Email issues? Just stop replying

Well maybe not to all of them, but certainly the ones that aren’t offering you value.

We all know what it’s like to be a slave to your inbox. Those who spend all day answering and writing emails not only feel overwhelmed, they are also facing constant interruptions which stops their ability to focus on what’s important. Be it creative thinking, strategy or even their friends and family.

205 billion emails were sent and received worldwide every single day in 2015. Traditional email inboxes have become repositories that are being used as never-ending to do lists. Most messages we receive follow someone else’s agenda, not our own. But what’s even worse is that with these traditional inboxes, all messages are created equal.

Email is an essential business tool that is helping me build a tech business regardless of whether I join the team in our Shoreditch office, work from home in Ljubljana or check in while at a San Francisco conference. But only if it’s used properly.

Forward thinking business leaders are finding unique ways to get around this problem. Recently Tom Patterson, the founder of Tommy John underwear revealed how he stops email ruling his life. He only checks emails before 9am and after 5pm. Imagine that! This rule, Patterson claims, is embraced by his staff and contacts as the lack of email means he has time to work on what he should be doing.

In a similar style, Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos.com, has adopted his own mail management technique he calls “Yesterbox.” Whereby he goes through yesterday’s emails today. He claims this way of working ensures he knows exactly what he has to get through in the day. Rather than his to-do list growing beyond his control, hour by hour.

For me, I organise my inbox by people, and the most important people get my attention. It’s also constantly evolving — if I’m working on a particular project with one person for a set period of time, they will be top of my list. When that project ends, they’ll be pushed down again and someone else jumps up. This means — that if you’re not currently in my direct vision, if you’re on the periphery then you might never get a response.

Ruthless? Possibly. Necessary for me to focus my work and balance my life? Absolutely! This notion lies at the heart of what 4th Office is about and our solution has transformed the way I work.

At 4th Office, we organise email around people not individual messages or threads. I will struggle to prioritise my work based on 200 messages, but it becomes more manageable when I only have to consider the 20 or 30 people I’m in direct communication with. Out of these, only about 10 will be the most important at that particular point in time. This list can change on a daily basis: our investors and my wife are always at the top but my marketing, product and legal teams will come in and out of focus as and when I need them.

Everyone else who isn’t on my priority list will be muted, some temporarily, some permanently. That doesn’t mean they are not important — just not important right now. I will still jump into muted conversations when it suits me, but not when it suits the sender. And when our conversation becomes important, I simply unmute it so that it arrives straight into the top of my Inbox where I can give it the attention it’s due.

With a smaller number of important conversation streams, I know that I can address every email in my inbox in one day and reach my own kind of Inbox Zero. That definitely doesn’t mean I responded to everything, but every email is filed, added to a task list, muted or got back to.

As we all know, it’s so easy to become a slave to email and let it control your life, but there’s a tide change a foot. Tom Patterson, Tony Hsieh and I are making very real changes to the way we work and with that harnessing the power of this incredibly powerful and important communication tool.