuses to use email for anything more urgent than “sure, in a week is fine”.

          Reply
      2. MaryMary

        Maybe it’s how it’s communicated and framed? If OP’s coworker had said “I need to focus on process X for the next few months, so I’ll be less responsive to your emails. If something is urgent, Come talk to me in person instead of emailing multiple follow ups” I think fewer people would be put off. Same thing if my client’s voicemail message said “I will return your call before the end of the day.” It seems like the message is better received if it’s “this is how you can expect me to communicate with you” and instead of “here is how I manage my work.”

        Reply
      3. Beezus

        I once had a vendor whose voicemail said something along the lines of “please leave a message and I’ll return your call at my earliest convenience“. They delivered just-in-time stuff to us, so anytime there was an issue, it was urgent, and the frustration of having a problem, and having the call go to voicemail, and in that moment, hearing that his convenience was his priority drove me UP the wall. His actual response times were pretty good, but his messaging was needlessly self-centered.

        Reply
        1. MaryMary

          I feel like “at my earliest convenience” might have once been someone’s suggested phrasing for voicemail messages? I know of several people who use it, all of whom are responsive and would be horrified to know it puts people off. It always seemed like an odd phrasing to me, so personally, I say “as soon as possible.”

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          1. Honeybee

            Yeah, I think it is because I’ve heard it commonly. I think people assume it means the same thing as “as soon as possible,” but the connotation is different.

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            1. FiveWheels

              Cultural thing… I’ve never heard at “my” earliest convenience, but here “at your earliest convenience” means “now! Please?” whereas “as soon as possible” means “I don’t expect you to do it this century and I’m being rude”

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              1. KellyK

                That’s interesting. I would hear ASAP as more urgent than “at your earliest convenience.” For example, “ASAP” might necessitate staying late or postponing going to lunch, or switching gears immediately rather than wrapping something else up.

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          2. Not So NewReader

            Waaay back when answering machines became popular, I remember hearing that on many outgoing messages. Well, if I am calling someone’s home, I don’t want them to return the call when it is INconvenient for them, certainly. There’s a difference in calling a friend at home and calling a business person at work though.
            I do agree, that people are not thinking about how off-putting it sounds. I think some people think they are sounding intelligent and not thinking about what the words actually mean.
            In those years there was some reassurance in that phrasing, “Oh good, they will call me back.” Fortunately, we drifted away from that word choice.
            The one that bothers me now is “You got my voicemail. You know what to do.” From my experience, those people are the least likely to call me back.

            Reply
        2. LD

          Just fyi, but that is a misinterpretation of the phrase. Its intention is to be polite. “At my earliest convenience” does NOT mean that “I’m going to wait around until I have nothing better to do.” It means, “I will respond as soon as I can, I will respond at my earliest opportunity.” It doesn’t mean the opposite.

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      4. Observer

        Are you tied to this vendor? I agree that it’s off putting because you have an announcement that they are going to adhere to a rigid time management strategy that does not take into account the needs of the people they deal with. Clients can get away with this, a little. But, unless there is something very special about this vendor, I’d be looking elsewhere.

        Reply
        1. MaryMary

          We’ve signed a contract but are considering other options when it’s up. I think it’s a staffing issue, they grew too much too quickly. And I sympathize with the customer facing peoplr who are drowning, but I don’t think updating your email signature to say you’ll respond in five days was the best approach.

          Reply
    2. Stranger than fiction

      Agreed. It makes me think of the email volume is really that high at this company, that’s what needs to be addressed.

      Reply
  4. Adam

    Yeah. This is very much dependent on the circumstances of the job and the co-worker’s duties. The main place I see this being an issue is when you have people emailing her who aren’t aware of her response schedule.

    While I certainly couldn’t swing this at my job, I understand the sentiment of not being bogged down by email. I love a lot about email, but it can get out of hand at my current office where you have these giant long email chains with messages of a single sentence and getting to the relevant information takes a lot of searching or the tendency to email about things that could be solved with a quick spoken conversation. A colleague of mine who sits in the cube right next door to me will sometimes email me simple questions. As in one-sentence-answer type questions. It vacillates between being highly amusing and head–>desk inducing.

    These days I will often go and just talk to someone directly as I know writing an email might take me 20 minutes where a quick conversation might only take five. Of course, most of the time afterwords they’ll want me to summarize everything in an email. *le sigh…*

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      It used to drive me nuts that non-critical items would have someone walking over to my desk and talking to me instead of sending an email. If I was heads-down in a complicated problem, it was very possible that hearing the question and giving the one-sentence answer would completely derail what I was working on. Reasonable for urgent items, aggravating for anything that could have waited for me to read my email (which would have happened within 2 hours, tops, at any given point).

      Reply
      1. Adam

        Different strokes I suppose, and you’re job probably requires a lot more brain power then mine does. To me writing emails takes so long and glugs up my inbox so much I would much rather have the face/phone time if it’s a quick answer. Plus when in work mode my team isn’t big on chit-chat so any interaction like that is only going to take a minute or so.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          it’s still an interruption of the person’s train of thought.

          I work in a situation in which most times, I need instantaneous answers; I’m under a pretty big time pressure. But if I can possibly wait 20 minutes or so, I’ll try email first, just because it’s hard on people to be interrupted.

          Reply
          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            I’m a huge proponent of using email so everyone can work on a question at their convenience.

            But that’s just my work style and personality. Your (and my) “interruption of my train of thought” is someone else’s “useful mental break.” Your “email I can deal with later, when I have time for it” is someone else’s “just another email on the huge pile of things I can’t get to that’s causing me a ton of stress.”

            Reply
            1. Adam

              Yeah. This is pretty much where I sit and there is no one-size-fits-all to this. I still use email like 90% of the time as most queries I have aren’t quick ones and try to be mindful of bothering people at work. I think you can mitigate it though. I’ve seen many a person post a sign on their office door saying “Please do not disturb unless urgent” when they need real focus time as well as putting their phone on straight to messages. I don’t think anybody but the most unreasonable of people would begrudge them that.

              Reply
        2. Aardvark

          I can see this working well if you’re talking to someone who’s working on the same project as you at that same time. But when it’s not the same task, the time it saves you in writing/clarifying your idea is often cancelled out entirely on the other person’s end. This can be ridiculously frustrating to the other person; he or she may have very different priorities than you do, and losing that time may put them behind on tasks that are more important to them or their team.

