How Top Media Execs Tame the Email Beast

730106-business-man-laptop-tiredEmail is one of those innovations that we all love to hate. Sure, email can help us communicate more efficiently. But often our email inboxes are so crowded that we’re actually distracted from getting work done. Or, we use email when we should really pick up the phone and have a voice-to-voice conversation. The stats prove it – as professionals, we’re addicted to email. In 2013, 182.9 billion emails were sent every day.

While we all know that email is now a necessary evil, we definitely don’t want to spend our whole day going through emails. Plus, we don’t have the time. We were really excited to see that Digiday asked some top media execs how they slay the email beast. The execs shared tips and tricks for how to manage the never-ending stream of emails. Plus, they shared their pet peeves, which is a great guide for what not to do when emailing coworkers, clients, and associates (that is, if you don’t want your email to end up in the trash).

Rob Norman, Global Chief Digital Officer, Group M
Norman thinks he gets less email than other execs. But, that doesn’t mean he isn’t dealing with a lot of messages every day. His biggest pet peeve is an email that seems pointless. “The most annoying thins is email that fails to advance the opportunity or contribute to solving the problem – there’s a lot of that!” he said.

Norman controls his inbox by prioritizing by sender. He reads emails from the most important investors or clients (or his boss) first, reading the newest email in any chain. He also advises that you wait one hour before responding to emails, unless it’s an extremely time sensitive issue, in order to train people not to expect immediate replies. He also suggests that you think before you reply. If your reply won’t add any value or help solve the problem, it’s best to stay out of it.

Jon Gibs, VP of Analytics, Huge
Gibs receives more than 300 emails daily, and 100 of those emails require some type of attention. Of those 100, only 30 actually require an immediate response. “I tend to do batch deletes on Saturday morning while watching cartoons with the kids,” he says.

His biggest pet peeve is one all of us can relate to – unnecessary reply-alls. “It is rarely useful, most annoying, and can devolve into a reply-all apocalypse,” he explains. He also hates emailing in meetings. “We are all guilty of it,” he admits, “And sometimes it is a necessity. But try to keep it short – otherwise, why are we in a meeting?”

Gibs controls his email with an efficient rules-based system for email. He uses a combination of Outlook rules functions and the VIP function on his iPhone. He has a select few VIPs. When they send him an email, he receives a push notification. He responds to these VIPs immediately. Then, he uses the rules function on Outlook to break up emails into two folders: the person who sent the message, and how important his response is. He segments emailers by team members, agency management, and clients. He then uses a more advanced series of secondary rules to prioritize further. It’s a very mathematical approach that has helped him stay in control and not be ruled by his email.

Tony Hseih, CEO, Zappos
Not surprisingly, Hseih gets a lot of emails – 1,000-2,000 per day, to be exact. He actually reads all of them, and deletes or saves them based on importance. But, he’s only hit the “inbox zero” we all strive for less than 10 times in the past 10 years. His biggest pet peeve? People that email him to ask a question that’s already been answered elsewhere.

Hseih’s insane amount of emails definitely overwhelmed him. He was becoming increasingly stressed, and so at the end of 2012, he tried an expereiment with an email management system he came up with called “Yesterbox.” His system was so successful that he launched a website detailing how it works, so others can try it.

“The basic premise is that each day your to do list is yesterday’s inbox instead of today’s inbox,” he writes on The to do list for each day is just yesterday’s inbox. That way, you know exactly how many emails you have to get through, since you have a definitive number in your inbox from the end of the previous day. Plus, there’s actually a point where you hit “email zero,” once you’ve gotten through all of the emails from the previous day.

His emails may not be immediate, but he actually responds in a more timely manner (within 24-48 hours) than he used to. He admits that, at first, it can be difficult to train yourself not to worry about the emails coming in. But, once you do get into the habit, it can be a beautiful solution to an overworked inbox.

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