What a $30 Billion Company Taught me About Email

As some of you might know, I spent some time working in NYC finance at a Fortune 100 firm.  Looking back, some of the best lessons I STILL pass along to clients today come from my time working there.

Working at a large firm like that has a way of teaching you things whether you like it or not.  The sheer volume of work ensures that.  Everything is magnified.  In most jobs, your ledgers might be off by a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, at a massive firm, that number could be in the millions.  Where you might get a few days to resolve a problem at most other jobs, solutions were expected to be implemented in 24 hours or less…and often we would get them in with literally seconds to go.  So, it should be no surprise that the volume and speed we had to process our email inboxes was similarly torrential.

Think back to the most emails you’ve ever gotten in a 24 hour period.  How many was it?  50?  100?  250?  For me, a “busy day” saw close to 1,000 flow through my inbox, with somewhere on the order of 500-600 being relevant to what I had to do that day.  It was extremely easy to get caught up in the nonstop rush of emails if you didn’t systematize how you handled them.

When working with clients, the most common reason they are emailing people is for networking opportunities.  However, I see people constantly put off responding to an email for 24 hours and before they know it 24 hours becomes two weeks.  I call this the Fortnight Phenomenon and it is one of the easiest traps to fall into.

So, for the first time ever I am going to reveal my system for not just staying on top of emails, but getting ahead of the curve…

The 2-2-2 Rule

The 2-2-2 Rule at it’s heart sounds very simple but, if you stick to it will make you stand out in ALL of your email communications.  The three twos are 2 Hours, 2 Days, and 2 Weeks.

All that means is that when an email comes in to your inbox, get a response – ANY response – out within 2 hours.  Even if you just send something as simple as:

Let me look this over and get back to you ASAP.



The fact that you have taken the time to respond to the other person will put their mind at ease, even if you don’t yet have anything to tell them.

A good parallel for this is when you’re having a conversation with someone via text and then, suddenly, when you ask them a question they take days to respond to you!  How infuriating is that?!  Well, that is exactly how much people hate not getting an immediate response via email.  So reply ASAP!

Then, all you have to do is flag the message in your inbox or set a calendar event to remind you about it 2 days later.

Hopefully at that point you’ve done your due diligence and can now answer their question in full, and because you took the time to let them know you would be circling back with them, and are getting back to them without being prompted, they will feel like they matter to you.

Assuming that email answers their questions or solves their problem, all that’s left is to followup in 2 weeks to make sure everything is still going smoothly for them.  This little bit of “aftercare” is what sets good email communicators apart from great ones.  All it will cost you is a few seconds to set up another notification to automatically remind you to send the email in 2 weeks and you look like the most proactive person on the planet!

TIP: If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can write your Two Week Email at the same time you write your Two Day Email and schedule it to be sent automatically 2 weeks later.

Beyond the Inbox

This technique can go well beyond you inbox though.  Think about how fantastic it would be to follow this same followup formula after meeting a new networking connection…

  • Two hours after meeting you, they have a reminder of you in their inbox
  • Two days later you build on something you discussed
  • Two weeks later you share something you think they might be interested in, following up at least every 6 weeks after that.

Or what about after a job interview?

  • Two hours after you interview, the hiring manager has a thank you email in his inbox
  • Two days later, he gets a followup with additional information or content that builds on a question you might not have answered fully. (Or even a more up to date résumé)
  • Two weeks later, you send something that reminds you of something that was discussed in the interview that you think the hiring manager would enjoy.  Then, let him know you’re available to help them if they need anything else from you

It’s a really versatile tool and gives shape to something that most people approach very haphazardly.  Try it out and let me know how it works.

Can you think of any other ways you could apply the 2-2-2 Rule to simplify your life?

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