          For instance, if the other teapot administrator or my boss asks me something about today’s steam output, that’s not going to be terribly disruptive to my workday because I’m probably already monitoring it. I’ll lose 5 minutes at most, unless the teapot explodes (and if it did I’d lose the entire day anyway). If someone from teapot distribution asks me how to look up teapot sales rates in Oolong City, I’m going to have to stop thinking about our tea production, put a mental bookmark in the middle of my historical boiling point calculation, remember how to speak in sentences, switch systems, recall how the other db works, ask you three clarifying questions so I understand what you need, run the search, and then once you leave, stop thinking about the missing Oolong City data from 2006, switch back to the other system, figure out what I was doing in my calculation and why I was multiplying Earl Grey by Green, and finally get back into my flow state. The first part may only take a few minutes, but the last two steps can take a long time. Meanwhile, I’ve lost half an hour to save you 15 minutes, and, because I was talking to someone else and not hunkered down, probably am going to get asked three more questions on unrelated topics and lose half a day on a project I may be on deadline for…

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            Yes, this!

            And multiplied many times over if what they thought was a simple question isn’t. This depends on the question type, a lot of them aren’t, but technical questions can trip over this. Sometimes other questions, too.

            Perhaps they asked for the 2006 Oolong City data. Or perhaps there’s actually six tables of data that have to be consulted and put together to get a final number on the 2008 sales, as prior to 2010 the teapot sales were recorded in separate tables per teapot style (which, despite the name, refers to the type of embellishment, not the shape of the pot, for some reason) and they have to be looked up and added.

            Reply
          2. Adam

            This is more or less what I do. I’ve been around my org long enough to where I have a pretty good idea if a query of mine is going to be quick or not, and if I know the colleague well then I will be more likely to approach them in real time instead of email time if I feel it would work better. If I don’t interact with the person much then it’s an email about 99% of the time.

            Reply
  5. Apollo Warbucks

    I’d just carry on emailing your co-worker as normal and then when people ask what the hold up tell them you’re waiting on your co-worker to answer your email.

    Reply
    1. OP

      “Sorry you didn’t get your check, colleague hasn’t gotten to revisions to me yet.” Yep, our vendors would love that.

      Reply
      1. Apollo Warbucks

        You’re right it’s not the most sensible approach but your coworker is being ridiculous and sometimes meeting ridiculousness with more ridiculousness is quite satisfying.

        Reply
  6. Snargulfuss

    I did something like this for a while. I put onto my calendar two blocks of time each day to go through my email and take care of related tasks. That being said, I almost always kept my email open so that I could see what came in and read anything that looked urgent.

    Checking email only twice a week sounds like it could cause a lot of backup for other people, but I’m making that assumption based upon the kind of work I do and have done in the past. I often wonder how people got anything done before email!

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      The world moved slower then.

      Just like OP’s company will move slower if everyone adopts an email day policy.

      Reply
  7. Ad Astra

    Ew. I would much rather be interrupted by an email (that I can ignore if I’m busy) than by an actual person standing in my office with a request.

    Reply
    1. SG

      Seriously- email allows me to pick and choose what I feel is the most important to handle. Not to mention in a giant company across all the floors it would be literally bonkers to require everyone to constantly run around/

      Reply
    2. Lia

      Me too. I had (please note the past tense) a boss who was a technophobe and wanted to ban email from the office. Instead, we were supposed to call, or preferably, just drop by one another’s desk to ask the questions. Thankfully, she got overruled by TPTB, but she was a huge fan of the drive-by “quick question”, which always seemed to be right before lunch, right after I got there and was still booting up/logging in, or right at 5. UGH.

      Reply
  8. Lily Rowan

    Ugggghhhhhh. At an old job, the HR person did this — just put up an auto-reply that she only replied to emails on Friday, and if you needed something sooner, you should come by or call. (a) Not all employees were in the same location, and (b) she was in meetings most of most days. And you know, sometimes people do have relatively urgent HR matters! She was the worst in general.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      well, you can phone her from a different location.
      And hopefully she did return phone messages, which is much like the delay you’d have gotten w/ email (some people don’t fiddle on their phone to answer emails during meetings).

      Reply
      1. Lily Rowan

        Sure, theoretically. But of course her voicemail quickly became unmanageable as well, so if you couldn’t see her in person, it was a total crapshoot if you’d ever get a response at all.

        Reply
        1. esra

          I worked with an HR woman like that. Never returned emails, good luck finding her in person, and of course her voice mailbox was always full.

          Reply
    2. Marty Gentillon

      Sounds like she was a bottleneck, or her department was understaffed. In these kinds of situations, you have to load shed incoming work. Examples: 1) self help wiki or faq tho help people solve their own problems. 2) all requests to HR Jane must go through Furgus, whose lob is to learn and document how HR Jane handles them.

      Reply
  9. The Cosmic Avenger

    This would get anyone at my company fired within a day, as we are consultants and need to answer the client promptly on any non-urgent matter, and pretty much immediately on any urgent matter, even if just to say we’re starting work on it.

    Of course, that’s consulting/contracting, and might even depend on the client and the nature of the work you’re doing for them.

    But I can’t understand why other people have to work around this person’s work habits. I think Adam V has a great point, that you can devote the same amount of time to email in smaller segments and respond more rapidly. This just seems like a fad that some hack came up with to sound edgy and stir up pageviews.

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      I just realized, this “schedule” has nothing to do with managing email. They will need to devote the exact same amount of time to email no matter whether they check it all the time or once a week unless they change something else, like filtering or something. It seems pointless, useless, and presumptuous to make her coworkers wait for a response, since any other methods of plowing through your inbox faster could be done throughout the day instead of twice a week.

      The only way this would make sense is if the person does work that requires such intense concentration that they can’t take on other tasks without losing their focus. Some coding and writing and designing tasks are like that, but even that is rare in those areas.

      Reply
      1. Judy

        At a former employer, our entire software team implemented a strategy where Tuesday and Thursday afternoons had a full afternoon meeting scheduled on our calendars, and we were free to not look at emails, put the phone on DND, and disconnect from IM. We implemented this because coding does require uninterrupted time to be efficient.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          Yeah, interruption-free time is very important.
          But you can have short bursts more frequently that might be more useful to your colleagues (i.e., right before lunch; right before you go home).

          Reply
          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Exactly! Carving out blocks of time for OTHER tasks, and answering emails at all other times, makes a lot more sense than what the OP’s colleague is doing. And we didn’t hear any claims of needing uninterrupted time to write/code/etc., just a rather imperious announcement.

            Reply
          2. Kyrielle

            Yep. I write software. Uninterrupted time for flow is really, really helpful.

            And I handle email, when I’m doing that, before and/or after almost every break. Got up to go to the restroom? I’ll probably triage email when I sit down, then resume task. (Maybe not if I was still thinking about it and had an insight and don’t want to lose it, but that’s rare.) Lunch? Email before, and email again when I come back. End of the day? Quick run for urgent emails before I leave. Beginning of the day? Clear emails before I start on anything else. And so on.

