Goal: getting email under control

Each year I try to settle on a small set of big goals for the year. Last year my big goal was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This year, I settled on 2-3 goals I wanted to achieve:

1. Go skydiving. I was with a group of ~15 people in January and we realized that no one in the room had gone skydiving or run a marathon. Both sounded fun, so I made them goals for this year. I met some great folks at Foo Camp a couple weeks ago who had been skydiving, and this past weekend we went skydiving together:

Matt skydiving at 8000 feet or so

It was a lot of fun; I’d recommend skydiving to anyone. You’re up high enough that a fear of heights doesn’t come into play… much. (If you live in the Bay Area, I went to Bay Area Skydiving in Byron, California and had a great experience.)

2. Run a marathon. This goal came from the same group in January where no one had run a marathon. I’ve been training for a couple months now and I’m up to nine miles on my long runs. Unless I’m injured, I think I’ll run a marathon this year. (By the way, USA FIT is a great organization in a bunch of U.S. cities where people get together to train for running a marathon.)

3. Get my email under control. This is a recent goal, but it might be the most important. Email is flawed in a lot of ways. Some wise people have referred to it as a “to-do list that anyone can add to.” It’s typically a poor use of time: you’re often talking to someone 1:1 when those cycles would be better spent working on something that will help a broader range of people or to realize a broader goal. Emails can take a long time to craft compared to other ways to communicate. Email is near-universal, but it lacks good ways for better processing or prioritizing (e.g. “show me the five least useful mailing lists” I get). Lots of email is sent to too many people or is just trying to find the right person to ask a question. Email also encourages us to pay attention to things that are urgent at the expense of things that are important.

Like most people in the tech industry, email has grown into monster for me in a lot of ways. I recently had a day without meetings, and I ended up spending the entire day replying to email, and still only took care of the email that I’d received that day. That’s just not sustainable–even a little more email would mean that I could never catch up–and that’s time that I’m not talking with my team, or thinking about new ways to improve search quality, or making videos or blog posts that can benefit a lot of people.

I’ve tried various email challenges before, e.g. not replying to outside emails for 30 days or not replying to emails after 10 p.m. I don’t know what my final solution to email will be, but this is a heads-up notice that I’m going to try a bunch of things until I find a better balance. I suspect that the final answer may be fairly radical, so if you’re hoping for an email reply from me, you should probably lower your expectations to zero. I’m going to try not replying to outside-Google emails for a while and then adjust things more over time.

Email is a big part of the problem, but I’ll probably have to say “no” more often as well. Please be patient with me while I try to recalibrate. I want to make sure that I spend my work time in the best way I can.

112 Responses to Goal: getting email under control (Leave a comment)

  1. Hey Matts what you said above was for e-mails, and what about relying to your blog’s comments? Hope you will not stop replying to them too…

  2. Hi Matt,

    For sure Skydive is a great experience and you found in a dropzone a lot of tech people, regarding email, i use the inbox zero guideliness from Google (search for it in Youtube) and works very well

    Next challenge is go and sail :))

    Best Regards,

  3. There are two main reasons to contact a company or organization by e-mail.

    1. The information you need can’t be found on their website, either it’s not there, or you just can’t find it. Mostly this is due to poor a search function but with Google I guess the problem is that I don’t know what I’m searching for.

    2. My question is specific/personal and/or confidetial. I wouldn’t ask certain things on a internet forum for example.

    When you’re doing blog posts and videos, you actually answer questions not being asked. That’s a good thing, since you hopefully won’t be getting any questions about the things already answered.

    One solution might be to auto-respond to all outside e-mail, and point to where the solution might be found. Programatically analyze the e-mail, and make a google-search for the answer. Reply with a lmgtfy.com-link πŸ˜‰

    Or, the more easy-implemented solution, auto-respond with a link to http://www.justfuckinggoogleit.com/

  4. I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but Tim Ferris, He claims to have cut his email from 4-6 hours a day to 4-6 minutes a day. I think the approach should appeal to an engineer. Here is his strategy…


  5. The alternatives to email are worse; Twitter is 95% inane chatter, Facebook 99% “no reply needed”. Sure a face-to-face is preferable, but even then, it’s often useful to confirm what was agreed (we don’t all have benign bosses). Telephone is rarely more efficient, as one party or the other has not picked that moment, and may have been inconvenienced.

    Provided the spam has been removed, then I find that 66% of email is valuable; half of that simply information to be used or filed, and the other half of them will require at least an acknowledgement before filing.

    The final third is probably what I’d call ‘soft spam’; information you opted into, but they’re pushing the boundaries and sending more and more trash; most of these will sooner or later be unsubscribed or spamboxed.

    Email is fine and dandy, provided people don’t confuse it with social media and pollute it.

    Oh, sorry – Google wants to turn email social, doesn’t it?

    Is that what your post was about?

    If this is working up to some awful myfacegmailbookspace.com, at least give us an opt-out!

