How The Most Productive CEOs Keep Email In Check – Fast Company
Getting To Inbox Zero . . .
Some people find the idea of “inbox zero” a totally unwarranted holy grail of email productivity; others swear by and achieve it. Many CEOs strive to clear their inboxes daily, or at the very least weekly, a goal that forces them to stick to certain habits for staying on top of their incoming messages. Typically, that means setting aside multiple windows of time during the day—usually one in the morning and one in the evening—to wade through their inbox.
Brad Smith, the CEO of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax and parent company of Mint, sums up his email approach as “read, act, file, or delete.” By limiting himself to these four options—and requiring that he performs one of them—Smith says he manages to clear his inbox daily without the help of an assistant. It “requires real commitment,” he concedes, but the goal is simple: “Never touch something more than once.” In order to leave time for regular inbox maintenance, Smith schedules meetings that can’t run longer than 45 minutes so he can catch up on emails during the 15 minutes in between meetings.
BaubleBar CEO Amy Jain is smart about how she uses downtime, too. She spends her subway commute sifting through her inbox and flagging messages. “Once I get to my desk, I take care of the flagged emails first so no one is waiting on me for time-sensitive things,” Jain says.
. . . Or Close Enough
Some execs manage t0 keep email to a minimum without quite hitting inbox zero. “Twenty emails in my inbox is too many,” says Alex Friedman, co-CEO and cofounder of organic tampon brand Lola. “I try to keep it below 10.” Like Jain, Friedman makes good use of her commute. “A trick I’ve learned over time is that I can keep replies more succinct if I reply on the go,” she says.
One of the most effective ways to trim your inbox, of course, is to send fewer emails in the first place. Karl Iagnemma, CEO of the self-driving car startup nuTonomy, is so sparing with email that he aims to cap his sent messages at 25 a day. Whenever he finds himself exceeding that threshold, it “usually means that I’m not spending enough time on more important activities,” Iagnemma says. “Most emails get forwarded or deleted; a few get a brief response; still fewer get longer treatment.”
A number of CEOs I spoke to said they didn’t respond at all to emails that weren’t addressed to them directly; if they’re simply copied on a thread, they assume someone else will handle it. Some CEOs use a folder system to organize their inboxes or turn to scheduler tools like the Boomerang extension, in order to set email reminders and manage when their messages go out. Other execs say they’re diligent about taking the time to unsubscribe from mass email lists or else bundle the newsletters they subscribe to using tools like Unroll.Me.