            Reply
    2. Mocha

      I work in PR and it’s the same way–every email from a client has to be answered ASAP pretty much no matter what, and my firm’s policy is to be available to clients pretty much 24/7/365. I dream of a job where it would even be remotely an option to not have to check my email constantly while in the office, and to not have to refresh the email app on my phone every hour even when I’m home and on weekends!

      Reply
      1. Cynthia R

        I’m in the same field, and I completely sympathize. I do have projects where I really need to concentrate on what I’m doing, and in the past I have tried creating dedicated work blocks for that. But sure enough, an urgent email would come in and the expectation is that it would get answered immediately. I’ve learned that you really need to always at least be glancing at your emails.

        That said, if I go on vacation, I really hand off work, and I completely delete email from my phone. We all need to decompress at some point.

        Reply
  10. Adonday Veeah

    When asked why you didn’t go down to her office to talk about the immediate issue, you can say, “I’m only having in-person conversations twice per week. If you need something sooner, please email me.”

    Reply
    1. Adam

      In total spirit of humor, I’d like to see them actually try and enforce that. They could post a club bouncer outside their office door with a velvet rope.

      Reply
      1. Pwyll

        I worked with someone who put yellow warning tape across the entrance to their cubicle and made it very clear to everyone that this was his “door” and when it’s up he wasn’t there. No bouncer though. That would’ve been fun.

        Reply
        1. Kelly L.

          I actually did this once, temporarily–I was working on a project that was big and messy and really needed to not have any students looking at it, and had no private space. I used birthday streamer.

          Reply
        2. Audiophile

          Oh my god, that’s….insane. Was it police tape because that would just up the insanity factor? Now I’m just picturing “do not cross” tape outside a cubicle.

          Reply
    2. Not me

      I like it.

      Or respond to their emails, but make up your own schedule to do so.

      I mean, don’t do it, the whole deal would get worse and you’d look like a child, but it would be tempting.

      Reply
  11. AndersonDarling

    I can understand this stance if the employee is not a desk sitter. If she is the warehouse foreman or in a clinical position away from a computer, running to a workstation to check email every hour is a time waster.
    But I’m guessing that isn’t the case here.

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Yeah, I’ve worked with people who do field visits and have to answer emails before or afterwards (this was before smartphones were prevalent, but still, it’s harder to compose a long, thoughtful, well-researched response on your phone). But if that’s the case, then I’d think they would say that, and they could do that at the same time every day (before or after a visit).

      Reply
    1. Tomato Frog

      She can have calling cards printed up! “Miss OP will be in-office to colleagues between 9 am and 3 pm Wednesdays and Fridays.”

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Yes, and a little basket outside her office so that co-workers can drop in their own cards to show that they visited.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth the Ginger

          And a butler to lie and say that she is “not in at present” (or perhaps “indisposed”?) when she doesn’t want to deal with someone!

          Reply
          1. Tepid Tea Water

            Instead of a butler, might it be possible to use an out of work husband who needs to find something to do in the mornings and evenings (and possibly a bit of time in between.)

            Reply
    2. MaryMary

      I’ve kind of done this when training people! I’ve blocked off “office hours” a couple times of week for in person, sit down discussions to avoid being interrupted multiple times a day (with exceptions for urgent issues, of course).

      Reply
      1. Afiendishthingy

        I try to work from home for several hours as many mornings as I can, then get to the office late morning or early afternoon. I’m reachable by phone and email but I can get things done when I’m at my best, without having someone asking me non-urgent questions every 5 minutes. (I interrupt my coworkers the same way! It’s just the culture.)

        Reply
        1. Honeybee

          We have a lot of people at my office who do the same thing for the same reason. We work on an open floor plan and also are a pretty tight-knit group – so the assumption is always “if Sally doesn’t have her headphones on then of course she wants to answer my question about teapot lid design right now.”

          Reply
        2. Alienor

          This would actually be my ideal work-from-home arrangement, except I’d want to be in the office in the mornings and have my uninterrupted time in the afternoons (otherwise I’d just spend the first part of the day dreading the moment when I had to go in).

          Reply
  12. Cambridge Comma

    I had a colleague who refused to ever open her mail at all (she said openly in meetings that she ‘didn’t believe in it.’) Unfortunately her job was in a Teapot Information Centre answering mails and calls about teapots that could be visited by tourists. Our manager said we had to work around her preference so we had to pick up the slack, until she chose to leave.

    Reply
    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      Oh I love people like this!

      “I don’t believe that something exists therefore it doesn’t for everyone else!”

      Reply
      1. L McD

        My dad justified never opening his mail because “if it’s important, they’ll send it again.”

        …and you still won’t open it, so…

        Reply
    2. whataweek

      A friend once had to work on a client who deleted ALL her emails at the end of the day. If she had read it and needed to reply to it but hadn’t had time that day (presumably because she was off somewhere else wasting other people’s time), she would delete it. If she *hadn’t read it*, she would delete it. Read it and responded to it? Delete it.

      The idea that someone would even think to do this absolutely boggles my mind.

      Reply
  13. Anon for this

    I wonder if the boss is okay with checking email only twice a week in theory, but when it comes down to it, she won’t be. And, your co-worker may find that if everyone starts coming down to her office on a regular basis that she starts checking email more regularly. Because to me there isn’t much that is more disruptive than someone coming to ask me a questions and having to stop what I am doing right at the moment.

    Where I work though, we had someone fired in part because they only checked their email a couple times a week. Her boss was okay with this in theory in the beginning, but when critical requests came in from people working in other locations were ignored for days at a time, and she didn’t answer her phone it became a significant issue. She was asked to start checking her email more regularly, but she never did. Her argument was that checking email took time away from her other duties.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      Yes, I suspect this plan will go out the window five minutes after Boss sends an important email and doesn’t get a swift response.

      Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      “took time away from her other duties”

      This reminds me of the discussion about time cards, and needing to be able to bill the client, and how important it is to define the time card as Job One.

      Reply
    3. Elizabeth West

      BullyBoss at Exjob used to ignore his email. I would get requests that had come in a month prior. Or people would call and ask why did we not get the literature we ordered? “Who did you request this from?” “BullyBoss.” Ah gotcha.

      Reply
    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      This is so unbelievably ridiculous, I can’t imagine what sort of office or business would tolerate it. Surely not any that had anything to do with making money or profit.

      I’m imagining some Faceless Bureaucracy where the employee in question spends most of her time with those old fashioned rubber stamp ink things stamping DENIED on paper forms.

