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7 Email Habits of CEOs to Learn From

April 30, 2019 No Comments

Featured article by Samantha Green, Independent Technology Author

There are few features of our modern work environment that take up as much of your time as email. Sure, it’s one of the most effective communication mediums we have access to, but the average United States worker gets 121 emails per day — and the average founder gets even more.

With that incredible volume, all it takes is one or two bad habits to disrupt your productivity, and throw off your entire schedule. So how do the most successful CEOs and entrepreneurs handle the stress of managing an inbox?

1. Jeff Bezos saves time with a single character. A few years ago, Businessweek’s Brad Stone reported on Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s email style, noting his approach to customer service and some critical issues. Bezos is a busy man, so it’s no surprise that he needs to find some way to minimize the time he spends emailing. His strategy is to forward emails to a relevant party within the organization, accompanied by only a single additional character. For example, he might send “?” to indicate elaboration on what’s going on. It might be frustrating for the people receiving those emails as they try to hash out exactly what Bezos means, but it saves time and gets the task accomplished.

2. Eric Schmidt responds as quickly as possible. Then-executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt once explained to VentureBeat that his best email habit is responding to emails as quickly as possible, ideally within minutes of it hitting his inbox. Schmidt’s rationale is that fast responders get faster results from their employees and build a better reputation with their other recipients. Getting answers to your questions sooner is almost universally better. Plus, because most emails can be dealt with in the span of less than a minute, this strategy keeps your inbox tidy, preventing it from becoming too cluttered and unmanageable. Here’s a primer on how to measure your email response time.

3. Jayne-Anne Gadhia checks her email immediately. As reported in the Guardian, CEO of Virgin Money Jayne-Anne Gadhia wakes up naturally at 6:20 am, then immediately checks her email and answers any that are outstanding. In her own words, “I can’t stand having any not done!” Making email a first priority allows you to catch up on communication, prepare for the day ahead and get a jumpstart on the influx of messages sure to follow. As you’ll see, other founders prefer to wait a while after waking up — so this is more a personal preference than a certain rule for better productivity.

4. Ryan Holmes is prepared to declare email bankruptcy. Have you ever been so frustrated with your inbox, or so overwhelmed with emails that you wanted to delete everything? Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, gets to that point every few years. When he finds himself too overwhelmed with messages, he deletes everything in his inbox and starts again from scratch, creating an email signature that explains his process and apologizing for any messages that got lost in the shuffle. I can’t personally recommend doing this one without some kind of formal announcement, but it might work for you.

5. Randi Zuckerberg never responds to emails when feeling emotional. Originally reported in Marie Claire, Zuckerberg Media founder Randi Zuckerberg has two big rules for checking email. First, she waits at least 20 minutes after waking up before checking it. Second, she recognizes when she’s feeling overly emotional and holds off on sending any emails until she reaches a calm state. This allows her to respond to messages in the right frame of mind, preventing any irrational messages or a tone that could be misinterpreted.

6. Jeff Weiner sends fewer emails to keep his inbox clear. LinkedIn founder Jeff Weiner once noticed that after two frequently-emailing coworkers left the business, his email traffic dropped by 30 percent (here’s how to conduct email tracking in Gmail so you can find out how your email activity varies throughout the day, too). He explains, “Turns out, it wasn’t just their emails that were generating all of that inbox activity — it was my responses to their emails, the responses of the people who were added to those threads, the responses of the people those people subsequently copied, and so on.” Now, Weiner proactively prevents email traffic from spiraling out of control by sending email only while absolutely necessary.

7. Arianna Huffington strictly follows three rules for email management. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington doesn’t let email encroach into her personal life, following three strict rules to establish the boundaries, no matter how busy she gets. First, she stops emailing half an hour before she goes to bed (which makes sense, considering Huffington’s views on the importance of sleep). Second, she doesn’t check her email immediately upon waking up, gently contradicting Schmidt’s advice. Third, she never checks email while she’s spending time with her kids, making sure her personal and professional lives remain separate.

Changing your approach to email will take time; it requires you to fundamentally change some of your long-established habits and in some cases, retrain your employees to facilitate more effective communication in the medium. Still, with email occupying such a prominent section of our workday, even a marginal improvement has the potential to free up hours of your time. For more ways to free up time in your workday, see this giant list of productivity tips.

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