Email automation: should you do it? Lessons learned from 9 months of using Boomerang

I live in the future. Eleven hours in the future, to be precise. Here’s how email automation has made my life easier, and how it can help you.

email automation: an illuminated laptop in a dark room

I live in the future. Eleven hours in the future, to be precise. No, I don’t live on Mars or in another dimension (though it often feels like it) – I live in Australia. But my coworkers? They live in the United Kingdom.

Being so far away from my team can make communication a real challenge. Sure, we have ways of keeping in touch: Slack, Skype, Facebook at Work and video conferencing are just some of the ways we stay connected at Turbine. But at the end of the day, I spend most of my working hours talking to myself while my coworkers are asleep on the other side of the world.

This means that my everyday activities – writing and editing, scheduling meetings, following-up on tasks – happen while everyone else is off the clock.

Putting people first: the mental health case for email automation

A recent survey found that over 55 percent of professionals in the UK check their work emails outside of standard operating hours. In the US, that number is as high as 81 percent.

Checking your email outside of work hours doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Researchers from Lehigh University, Virginia Tech and Colorado State University have linked after-hours email consumption to:

  • Emotional exhaustion, in addition to stress and anxiety;
  • Poor work-life balance, which is linked to well-being and job satisfaction;
  • Anticipatory stress, a state of constant anxiety and uncertainty; and
  • Inability to detach from work pressures, arising from constant connectivity

Call me sentimental, but that’s a list of things I don’t want to cause, contribute to or play a role in whatsoever for any of my colleagues. But when my work day falls during their downtime, what choice do I have?

Enter Boomerang.

Boomerang: when and why you should use it

Boomerang is a set of productivity applications that let you schedule emails, ‘snooze’ messages, set reminders and more. It makes communicating with people in different time zones so much easier, and a whole lot nicer, because I can:

  • Schedule emails to send when the recipient is awake, so I’m not bothering them in their downtime;
  • Automate replies to emails when I’m offline, so people know when to expect a response from me; and
  • Set reminders to follow-up on emails that have gone unanswered (or that I’ve forgotten about).

But you don’t have to live eleven hours into the future to justify email automation and scheduling. It makes sense to use Boomerang (or other email scheduling tools) in many different contexts, such as:

  • If you work irregular hours. Maybe you work in an odd time zone like me, or maybe you’re just at peak productivity between 2am and 6am. Whatever your case, scheduling and automating emails makes sense if you’re working irregular hours.
  • If you’re bad at following up. Let’s face it: emails can fall through the cracks and go unanswered. It happens. But it pays to follow-up: sending a follow-up message increases response rates by 48 percent. With an email scheduling tool  like Boomerang, you can remind yourself to follow up on emails that haven’t received a response.
  • If you can’t switch off. If you can schedule and delay sending emails, you can delay receiving them, too. Features like Inbox Pause will help you tune out and switch off by moving your new messages to a special label or folder until you’re ready to read them. No more anticipatory stress for you.

The limits of email automation: things to note

Scheduling my emails and automating replies is one of the best things I’ve done since moving to Australia. It keeps me sane, and I like to think it makes my coworkers’ lives a little better, too

But using email scheduling and automation tools comes with drawbacks:

  • It can be expensive. Boomerang for Outlook is free, but subscriptions to Boomerang for Gmail start at $4.99 per month. Think about your requirements (i.e. how many emails you’ll send, and which features you’ll need) before settling on an option. If the price is prohibitive, there are some good alternatives out there.
  • It can be a security risk. For apps like Boomerang to work, they need full access to your email data – this includes subject lines, recipients, timestamps and your calendar. Boomerang is pretty safe (it uses Google and Microsoft’s respective OAuth/OpenID systems to authorise access to your account) but you should check with IT before you give any apps access to your email data.

One small step for you, one giant leap for office-kind

‘It is exhausting knowing that most of the time the phone rings, most of the time there’s an email, most of the time there’s a letter, someone wants something of you.’

Stephen Fry

Email gets a bad rap for being time-consuming, exhausting and annoying. We hate it, but we can’t live without it. Nor do we really try to.

Scheduling and automating your emails will help you strike a balance between good communication and constant connectivity. Try it out for your sake, and for the sake of your coworkers and clients who may not be on the same clock or wavelength.


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