      Reply
      1. AnotherFed

        Dang it – I replied below that this is not that weird for some of my coworkers and now you’ve got me reinforcing the gov’t stereotype!

        That said, I do sometimes get to write “Concur” or “Non Concur” and sign forms, so that’s close.

        Reply
    2. OhNo

      Me too! My office has a policy to respond to all online contact within one business day, and all I can picture is someone trying to lay down this policy around us and getting laughed out of the room.

      Reply
    3. Sparrow

      Yeah I literally laughed out loud when I saw the title of this letter. I work with people in India and across multiple time zones in the US so there’s no walking over to someone’s office to chat. Phone calls don’t work either because everyone is on conference calls all day.

      Reply
    4. Honeybee

      Me too! I’m imagining how well this would go over with our product teams and how abysmally it would fail if someone actually tried to implement it.

      Reply
    5. AnotherFed

      I suspect that at least two of my coworkers actually practice this, but just haven’t announced it. I just text or call when I actually need something.

      Reply
  14. NotAnotherManager!

    Clearly these people don’t work in legal or another professional services business where near-immediate responsiveness is expected. If I didn’t answer emails within about an hour (or have an out of office message up notifying of possible delay), people would call my boss to complain. I have found that a lot of “productivity hacks” simply don’t work in my line of work, and I’d immediately counsel any subordinate that tried to set an expectation of a one-week turnaround on reviews that it was not acceptable and that they shouldn’t give it a whirl unless they’d like to hear about it at review time and have it impact their salary increase/bonus.

    Also, “I get too much email!” or “I never saw that email!” excuses would never fly. It would be assumed that you were too incompetent to manage your own inbox, and I can nearly always guarantee the attorney/boss gets way more email than the employee in my line of work.

    But, in this case, if the boss had okayed it, I’d raise my concerns, cite specific examples this would create problems for myself and others, and then let the cards fall with a smattering of CYA emails to cover the in-person and phone conversations.

    Reply
    1. Pwyll

      Ugh, this. We’d be crucified with this policy.

      Honestly, we have the opposite problem. Some of our Attorneys I wish would give up on e-mail entirely, rather than responding within the first 5 seconds without checking with the file, the assistants or anyone else in the office regarding the answer. New AAM question: how can I make my law partner adopt a “e-mail only on Thursdays” rule for my own peace and sanity? :)

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        I had a big problem with my old boss going to meetings, coming back, and replying to the first message in a conversation without bothering to see that, in his absence, we’d taken care of everything and the request was completed. It was particularly annoying when we’d gone in an entirely different direction with the solution and he was still on square 1 instead of square Q where we’d ended up.

        It took about a month to train him out of it, but we were lucky he was trainable. :)

        Reply
      2. Putting Out Fires, Esq

        I was basically taught in law school that your first answer is always wrong. So always acknowledge the question and promise to do research on it. Or look in the file. And then do that, obviously.

        Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          I’m all for actually looking at the file or the relevant code, but your first answer is always wrong?! That’s insane.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            Law is a field where you have to incubate the question to see the numerous angles. If you don’t think about it, someone else will think about and point out to you that you did not think about it.

            Reply
            1. Putting Out Fires, Esq

              Exaxtly. The message was “take the time, look it up.” But basically, any answer you can shoot off in a few seconds is at best incomplete, at worst completely wrong.

              Reply
            2. neverjaunty

              Yes, I’m in law. But there’s a difference between “think before you shoot off an answer” and “your first answer is always wrong.” No, it isn’t. Sometimes you actually know what you’re talking about.

              Reply
    2. neverjaunty

      I cannot imagine anyone in legal services trying to pull this. They simply couldn’t function. Can you imagine telling a judge “Sorry, but I didn’t respond to counsel’s letter because that wasn’t one of my email days”?

      Reply
    3. Anonymous Poster

      Not legal services, but when I worked at a law library in 2007 I was told to ignore any e-mails or IM reference requests. “What we do is so complex, it can only be handled face to face.” When I asked how others would know that I was assured that “they know.”

      Reply
    4. Kalli

      I can personally attest to multiple attorneys being allowed to roam free, checking emails only monthly, maybe, or ignoring the work ones in favour of ‘yes let’s go to dinner! I haven’t seen you since the baby was born!’.

      Monthly.

      Reply
  15. Pwyll

    I could see this backfiring pretty quickly the moment that boss needs something, e-mails it to her, and gets no response for 2 days.

    Reply
  16. Florida

    Since she said you can stop by her office if you need something, I would stop by very frequently with simple requests. “Hey Betty, I just wanted to let you know that I asked John to send you a copy of the TPS report when it’s finished. I would normal CC you on the email, but then I remembered you don’t do email.”
    An hour later, “Hey Betty, when you get a chance, please send me a draft of the budget. No rush, just when you have time. Feel free to drop off a hard copy because I would hate for you to have to open your email. Thanks.”
    After you do this a few times, you can even say, “I really like how we are doing all of this business in person rather than over email. we don’t get nearly as much done, but it is so much friendlier and personal. Great idea.”

    OP, whatever you decide to do, I hope you handle it better than I would. I would not be able to handle this without being passive aggressive and mocking about the whole thing. Good luck.

    Reply
  17. Episkey

    You could start going to her desk and interrupting her for every single little thing.

    Linda, I need that Teapot Spout Report.

    Linda, how’s that report coming along?

    Linda, I delivered the Teapot Color Chart to the client.

    Etc etc. And see how long it takes her to get fed up with that.

    Reply
      1. Gandalf the Nude

        Oooh, or those horrendous chain emails?

        Fwd this msg to 10 coworkers by midnite 2nite or bloody mary will appear to u 2nite & haunt u!

        Reply
    1. Shell

      I wouldn’t be able to stop the passive-aggressiveness either. Though I suppose doing this will allow me to stretch my legs more, so that’s good, right?

      I bet the next thing to happen will be the coworker declaring “you can’t come by so often, you’re disrupting me” and thus becoming unreachable by normal means of communication.

      Reply
    2. OfficePrincess

      Don’t just go to her desk for every little thing, but set up a template to look like an email (or just send an email), print it out, and walk it to her desk for everything. I would love to see a group going back and forth on a chain keep bringing her each piece of the conversation.

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      I have to say, I have done stuff like this. Some ideas are so unbearably ill-conceived that the idea almost requires this response.
      I worked with a person who could not visualize in her mind why her plan was not a good idea. You could explain it to her and explain again and again. She had no clue. It was much quicker to implement the plan and watch it crumble.

