Startup general interestVenture Capital

Don’t let email kill your productivity

By June 22, 2012 3 Comments

Since we had the kids a shortage of hours in the day has become one of my biggest challenges and I’m now a total sucker for a bit of productivity pr0n, and Ryan Carson’s blog post of yesterday gave me a good thrill. Unless managed well email can be a huge time sync and Ryan’s number one tip on his list of 7 do’s and don’ts for founders is to ignore email:

Email-creep is enemy #1 to your productivity. It’s a never ending list of things other people want you to do.

Never check email until you’ve completed at least 2-3 things on your priority list of todos for the day.

Once you decide to check email, follow this pattern:

  1. Quickly scan your inbox for important emails and mark them as ‘Priority’ (using a tag or star).
  2. Mark any other emails that are important, but not time sensitive, as ‘Later’. I use tags in Gmail for this.
  3. Archive them all. This is important as it keeps you from feeling overwhelmed by large amounts of email in your Inbox. Note: This means you won’t answer every email you get. This is an important realization because it frees you up to do things on your priority list.
  4. Blaze through the ‘Priority’ pile. Spend a maximum of 30 minutes on this.
  5. Ignore the ‘Later’ pile until you are stuck somewhere without an internet connection (train, plane, park bench, etc).
  6. Repeat twice a day

As your company grows, make sure you communicate this to your team and ask them to follow a similar procedure. Before you know it, everyone in the company is doing email all day instead of getting things done on the Road Map.

FYI, I’m not referring to customer support email. If you have customers, you need to get back to them as soon as possible and then hire a full-time customer support person as soon as cash will allow.

For some years now I’ve been managing my email along the lines that David Allen recommends in his great Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, and I was pleased to see that my email processes are pretty much in-line with Ryan’s. Not looking at email for long periods of time (also recommended by Tim Ferris and Marc Andreessen) is hard at first but yields real benefits.

Ryan’s last two paragraphs, however, introduced two new ideas to me. Firstly, we should all be concerned with email productivity across our whole companies, not just ourselves, and secondly customer email should be separated from other email. This second point is interesting in the context of venture capital where our customers are our LPs (the people who invest in our funds) and entrepreneurs who we are trying to sell our cash to. I always try to get back to entrepreneurs quickly, but sometimes I can be a little slow, and often the reason is that their emails are handled in a single process with all other emails, and many of them get put in the ‘process later’ bucket which takes me a long time to get to. They don’t belong in my ‘urgent’ bucket, but maybe I should create a new bucket that sits between ‘urgent’ and ‘process later’.