Preventing Email Bankruptcy: From 1920's Postcards to Video Confessions

Auto-response from Gary Vaynerchuk:

Subject line: Thanks for the email — click the link

Hey, here’s a link that will explain everything!

Before the economic recession hits us like a Pamplona bull, we will have long entered an digital recession characterized by lower per-hour output from digital workers and a higher incidence of problems like “e-mail bankruptcy.”

This Chapter 7 of personal productivity is a failure point where the user — physically incapable of responding to the number of unread inbox items — deletes all messages and sends an e-mail to all contacts asking them to resend anything still relevant.

Last Saturday’s front page article in the New York Times, “Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast,” [Tech tip: Use BugMeNot to get throw-away usernames and passwords] highlights the measurable extremes of information overload and how the same tools that helped create the problems seldom fix them…

The concept of “batching” e-mail is highlighted in this article, using case studies from Intel.

Tactical approaches to preventing e-mail bankruptcy range from video confessions like the above to preventative measures like a formal “digital rules of engagement” statement.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, has the following contact guidelines at the bottom of his site:

“You are welcome to send me a very brief email at gamma [at] fooledbyrandomness [dotcom]. You would do me a favor if you waited a while as I am not in an online mode and have 500 neglected letters in my inbox (so please just send mail for pressing matters). Concise messages are much preferable (say a maximum < 70 words). (There is a ten page letter I have had in my "to read" box since 2002). Note that I almost always reply (but ONLY to short messages), time permitting (but once) –even to nasty emails. However, note that I will not reply to trading and finance-related questions (my specialty is problems of the applications of probability and epistemic issues, not financial advice). I will not reply to letters asking me to rewrite sections of my books (I write books, not emails). Also note that, thanks to my new keyboard, I sometimes reply in Arabic, particularly to academics (which can be easily solved using Google Translator which captures about 35% of the meaning).

[Please, please, do not send me the list of typos in my drafts. Also please refrain from offering to "improve" my web site. Also, please do not send me passages from Tolstoy or the Ecclesiast on luck and randomness]."

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and noted thought leader, keeps it sweet and simple on his blog:

You can send me email at pmarcablog (at) gmail (dot) com. Due to volume and other responsibilities I probably won’t respond but I will try to at least read all messages.

Things haven’t changed much in the last hundred years.

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972), famed literary critic and author, sent the following postcard in response to nearly all postal mail:

“Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him to: Read manuscripts, write articles or books to order, write forewords or introductions, make statements for publicity purposes, do any kind of editorial work, judge literary contests, give interviews, take part in writers’ conferences, answer questionnaires, contribute to or take part in symposiums or ‘panels’ of any kind, contribute manuscripts for sales, donate copies of his books to libraries, autograph works for strangers, allow his name to be used on letterheads, supply personal information about himself, or supply opinions on literary or other subjects.”

The only downside? He found people started mailing him just to get a copy of his “auto-response.”

C’est la vie.


Odds and Ends: Danish friends, please help! + Signed copies of 4HWW

Fun segment on Danish TV — can any Danish readers help?

If you speak fluent Danish, I’m doing my first translation experiment at DotSub and would love a minute or two of your help! I was on primetime Danish television via DR1 and had a blast. Check it out here. If someone else is transcribing or translating, the page will be locked to avoid overwrites, but please check back. Thank you in advance for even a few words!

Signed books for those interested…

I don’t do book signings or touring, so there are very few copies of the 4HWW with signatures. For those of you who might be interested, the UK publisher let me know that there are a limited number of signed copies available here from my trip to London.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

14 Replies to “Preventing Email Bankruptcy: From 1920's Postcards to Video Confessions”

  1. Very interesting – I’ve been tempted to try this trick out, but the honest truth is that I’m still checking my email all day looking FOR distractions. Taking a step back and making sure I like what I’m doing more might nip that in the bud.

  2. NPR picked up on the article and did a story this morning and all I could think is, I know just the guy they should be talking to!

  3. I do think that email is like heroine, and addictive email checking should be be stopped. I’ve customized the 4HWW method to suit me as follows:

    1. I use

    2. I have a “catch all” email domain that I use for filling out forms, online and offline. So you could email [anythinggoeshere] and it will get forwarded to a real email account. So if I’m filling out a form on, I put my email address as This way if I ever receive spam addressed to that email, I know where it came from and I can also start blocking everything going to that email. This makes almost all spam stopable without having to shut down email accounts and notify contacts.

    3. Everything from my “catch all” and my “main” email address goes to my assistant. He is only allowed to check email twice per day. He takes care of most everything that is administrative in nature (managing order fulfillment and handling customers service).

