ON EMAILING

Let Krista Tippett’s email auto-reply calm your overworked spirit

Let Krista Tippett’s email auto-reply calm your overworked spirit
Image: Chris Daniels
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The Minneapolis headquarters of On Being—Krista Tippett’s podcast that brought spirituality to National Public Radio, and has since evolved into its own media organization and metaphysical think tank—sounds like a gentle, pleasant, almost heavenly place to work. Certainly not the sort of place where employees have thermostat wars. A New York Magazine profile of Tippett notes that the office space has “lots of soft places to sit, many with sheepskins strewn over chairs,” a library with a rolling ladder, and tea served to visitors on a porcelain tray, accompanied by caramel cookies.

There are many reasons the overworked among us should look to Tippett’s management style for clues. After all, she exudes calm compassion and wears her wisdom like a lightly woven shawl, but is clearly successful; On Being is heard on over 400 radio stations, and she received a national humanities medal from former president Barack Obama in 2013.

But like the rest of us earthly dwellers, Tippett still has to deal with email—and she does so like a boss, according to New York’s Amy Larocca: “When you email Tippett, you get an auto-reply that says, ‘I’m in year two of my vow to forsake hurry as a way to move through my days.'” It also contains a poem by Rubem Alves, featuring the lines, “So let us plant dates / even though we who plant them will never eat them.”

Tippett’s approach to email is smart for many reasons. Earlier this week, I spoke with cognitive psychologist and improvement coach Amanda Crowell, doing research for a piece about avoiding the burnout that’s endemic in our “always on” culture. Crowell said that in any field, it is imperative that we take responsibility for the direction of our careers, and our days, rather than letting the expectations of others—or our perception of those expectations—jerk us around.

“You can have a lot of control over your time in corporate America if you insist upon it,” said Crowell, who discussing doing so by way of “little experiments.” Crowell gave a personal example using email: She stopped replying to emails within a day and watched to see who, if anyone, cared. She discovered which people required priority, and who would figure out their own problems given a few hours. Today, Crowell uses an app to hold her email until 4pm, and handles it just once per day.

“We are holding ourselves in this prison of constant connection!” said Crowell. “It’s all about knowing what you really want, and then taking the small steps to get a little bit closer, and a little bit closer over time … that accumulation results in a different life.”

Larocca reports that Tippett typically still responds to her emails within a single day. But just as her auto-reply states, she’s experimenting with ways to relieve the internal and external pressures of the workplace, and reminding the rest of us that it’s okay to do the same.