Getting to Inbox Zero may seem like a far-off dream, and often means dozens if not hundreds of unread emails. For PubMatic CEO Rajeev Goel, however, Inbox Zero is not only attainable but is a daily practice. Goel has earned a company-wide reputation for reading and responding to every email in his inbox while simultaneously running a $130 million company. How does he do it?
The biggest mistake many of us make, says Goel, is thinking about email as work. “You can never work on your inbox and think that because you have cleared it out, you have completed your work,” he says. Think of email as facilitating work, not as work in and of itself. Putting email in this context makes you think of it as lower priority, and may mean you’ll be less likely to click on your inbox every time a new mail alert comes through.
Begin your day by quickly deleting all of the emails that you only need to read but don’t need to act upon. The remainder, which Goel says typically comprise 10% to 30% of your inbox, now become part of your task list for the day. End your day by replying to urgent emails, leaving the rest to tackle on your next day’s to-do list.
“The faster your reply to email, the more email you will get,” says Goel. While we often think the best way to get to Inbox Zero is to reply as quickly as we can to new emails, Goel says this thinking is actually backwards. “If something is not urgent, let it sit for a bit before you reply,” he advises.
One trick Goel uses to manage his inbox is setting his Outlook view to “arrange by conversation”. This groups all emails from a particular conversation, where the subject line is the same, together as opposed to having a conversation scattered across your inbox from various people who have sent emails at different times of the day. This allows you to process the entire conversation all at once and allows your mind to focus on that one conversation rather than reading through five other topics in between.
View emails according to the individuals who have sent them to you then pick up the phone or wait until you have a break to reply to all emails sent by that individual all at once, or save the emails for your next meeting and speak about them in person. “Rather than reply to three emails from Kirk, I might add them to a list of topics for Kirk and I to speak about in our next (meeting), then we can quickly go through them in a live conversation rather than having had 30 back and forth emails,” says Goel.