    4. I have another email address that gets delivered directly to me. The only way anybody discovers this email account is if they receive an email I sent from it. I use this account only for matters that make me money (sales). In my business, we have an assembly line. I handle sales, and others handle fulfillment and customer service. I will, of course, jump in to help out where appropriate. Anyways, I do check this secret email account periodically in the day. When something comes in, I often flag it for later completion. Occasionally, I consider a matter urgent or of paramount importance, and I will take care of this immediately. Usually everything that comes into this email address is related to generating additional revenue. So in this way, yes, I do get interrupted throughout the day, but each interruption pays me.

    This is my modified method. I use it because my product/service is my personal expertise. I coach people through designing self directed investment plans, and that service is not outsourceable. It will eventually get gradually delegated, but over a matter of several years. I understand I’m not fully embracing all 4HWW concepts, but I love what I do, and I can do it from anywhere in the world.

    Maybe this will be helpful to anyone else who has a business model similar to mine.

    Thanks for the consistently interesting and helpful posts, Tim. 🙂

  4. That Danish clip is great advertising! You sure can’t complain about 25 minutes of hype about your book on national TV… It was very well done. What section did you have a question about?

  5. Very funny, I just watched two of Gary Vaynerchuk’s video posts yesterday, I didn’t know of him before. Sees like a very funny and smart guy.

    Thanks for the info, Tim!

  6. @A Swede

    Thanks for looking at the Danish clip! I don’t really any question; I just need it subtitled in English!

    The site DotSub, where it’s linked ( allows anyone to subtitle the video in English.

    Please help! Tusen tak 🙂


  7. Hi Tim,

    I must say your tactics on email batching work! As a college student you might think i have free time to spare. To bad it isn’t that way. I’m an intern right now and yes, I have to deal with email. I Only check it when i come in in the morning and around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I can produce more and i don’t feel like missing anything.

    The next step is to limit my time spend on IM and that kind of stuff. I’ve send an email out to friends telling them to stop sending me those stupid forward emails. It worked and no one got mad. 🙂

    I’m working on a few muzes right now too so i can take retirements BEFORE beginning to work. that is.. if I ever start working.

    Greetings from Holland

  8. I would have loved to do the whole transcription, but apparently someone else has locked it so I can’t touch it. If you need any translations done for free in the future, feel free to contact me. I am fluent in Swedish and Danish, and can understand Norwegian with no problems.

    Og til dig der stjal hele arbejdet: grrrrr 😉

  9. Hi,

    I’m from Denmark, and i hadn’t seen the clip before. Great clip. I read your book for the first time about a year ago, and it’s great to see it finally catching on over here (hopefully).

    Gonna try and translate some of the video.



  10. Also mentioned in the NYT article: we (researchers from industry and academia who study and try to solve the information overload problem) have just created a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness and promoting solution R&D: the Information Overload Research Group.

    There is a good deal of progress in both the understanding of the problem (which transcends email – it’s also about interruptions and distractions) and the development of innovative solutions. If you’re interested, you’re invited to join us via

  11. I stupidly put off a compltely broken email filter but also way too many subscription for sales from stores ive orderd from so i just deleted over 10,000 emails mostly all spam junk in the last day hitting ctr-shift click del way to many times over many many hours and im surprised my eyes still work…. My brain is jumbled. I did use a spam filter on my email client to help me seperate some of the spam to delete but then i checked if for false positives lol. Aranging emails by subject or sender makes it much faster to find spam and also huge amounts of subscribed junk than by date.

    Anyways its all taken care of and wont happen again.

    Checking email obssevily only seems to happens when theres a crazy romantic interest invading my brain otherwise i only check it a few times a day. I used to check blogs like crazy but now i got google reader. I love google reader:)

  12. Thanks for the comments, all!

    For my Danish-speaking friends,

    If someone else is transcribing or translating, the page will be locked to avoid overwrites, but please check back. Thank you in advance for even a few words of help!

    All the best and tak skal du have!


  13. This might have been covered in another thread (yes, I took a look but couldn’t find it) but in reference to Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘out-of-office’ video, he says that if something is time-sensitive then the viewer/writer is supposed to respond with URGENT-URGENT-URGENT in the headline.

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but doesn’t that put Gary at the mercy of whomever thinks their business is urgent but may not be urgent to Gary? In other words, doesn’t it take the decision power of what to respond to – which is, after all, the point of the exercise – away from Gary and give it to somebody else? Seems a little self-defeating to me, if someone on the other side of the planet or across the hall can get Gary’s attention by putting URGENT-URGENT-URGENT in the header regardless of whether it’s vital to Gary or not.

    Has anyone else tried this? Has it worked? Or do you find yourself now jumping to respond to URGENT-URGENT-URGENT emails that are anything but.Comments?

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