      Take-away, if you are going to be in a leadership position you have to have some ability to visual action plans in your head and anticipate where the bumps might be. Right now I cannot imagine OP’s cohort being able to manage her own work, never mind other people. If someone is trying to communicate with me, I want to know ASAP.

      Any place I have worked part of the job was to be available/accessible to others. Cutting myself off from any method of communication meant that I was not available/accessible to others and therefore not filling a basic requirement of my job.

      Reply
    1. OP

      Actually, no, we don’t have instant messaging. And our phones have caller ID so she lets most calls go right to voice mail (unless you’re the CEO).

      Reply
      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq

        Is she actually working at our DA’s office? And is she actually an man? Because otherwise she sounds familiar.

        People who don’t respond to email or phone calls are the worst and should not be surprised when they get bypassed.

        Reply
  18. Anonymous Educator

    I guess this is one of those things I just can’t relate to. Nothing interrupts me worse than a phone call or someone just stopping into my office unannounced/unscheduled. An email is not an interruption in my book. I love emails. Emails I can usually respond to right away (I’m a fast typist—not the fastest I know, but fast enough!), but if I am deep in the middle of something, I can also wait 5-10 minutes to look at the email… or even an hour or two in a worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, most people who just randomly show up in your office don’t like you to completely ignore them for 5-10 minutes until you finish whatever you were doing.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I can also scan your email and comprehend your problem much faster than you can explain it while you’re standing in my doorway.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        Definitely. I also think the act of writing the email request forces you to make your request at least semi-coherent, whereas standing in my doorway rambling can sometimes lead to absolute confusion.

        Reply
          1. Hlyssande

            My boss is like this sometimes. Or he just skims an email conversation/only reads the last one and responds to what he thought it said instead of what it said. BOTH.

            Reply
          2. Not So NewReader

            I had a coworker that could talk to me for 20 minutes and I would have no idea what he said.
            I finally decided that was his ploy to get out of doing most work. If coworkers could not carry on a basic conversation with him, they would give up and find someone else.

            Reply
  19. Roscoe

    Its hard for me to say without knowing the context of your jobs. In my job, I could very easily not respond to co-workers for a week (or ever in some cases) and it would be fine. However, I work with a lot of outside clients, so that wouldn’t work for them.

    However, it seems to just be 2 separate work preferences in this case. Neither is right or wrong, but I don’t know that your preference for being able to shoot her a quick email necessarily overrides her desire to not have 50 “quick” emails. Personally, if the boss has already accepted this, I’d be tempted to let it go. Mainly because if I had a conversation with my boss about something I wanted to do to improve my productivity, they approved it, then a coworker complained so it got reversed, I’d be pissed.

    Reply
    1. OP

      She’s the head of procurement and I’m the head of payables, so we do need to work closely with each other, vendors, and the employees placing orders.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        Ah, ok. Well that does sound like something that she needs to be responsive for then. However, here is my question. Could you try it for maybe a week and see how it goes? Maybe you will realize that things aren’t as urgent as you imagine at the time. On the other hand, if it fails miserably, you will have some hard evidence of why this doesn’t work. That way you could tell the boss with clear examples why its not sustainable, as opposed to just saying you don’t like it in theory.

        Reply
      2. Applesauce

        Procurement would be one of those jobs that I cannot see this working for. I suppose it depends what type of procurement. . .in my mom’s manufacturing environment, I imagine you have a lot of contracts in place and buy stuff over and over. In my project-based world, we have new contracts and materials for every project. There’s a ton of coordination and communication, and it’s very time sensitive.

        Plus, the “head” of anything usually means a lot of meetings. I can’t imagine trying to stalk this person all day to get a 2-second question answered.

        Reply
        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          I can see it working, in this way:

          With companies who require purchase orders, we’re typically working with the end users first – marketing, HR, people like that, who then tag off to purchasing to provide us with a PO. Some companies have smart, fast, friendly procurement people and other companies have a procurement department that’s a yawning pit of hell. It can take an end user many weeks, and many follow ups with their purchasing people to finally get us a PO so that we can begin their order.

          Honestly, purchasing, IME, was uniformly awful back in the day. They dictated the terms to end users who had no power and everybody had to wait. Nowadays there seems like there is a new breed and a new ethic in many companies but there are *plenty* of our customers who have to wait wait wait for purchasing. (Which, makes orders either a super rush or impossible but that’s another story.)

          Reply
        2. Shell

          Yeah, as a purchaser who issues the POs, this totally would not fly in my environment. Granted, we’re a distributor and not end-user, per se, so we have to answer to our customers. It’s one thing to make your coworkers wait in limbo for weeks for the teapot they want, but my company is built on reselling those teapots, and customers will walk very, very quickly if they have to wait too long for quotes. (My response time is generally less than 10 minutes for lower volume or simple quotes, though I take maybe a day or three for large volumes or complex requests that require coordination between multiple sources.)

          But yeah, I guess if you only have to face angry coworkers/end-users, maybe this will work per Wakeen’s comment.

          Reply
          1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

            Anecdotally, universities, government and hospitals are the worst, which makes sense in light of your comment, not being in the reselling business.

            Reply
            1. Shell

              And in light of your comment, it makes total sense why governments and school boards often want things yesterday when they finally send the damn PO. :) (Bane of our existence. But you totally understand my pain on that front.)

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                Fiscal year. Everything waits for the new fiscal year. By then the roof has been leaking for so long, the building is about to collapse and people are afraid for their lives.
                Not that I would know anything about that…..

                Reply
                1. Doriana Gray

                  This literally happens in my line of work. Today I saw collapsed floors to break up the monotony of the falling ceilings – it’s fascinating.

      3. Observer

        The head of procurement? Start documenting your heads off, and in two weeks you’ll have all the evidence you need of the problems.

        Reply
        1. Marty Gentillon

          I am not so sure, given that she is the “head of procurement” there is every chance that she is a bottleneck, and therefore overwhelmed. If an intermediary could be introduced (“if you have something that needs my immediate attention, please email my team, and they will get my input”) this could work quite well. But you need the intermediaries.

          Reply
  20. Anonymous Educator

    Today in a meeting, a colleague announced that she only reads and responds to emails twice a week, on her “email days,” and if there were any immediate issues I would have to go down to her office in person to get a response. Our boss was fine with that, clarifying that emails should be answered within a week.

    It’s hard to tell from this phrasing, but did the boss know ahead of time? Or was she surprised by this at the meeting… and then fine with it?

    If I were her boss, I’d definitely want her to clear it with me first before making that kind of announcement, even if I was “fine with that.”

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Oh, great catch! I skimmed right past that, but yes, it does sound like maybe that was the first the boss had heard about it.

