I Wish I Could Quit You: If You're Buried in Your Inbox 9 to 5, Here's How to Stop. An executive reveals his system for redirecting his email energy to the place it belongs: his company.

By Tom Patterson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The average CEO gets between 300 and 500 emails every day, judging from CEO chatter. Evidence? Consider Tim Cook's declaration that he gets 700 to 800 a day. And the fact that Shazi Visram, of CEO of Happy Family, a maker of organic baby and children's food, has said: "I probably get close to 500 emails a day on average."

What's more, if you average out that daily 500, that's close to 200,000 emails each year! Yet, even as this staggering flow of electronic communications between employees, clients and vendors fuels the day-to-day operations of any successful company, it can also be a huge distraction -- and a crutch for indecision.

Related: 6 Battle-Tested Tips to End Email Overload

My own email problem? I have multiple roles: I'm the CEO of a fast-growing company. I quarterback a team of 50. I'm a husband, a father, a human. That's why I determined there had to be a better, more productive and efficient way than spending my days buried in my inbox. My habit of multitasking email in with everything else had to stop.

So, I decided to take my first step: a quick audit on my email content. Here's what I found:

  • More than 50 percent of the emails I was receiving could be addressed by someone else on my team.
  • Twenty percent were FYIs -- with no actionable items required.
  • Ten percent were spam or solicitations.

I was literally glued to my inbox, and not giving my full attention at meetings, on phone calls and really to anything; yet only 20 of these emails were particularly urgent.

Upon this discovery I remembered what a close friend had said to me when our daughter Violet was born. Nine simple words that strung together are so profound: The one thing you can't get back is time.

Those words apply to our personal lives; but they apply to business, too: The time I spent tending to my inbox was distracting me from time I could spend actively participating in my day-to-day business. By staying off email, I realized, I could encourage the team to be problem-solvers, and to efficiently delegate their workload -- rather than wait for my input.

It would allow me to work on the business rather than in it. And, I realized, much in the same way as when I monotask and devote my undivided attention to my daughter: I could actually create important and more productive moments with my team.

That line of thinking is what led me to set my auto response to say, "I am currently checking email before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. EST so there will be a delayed response. If this is urgent please call or text." How have employees, vendors and clients responded to my email moratorium?

Related: 5 Email Productivity Strategies That Will Make Your Business Better

  • Employees feel empowered to make their own decisions.
  • Email senders don't wonder if I have received their email and just ignored it -- because they get an auto response saying I will tend to it later.
  • The number of emails I receive since I implemented this program in November has declined by 15 percent because senders are thinking twice about whether or not the email is really necessary.

Deprioritizing emails, then, has helped me optimize my time at home and in the office. It certainly hasn't been easy. It's a commitment -- one that took me an entire month to get used to.

Related: This New Tool Can Make It Easier to Retain Control of Your Inbox

I couldn't just give it up cold turkey. I'd catch myself checking in every hour or so, until I was finally able to wean myself off my obsessive behavior for good. Will it work long term as we continue to grow and develop as a company? Who knows! But for now, I'm thrilled, humbled, and proud of the result. Try my system; you will be, too.

Tom Patterson

Founder and CEO of Tommy John

Born and raised in South Dakota, Patterson, studied at Arizona State University. In 2008 he founded Tommy John, which has become a leading manufacturer in the United States, with its collection of loungewear and outerwear. Patterson lives in New York City with his wife and newborn daughter. When he isn’t busy solving men’s undergarment problems, he can be found surfing, traveling or enjoying sports.

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