How the Busiest People in SaaS Manage Their Email
Ever have one of those days where as soon as you send an email, you immediately get two more? And then you get another. Oh yeah, and there are those three from two days ago that each need a lengthy response. Thoughts of select all + delete begin to dance in your head.
We’ve all been there. Many of us are there seven days a week. So to unlock the mystery of handling email more effectively, we asked some of the busiest leaders we know to tell us their tips and tricks. Here’s what they said:
“This feels like a trick question. I think what I’m supposed to say is that I’m a zero inbox person, because all good leaders are surely zero inbox people, right? The uncomfortable truth is that I manage my inbox very poorly.
I have a handful of rules in place for auto-routing of certain emails. And I definitely hit the junk button fairly frequently on unsolicited stuff that comes in. But otherwise, my inbox is a bit of a morass. I think it’s because I got complacent using Gmail in my last job, and it was eminently searchable so I no longer felt the need to organize or delete anything. But now I have a less searchable email tool, so my strategy has come back to haunt me.”
–Leela Srinivasan, CMO at SurveyMonkey
“I get to inbox zero multiple times a day—I manage it by setting reminders. If there’s a thing I’m not going to get to now, I just tell it to return to me. And then I have a waiting box for things that I know are important that I want to work on, but just don’t need to sit in my inbox.
I go through it every few hours when I get a break and I just do a blitz of pruning all the email I get that’s not important or not even really for me anyway, and then I do quick replies. I also have a fantastic executive assistant.
I’m big on declaring bankruptcy, so if I come back from vacation I just select all and archive and move on. If it’s important, it’ll come back.
I do the same thing with Slack and browser tabs. Every Monday, I clear my browser tabs. My far left tab is my calendar, so I right-click and say, “Close everything to the right”—and everything that was open just goes away.
And if it’s important, it’ll return.”
–Eric Muntz, CTO at Mailchimp
“I aspire to be inbox zero, but it’s really more like inbox 100. I filter out irrelevant emails aggressively and unsubscribe ruthlessly. I just read and archive and file email away very quickly.”
–Tope Awotona, CEO and Founder at Calendly
“I’m an inbox zero person—I’ve been this way for more than a decade. In fact, I don’t feel like I can ever turn off for the day if there’s an email I haven’t responded to.
Here’s how I do it: I use priority inbox in Gmail, which helps me sort through the ones that are directly to me or direct group-related to me versus all of the broad emails. That’s like a sword.
But then even if I have two minutes between meetings, I’m constantly sorting through. The way I look at it is that I’ll either be able to get back to you in five seconds with a quick response like, “Yes, I got this,” or if it’s more complicated I’ll need to write back and say I need 24-48 hours to respond. This way I’m holding myself accountable in terms of when I respond to people. It’s worked really well. When I go to bed, I typically have inbox zero.
The only problem is that when I go on vacation, it’s really hard to maintain this. So I give myself a little bit of space when I come back from vacation to just reset.”
–Yamini Rangan, Chief Customer Officer at HubSpot
“I use my inbox as my to-do list. Life is about knowing what should be an email, what should be a Slack and what should be a meeting—so I don’t love doing lots of creative work through email. Email is most useful for sharing information and keeping groups up to date. That really helps me because I don’t have a ton of big, long, controversial debates happening in email at any given time. I try to keep those things in other venues where we make faster and less stressful progress.”
–Christopher O’Donnell, Chief Product Officer at HubSpot
Note: These quotes came from my In Case(y) You Missed It series, where I talk to the most interesting humans in SaaS. Check out all the interviews here and follow me on LinkedIn to be the first to know when there’s a new one.
Editor’s note: This post was first published in December 2020 and updated on March 12, 2021.