      OP, if that’s the case, I think it makes it even more likely that you could successfully push back on this if you feel that you need to.

      Reply
    2. OP

      It was the first any of us had heard of it, but our boss tends to go along with anything the colleague says (maybe because she has such a “strong personality”).

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        Maybe you could tell her this is such an amazing idea that everyone in the office will be implementing this policy and picking different days of the week to respond to email? That should bring productivity grinding to a halt and maybe kill the whole idea dead?

        I’m sorry, I am now starting to see the sloth office from Zootopia in my head (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY73vFGhSVk).

        Reply
        1. Temperance

          How hilarious would it be if everyone picked a different email day, just for dealing with Barb? “Sorry, Barb, I know that it’s Email Tuesday, but I actually don’t use emails on Tuesdays!”

          Reply
        2. Honeybee

          That is my favorite movie trailer in a long, long time. I’ve seen it three times already and I’ve laughed really hard each time.

          Reply
      2. neverjaunty

        Oh, well, there’s your problem. If the boss doesn’t manage and your co-worker gets to do pretty much whatever she wants, that is (as you know) a precusor for a million problems.

        Reply
      3. Kalli

        I thought it was actually a policy that emails must be responded to within a week, so however anyone manages their time, as long as they meet that, is permissible. Is there an actual benchmark on responsiveness, or an email policy, that your boss may have been referring to? If that’s the case, there’s nothing they can do without going back on the policy, which has its own complications. If not, it might be a good conversation to have, since it could inform everyone else’s work style (without the hopefully humourous responses upthread).

        Reply
  21. Rebecca

    Wow, pity the coworkers who email this person and have to keep track as to whether they receive a response or not! Why is that fair to them? How frustrating.

    Reply
  22. C Average

    I used to work with this guy who never met a productivity hack he didn’t want to test-drive. His cube was a welter of Post-It idea maps and lists and clusters, and he liked to tell people all about the assortment of apps he used to automate the day-to-day aspects of his life. It drove us nuts. The systems all seemed laughably contrived, and he often adopted a new one just as we were all finally used to the old one. Fortunately, he had a great personality and was extremely talented at the key aspects of his job, so we forgave him this quirk.

    At one point he decided he would keep all of his emails five sentences or shorter; anything more in-depth required an in-person conversation. He had a signature on his emails briefly explaining this philosophy, and he sent out an initial announcement describing his new approach.

    It was, I’ll admit, pretty entertaining. My team sat out of earshot of his team, and we’d frequently read aloud his haiku-like emails in an exaggerated, poetry-slam style. We were actually somewhat disappointed when he shelved his system, having realized that the technical nature of our business and the need for a digital trail documenting key decisions really did require a few in-depth emails.

    Reply
    1. MaryMary

      I have a coworker who is not very tech savvy. He skipped learning how to use a computer and only responds to email from his smartphone. His emails contain sentence fragments with random capitalization, punctuation, and spacing (and a good number of typos). It drives everyone nuts, but I prefer to think of his emails as poems. Like E. E. Cummings writing a haiku.

      Reply
    2. whataweek

      This sounds SO MUCH like a close friend of mine! I love him dearly, but if I have to listen to him discuss ONE MORE TIME how he has “implemented a new scheduling strategy” or “optimized his breakfast” by finding the precise combination of time-saving and nutrient-providing oatmeal….I swear to god.

      Reply
      1. KellyK

        My husband has this tendency in a very small dose. He’ll talk about maximizing laundry throughput by washing something that needs to hang to dry right after towels, which often need extra dryer time. Which is totally reasonable and an excellent idea, but he said “maximize throughput.”

        Meanwhile, I’m tracking all my chores in Habitica because I’m more motivated to do the laundry if I get XP.

        Reply
  23. Darrowby385

    I think it would be fun to floooood her email box. At my work, we usually follow up when we don’t hear from an internal colleague within 2-3 days. So original emails + a follow up every day with something like “I know you aren’t checking emails but I want to make sure this stays near the top of your inbox!”. Wash rinse repeat every single day for every single email you send her. Have your colleagues do the same. I bet this policy wouldn’t last long, and if she asks you to stop, just say no.

    Reply
    1. Applesauce

      Yes! Include her in every all-group, “Hey, I’m running to Starbucks. Anyone want anything?” email possible.

      Reply
        1. anon for this

          I have a co-worker who forwards e-mails to the entire office that were sent out to the entire office in the first place because he felt that they were important enough to not miss. So while everyone else is responding to the original thread, he waits a day and then does this oddness. He does this to a lot of the e-mails that our boss sends us and he never follows up on any of the e-mails that are reply all to that first one.

          Reply
  24. CaliCali

    I feel if you’re having to announce that as your policy, you KNOW that it’s going against what’s considered standard practice of availability and responsiveness. Plus, I feel like general availability at work is part of what a job entails! Most jobs aren’t just meansured by individual productivity, but about your ability to work within a team, and this crosses the line into “not a team player” for me.

    Also, as someone who works in a procurement-related job, this sounds INSANE, since procurement usually requires a lot of deadline-dependent communication, internal and external.

    Reply
  25. JMW

    It’s fine for someone to announce they are changing how they work, but they cannot expect that everyone else will now change to accommodate them. Why should I have to forego the convenience of email to go see you in your office because that’s how you like to work?

    There is a great saying: A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.

    In this case, a failure to handle daily email on your part does not constitute a requirement for change on my part.

    In answer to a statement that someone will only open email twice a week, I would respond that I send email on an as-needed basis rather than on a schedule – that’s how I work. When her schedule stops her from getting critical information in a timely way, she will probably have to adapt.

    Reply
  26. Suzanne

    This so reminds me of a former supervisor who, after returning from a vacation, announced that she simply had too many emails to read so she deleted them all. If we had emailed her while she was gone, we’d have to send a new email.

    There were lots of jaws trying not to drop at that meeting!

    Reply
    1. Adonday Veeah

      I’d rally the staff to resend every damned email we’d sent during her absence. But then, I’m a bad person.

      Reply
  27. Poohbear McGriddles

    I’d be tempted to litter her inbox on her “off” days with things that needed an immediate response.

    “(her favorite) Cake in the break room. Hurry before it’s gone!”
    “Aunt Lucinda sent me a gift card to (her favorite store). Anyone want it?”

    Her announcement seems to me a passive aggressive way of implying that her time is more important than anyone else’s, as they must now bend to her schedule.

    Reply
  28. Xarcady

    Part of me is wondering why the emails are such a bother. If someone is overwhelmed with emails that require their immediate attention, or even attention in 24 hours, I would start to look at the systems they have in place. Because it sounds like a system is broken somewhere, if coworkers/clients/whomever have to keep emailing her.

