Search & Replace Episode S01E01: Melissa Alam

Email has become essential for business, especially if you’re a creative professional. However, with email so easily available on your smartphone, many of us find ourselves getting interrupted all day long.

Melissa Alam is the founder and creative director of her own design agency in Philadelphia. She took the extreme step of removing email from her phone entirely. However, she tells us getting more productive time during her workday wasn’t her original goal.

More about today’s guest:

  • Alam Digital
  • More about Melissa Alam
  •       We first met Melissa on an episode of The Build

Explore these related stories:


Announcer: [00:00:00] Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode.

Joe Taylor: [00:00:10] You can try to get more time in your day by filtering email, but what happens when you delete your entire email app? I'm Joe Taylor,Jr. This is Search and Replace.

Email. It's become essential for business, especially if you're a creative professional. However, with emails so easily available on your smartphone, many of us find ourselves getting in-ping sound- getting inter- ping sound- getting interrupted all day long. And that's a big problem for anyone who relies on getting focused work done, just like Melissa Alam. She's the founder and the creative director of her own design agency in Philadelphia. She took the extreme step of removing email from her phone entirely.

However, she tells us getting more productive time during her workday wasn't  her original goal.

Melissa Alam: [00:01:05] Apple kept notifying me of my iPhone storage being low. So I just started deleting apps until I finally got to my core apps. One of them was Spark, which is my email app that I use. And so I needed just to figure out how to, first of all, get my phone to continue working. So I deleted my email app and it has been a game changer for me. You know, I typically am just always on my phone and I get a notification that someone emailed me and, you know, it just causes like this anxiety, all of a sudden throughout the Workday. Just little pings of emails and whatnot.

And so deleting my email app has been amazing. Like my anxiety levels have gone down. I'm also realizing that I can create boundaries and that I don't have to be so accessible. And also, when I do check my email on my desktop or my iPad, it's kind of like Christmas morning. It's like, who emailed me instead of like getting pinged throughout the day.

It's a little surprised to see, and it's also in bulk as well. So it helps, just me to visually to see, you know, who I should respond back to. It's just like a better system for me, I've realized and just healthier for me, for sure.

Joe Taylor: [00:02:19] Melissa tells us her new approach to email has inspired some changes to the way she interacts with her clients.

Melissa Alam: [00:02:25] Deleting my email app has been like the first trigger, but my anxiety levels are down and I'm starting to realize that. Not every email is an emergency that I have to respond to right away. And I've mentally been a little more clear headed and created new, dedicated work hours. Knowing when I sit at my desk, that's the time for me to respond to emails.

So I think the next steps for me would probably be to assign certain hours or days where I tell clients I'll respond to them, you know, just to create a few more boundaries so our relationship can be better. But at the end of the day if I'm not at my peak or if my mental health is anxious all the time and just like lethargic and tired and worried, I'm not going to produce the best product for my clients.

So it's a win for everyone.

Joe Taylor: [00:03:13] Even if you're really tight on your email game, other folks in your life might not have worked out their relationship with urgency. That's why Melissa is using some advanced tools and techniques to make sure the important people in her life don't feel ignored.

Melissa Alam: [00:03:27] What I'm working on now is creating just something in my email, signature that outlines like, "Hey, you know, if there is an emergency, please text me."

And these are my working hours. And so also, I need to train myself not to go past my own boundaries that I'm setting for my clients. So I am a night owl. I worked super late and so I try to do the work and then I schedule it in the morning using like boomerang or Send Later. Those are tools that allow you, they're like extensions onto your Gmail, and they allow you to schedule an email to be sent out at a later time or for an email to pop back into your inbox.

So if there's something that, you know, is coming up in a few months, but you don't want to technically archive it cause you're gonna forget- you can schedule it to just pop back up. And then for night owls like me, I'm not going to be sending emails to my clients at 3:00, 4:00 AM. So what I typically do is I'll work super late and then I'll schedule an email to a client for 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM, whatever I feel.

And then I pass out. And when I wake up, I typically have a response from the client. So it's my working hours are not super typical. It's just more clear at night when there's not a lot of things going on and it's not as noisy. So yeah, those are great tools to use to schedule your emails at a different time.

Joe Taylor: [00:04:44] Melissa credits this new approach to client communication with giving her the focus she needs to deliver strong results, especially as her agency has been growing over the past year. After all, the deliverable isn't just the response to the email. It's all the branding designs, website overhauls, and photography shoots the clients are really hiring her to deliver.

Melissa Alam: [00:05:06] So I need to just abide by that and still show my clients that I'm working in the hours I'm telling them so that they don't feel the right to step over the boundaries as well and contact me through text, or call me or whatnot. So it's in the infant stages, but so far so good.

And I know I have a long way to go and, you know, I'm trying to build this virtual agency model and I need to set these boundaries as CEO now taking off my freelancer hat and turning into the actual CEO that I want to be.

Joe Taylor: [00:05:33] Strong boundaries around email aren't just impacting Melissa's professional life either.

Melissa Alam: [00:05:38] My anxiety levels that have gone down from not seeing client emails every day, every hour, every minute, you know, it just allows me to just focus and be more present as well. So for instance, the other day, I went to a new sauna that opened up here in Philadelphia. And I just sat in the sauna and as I was driving there, and while I was there and when I was coming back, I wasn't interrupted by the thought of an email because I wasn't getting any notifications. You know, so it was just smooth sailing. I'm super excited with where I want to go. I still want to stay lean and virtual. I am working on creating and that's why the work life balance is helpful is I want to work on creating a better work life balance so I can keep enjoying the work I do instead of being stressed.

Joe Taylor: [00:06:23] Melissa Alam, founder and creative director of Philadelphia agency Alam Digital. You can find links to Melissa's project over on our website at Also in today's show notes, the tools Melissa is using so her clients don't realize she prefers to work in the middle of the night.

Plus email tips from Renzo Costarella, Natalia Lusinski and Jocelyn K Glei all on our website at

Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard. With support from Christine Benton, Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith, and executive producer and Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex DuFire. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr.

Announcer: [00:07:04] This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor. User experience specialists, serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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