    Perhaps there is a better way to give people answers–giving more people access to certain databases, publishing information internally, proactively sending out daily/weekly/monthly emails with the most frequently needed/requested information, appointing someone else to answer certain questions.

    The last place I worked, one manager continually complained about interruptions, in-person, phone calls, emails. She complained that no one in the company really knew their jobs, because they had to keep asking her for info. The real problem was that the manager did not share information willingly, nor did she delegate many tasks. Of course she was overwhelmed. She was trying to keep a power base by not letting anyone have access to our main database but her and her two minions. She refused to delegate the smallest task. Getting an answer to a question as simple as, “Does the client want this emailed or FedExed?” could take 6 hours. Once the owners realized what was going on, after years of this, they restructured both the company and her department, and shared out the many job duties she had taken on. And getting work done was much easier.

    I can see limiting the times you check your email. But avoiding it all but two days per week and demanding in-person visits? Sounds to me more like a tactic to get people to stop bothering her altogether, on the premise that fewer people will make the in-person visits than would send a quick email.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Educator

      on the premise that fewer people will make the in-person visits than would send a quick email.

      I love that premise. Unfortunately, I haven’t found it to be the case anywhere I’ve worked. A lot of extroverted people want to stop by to talk about something in person (and to “just say ‘hi'”) instead of shooting a quick email.

      Reply
    2. hildi

      I think your third paragraph is really illuminating. I am trying right now to develop a time management class for government workers and am struggling (it’s a hated topic for me anyway; so, so hard to teach). I’m not interested in teaching all of the hacks (somewhere upthread there was one about only using 5 sentences in your email – I totally just read that in an article. lol). I think those are all just tactics, when I would rather help people figure out is their overall strategy. And I can so, so easily see some people trying to “keep their power base” (love it; totally going to use that phrase), hoarding information, thus creating SO much more work for themselves in the long run. It takes a laser-focused and confident person to delegate, quite honestly.

      I’ll have to keep thinking about this, but your comments got me going in a good direction I think. Thanks!

      Reply
      1. KellyK

        It might help to spend a little time talking about why people hoard information and how they can get what they want and need better in other ways. If you want your coworkers to see you as a valuable and important part of the team, helping them get their own work done is going to do way more for that goal than hoarding information. People see through that. And raw information is actually less valuable than the skill to turn it into something useful. Anybody can look up the 2015 Dark Chocolate Teapot statistics if they have access to the database, but not everyone can summarize those figures into a single, clear and informative PowerPoint slide, or use them to analyze whether switching from Hershey’s to Lindt was a good move. Maybe finding ways to make information *useful* can help people break themselves of the desire to hoard it.

        If it’s about job security, congrats, they have government jobs! ;) I am kidding—I know that government employees can be fired or lose their jobs due to Reduction in Force, so it’s not as secure as people may think. So this is a real concern for people; but I don’t know enough about the specifics to say what would help people maintain job security other than general things like doing a good job and being friendly to your coworkers.

        Reply
  29. Temperance

    FWIW, my mother-in-law works in the trophy/award industry, and it’s incredibly common there for people to not use emails (even though they all have them). She once complained to me about a new employee in her office who used email to document orders because none of their business contacts use email. A client actually didn’t get their order because New Employee emailed them a confirmation and follow up questions, and their contact never responded because she doesn’t use email.

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      But then how did the new employee get an email address for that client? They shouldn’t keep one on record if the client doesn’t use it!

      I agree that when you’re in the service industry, you have to communicate however your client prefers to communicate, unless you have a glut of work and you can afford to pick and choose your clients. And even then, you should think long and hard about rejecting any clients, because you can’t know that you’ll always be that busy.

      Reply
  30. L McD

    Woof. okay, I have pretty severe ADHD and i also do creative work, so i really really understand the importance of uninterrupted work time. That said, learning how to manage communications coming in regularly balanced with your normal tasks and duties is just kind of…part of being an adult in the workplace. While I go through “crunch times” where I will spend most or all of a day disconnected from email and social media, I don’t have co-workers depending on me. I do occasionally get semi-urgent business communications on both of these channels, so whenever it’s just a “normal day” I check up on them regularly. It would be inconsiderate not to. OP’s coworker needs to figure out a way to manage her time that won’t also make her coworker’s lives significantly less convenient.

    (sorry about weird capitalization, my shift key is having a crap attack)

    Reply
  31. Tuckerman

    My boss encourages me to check email only twice a day when I work from home (one day a week). Depending on what I’m working on, it can be helpful to restrict email checking for one day per week. But I think your co-worker overestimates how much time she needs away from email to be productive.

    Reply
  32. Andrea

    No matter how disruptive you find e-mails, there has got to be a better way to manage your inbox than this idea, which beyond causing problems for the people waiting on you, is basically admitting that you can’t/wont handle a fundamental part of your job.

    Maybe you could suggest to her/help her set up some other strategies? Some things that immediately come to mind:
    -Set up alerts for e-mails with “URGENT” in the subject line (or from certain people that always require an immediate response, or with other words in the body of the text specific to your work that she should check right away)
    -Set up a filter for e-mails that she is CCed on that puts them in an “FYI” folder that she CAN check less frequently (also use this for any “status” or “digest” e-mails your company sends regularly)
    -Make sure she’s filtering out the spam!

    If e-mail overload is a problem at your company in general is an issue, you might also see if it would be helpful to adopt policies of including [Purpose] in the subject line of the e-mail — things like [Reply Requested!] or [Approval Needed] or other things that indicate the urgency of the e-mail.

    I also think that only checking e-mail twice a week is stupid in general. If she could be persuaded to keep the spirit of this idea while checking e-mail more frequently I bet that would be a big help. Other people have suggested times like just before/after lunch when it isn’t interrupting you from other work that might work best for her. My own morning ritual is to catch up on e-mail first thing in the morning while I eat breakfast at my desk. I find it to be a good way to gear up for the day.

    Reply
  33. Applesauce

    In 15+ years in the workforce, I have found most people are not confused about what is best to handle by email, what’s good for face-to-face, and now what’s fine for IM. I can’t think of much [in my own job] that would be okay to be handled by email 2x per week that is actually important enough that it needs to be handled at all. And maybe never doing email is the actual goal, but I don’t see it working in most business settings (esp. procurement, as the OP noted above).

    Reply
  34. ThursdaysGeek

    She’s going overboard, but I’ve suggested something like this to my spouse: set certain hours when he’s not available to email/phone/physical visits. He describes his workday as interruptions interrupting interruptions, and it makes it impossible to do some of his work. However, he’s the only one at his work doing his job, and part of his job is being available to answer questions relating to his specialty. So those interruptions are part of his job too. If he doesn’t respond, others are unable to work.

    I don’t know how to balance work when part of it requires uninterrupted time, and part of it is being available to others at all times. I guess it’s like some of the examples in the thread right before this one, where people are told to do two contradictory tasks, like watching the front desk and fixing the copier in the back room right now.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      It’s the overboard part that makes this a problem. Blocking out a few hour long chunks of uninterrupted time is one thing. No email at all for 60% of the time – and for full days at a time – is another whole kettle of fish.

      Reply
    2. Linda

      He needs to tell all his co-staff / customers / frequent emailers as follows “Please mark emails that need to be read in the next 4 hours as Urgent, so I can prioritize my day. Thanks, it will really help.” or similar.

      Reply
  35. CADMonkey007

    Bad move. Should have simply said, “When communicating with Jane, please expect 3-5 days turnaround time.” or whatever. Don’t even give permission for last minute requests or urgent matters.

    Reply
  36. Jane

    I work in biglaw so this would be impossible. The best I have seen is that in some firms in Europe attorneys don’t answer emails late at night (supposedly, but my guess is if there is an urgent ongoing matter they would have to). To be perfectly honest, I would love to not have to check email as frequently, even once every few hours would be nice. It’s incredibly distracting. I also find unnecessary phone calls incredibly distracting and interruptive of my work flow, which seems to be skemthing I cannot for the life of me get certain people to understand. I would love a job where I could check email so infrequently as be OP’s coworker. Sign me up!

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      Government, many nonprofits, a lot of non-BigLaw firms have manageable hours and you don’t have to be on call 24/7. This may not be an option for you right now if you’re paying loans off, but believe me, actually doing the “I’m going to work for BigLaw for a couple years and pay off my law school debt, then get the job I really want” plan works if you don’t like the BigLaw lifestyle.

      Reply
  37. Macedon

    I think this is an industry-based thing, because I am trying really hard to think what could possibly make e-mails too laborious to handle hourly or every few hours. Are people writing back novels?

    Reply
  38. Betty (the other Betty)

    A lot of the responses here seem very harsh to me.

    And we are missing a lot of information: does the coworker get a ton of email that can wait, and so she wants to deal with it all twice a week instead of constantly? Will her policy really cause other people to have problems, or will the coworker be able to get more work done which might actually benefit others and the company?

    How often does the letter writer have “immediate issues” that this coworker needs to help with right away? Are those really the coworker’s issues or are they something that the letter writer can solve by herself? If the letter writer needs to go see the coworker a couple of times a week, is that really difficult?

    I run my own business so I do check and respond to email frequently, but it is a huge distraction and a time suck. Often I find that if I let an email sit for a day, the email sender resolves the problem without my input (and probably didn’t even need my input in the first place, but it was easier to pass the problem to me).

    Reply
    1. Observer

      The op clarified that she’s head of payables, and the announcer is head of procurement. I cannot see any way this can work.

      You are missing something here – Scope matters! It’s one thing to leave SOME – thoughtfully selected emails for a day. It’s another to leave EVERYTHING for 2-3 days. Same for carving out a few hours, even on a daily basis, to not answer email, vs routinely go dark for a day or two.

      People are being harsh because the scope is problematic in almost any field where people routinely need to work with each other. Given the roles described, it’s just ridiculous.

      As for email being a “distraction” and “time suck” that’s pretty much saying that your JOB is “a distraction” and a “time suck”. Email – ie communicating with your staff and customers – is integral to your job. And, in the case of the OP, email – ie communicating with staff and vendors – is integral to the person’s job. If you can’t find reasonable ways to manage the workflow, that’s a problem.

      Reply
      1. Marty Gentillon

        I see no reason that this kind of policy couldn’t wok for a department head. It seems to me that, in a well run department, there is no reason that the head of that department needs to be accessible to other departments all the time. There is a reason that people have underlings to delegate work to. If the head of the department needs to be around for work to get done, there is a problem. Eventually, due to injury, illness, or death they will be out for a prolonged time. Things will still need to get done.

        Hopefully, she is taking this policy to get some distance from the day to day operations. If she can manage that, she may be able do other useful things.

        All that she really needs for this to work is to ensure that some underlings are accessible to handle incoming requests, and that those underlings can get through to get her when they need to.

        As for communicating: with your staff, it can easily be done face to face; with customers, it can be taken care of by underlings (who are empowered to take care of customer requests).

        Reply
        1. Observer

          And just how are those “underlings” getting all of the emails from staff, customers and vendors? Also, how do off site staff manage to get her “face to face” when they are not around? Especially since the OP indicates that the person did NOT give even internal staff an alternate address to send routine emails.

          Reply
  39. Katie the Fed

    “P.S. Now I really want you to announce that you will only be taking in-person conversations twice a week, on your ‘in-person days.'”

    As an introvert, this sounds amazing.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Doll

      Except that you’d need the other three days to recover! ;-) My weeks where I meet my entire team one after the other, I make sure to plan in several hours of leave-me-alone time that is not allowed to be scheduled over by anyone including me.

      Reply
  40. Joyce Pugh

    This is amazing! I can’t believe anyone is letting this fly.

    Alison-any way I can request a follow up to this in a few months. I’ve GOT to know what happens!

    Reply
  41. Audiophile

    “In-person days” reminds me of those sitcom episodes where the mother tried to institute “mom hours” or “office hours”. The sitcoms all followed the same trope, it never worked for the mother that tried to institute it, because the kids always needed something outside of mom’s “office hours”.

    I’ve never worked anywhere where someone has attempted this. I will say, I don’t check emails on my off hours or on weekends, but that’s because I’m non-exempt. I don’t think anyone expects me to, but I also don’t want to introduce the idea, because it’s already been mentioned to me that I should stick within the 35 hour work week.

    I’m curious to see how this unfolds for OP’s coworker. I could see this not work at a busy media/digital agency or corporation but working perfectly well for a non-profit.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      I could see this not work at a busy media/digital agency or corporation but working perfectly well for a non-profit.

      In fact, outside of the largest non-profits, something like this is NOT going to be in any way workable. Very few people have “underlingS” who can take on on all of the roles that the “head” does and both do their jobs and respond in a timely fashion the their boss’s emails in a timely fashion. And I can just see the response from people at most funder organizations (especially government agencies) at not hearing back from the “Head of x” same day, or the next day morning, LATEST. An autorespnder with “I only do email twice a week.” would go over like a lead balloon.

      Reply

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