  6. Hi Matt,
    I’ve a question for u. Could I send u an email? πŸ˜›


  7. Hi Matt,

    A nice post about goals, I get your email goal but I think your problem is different from that of most people – I do understand the list of goals is personal and personalized to you, but since you made it public…

    You are a public figure, people all over the world are exposed and wait your posts/videos/communication – many more people than the average joe has on his contact list and even many more than many celebrities (due to the nature of the Internet and the people who mostly populate it – i.e. geeks πŸ™‚ )

    Many public figures have the same problem, though it isn’t email specific (phone calls, faxes, snail mail), the difference between them and you is that you answer personally – thus the HEAVY load, all the others in your position have someone (or even a team) dedicated to the task of keeping on top of correspondence and communication/information load. They only pass up the things they don’t know how to handle – much like a support organization (level 1, level 2 and up) until it gets to the top man.

    I don’t know if Google needs or wants to further your engagement with the world, and help you with this, I know that you care personally about the issues and people you talk to, but lets face it – most of it is about Google related issues which are really the responsibility of Google Inc. not Matt Cutts Person.

    Get a secretary or a email handling team… it would do you tons of good, and allow you to focus on the important things. You are doing a GOOD job (at least I think so and I hear many others do as well) it would be a shame if it falls apart because of the pressure which you shouldn’t be handling on your own…

    All the best!

  8. I have another goal for you, why not do your job properly and stop trying to be some kind of celebrity. You need to go back to the drawing board. The implications of your recent changes, especially Panda, have caused genuine, real and unique businesses with many years of trading and many staff to either reduce in size or cease trading all together. Not because they they are fishing or spamming or aggregating other peoples content, just because of a stupid Google update that does not do what is supposed to. I work for a business that is really fighting to stay alive post Panda, we produce free and unique content, we are a genuine leader in teh firld and have been online for over 12 years, have thousands of sites ripping our own content, yet have been hammered by Panda to point of having to downsize and make people redundant, the company now facing a very real chance of going under.

    Please stop blogging about your personal interests and petty problems, there are many many people out there with real jobs, real lives, kids to feed and mortgages to pay that rely on you doing your job better than you are right now.

    Thanks, Bob.

  9. I feel your pain and I’m sure I get on 1% of the email you do.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you’ve heard of Gmail + Priority Inbox + Smart Filters? πŸ˜‰

    … maybe Canned Responses would also help in that I suspect that a canned response of: “I’m sorry but I’m literally never going to have time to respond to this” is better for the sender than being ignored.

    More helpful though, surely, than all of the above would be to delegate? I would assume that, what, 80% of your inbox is a direct consequence of you having become a spokesperson and developer liaison for Google. So perhaps Google needs to give you a team of people to whom you can delegate some of your email. That way you can concentrate on the “important” and they can respond quickly to the “urgent” and the rest?

    Good luck!

  10. I’m definitely one of those people who the email inbox has become the “to do” list. Extending inbox metaphor, the inbox is pending correspondence to act on or reply to. I’ve become pretty aggressive with email filters to make things manageable. Existing email filtering tools are pretty good at picking out various categories like task-oriented email (e.g. various requests, bills) information-oriented email (e.g. mailing lists), & personal correspondence.

    In the past, when I’ve hit email saturation, I’ve started to think about various new ways to prioritize email. Most email clients let you sort by criteria like sender, title, time received. Why not build your own custom sorts on criteria you weight the most important? A lot of email clients let you filter on certain field values. Why not harness the pattern-matching of regular expressions? Many email clients have filters that control the workflow during email arrival. Why not at during other points in the workflow (e.g. in the inbox X day without read, during reply, during delete, etc.)?

    Perhaps these solutions exist. My email saturation hasn’t been chronic enough to warrant moving past the musing phase.

  11. I actually find Gmail’s “canned responses” feature very useful in cutting down the time I spend writing replies. Mostly I get asked the same 5 or 6 questions repeatedly. Before, I’d copy and paste from old e-mails, but that got cumbersome.

    Your instinct to prioritize work e-mail, then go from there, sounds like the right track. In the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” there’s handy chart of 4 categories in prioritizing tasks:

    1) Important and Urgent
    2) Important and Not Urgent
    3) Not Important and Urgent
    4) Not Important and Not Urgent

    Naturally, do everything in category 1. Try to avoid getting sucked into wasting time doing tasks in categories 3 and 4. However, the book stresses that your true productivity comes from working on things in category 2. I joke that category 2 is where our New Year’s resolutions go, because they’re important and deeply satisfying when completed, but often get neglected because other stuff keeps coming up.

    Look forward to watching more of your Webmaster videos. Oh, and good luck with the marathon!

  12. Second thoughts Matt….If you stop replying to email outside google that would be a typical exmaple of the bird who hides his hides from danger by burying its head in the sand.

    I think prioritizing of mails like you said – Spend time in best way you can. Reply to ones which you think are important be it within Google or outside.

    BTW, the background in your snap is Amazing.

  13. I made some t-shirts saying “emailed destroyed my life”, do you want one of those? πŸ™‚ (seriously! I can send you one).

  14. I have business and personal mail and in both counts one it gets beyond a screen it never gets seen again. The problem is that people use email to hid behind and cover the behind as well. I emailed him. They treat email as contact as opposed to what it really can end up like as physical junk email.

    I bet if everyone deleted all of their email before say last Monday their lives wouldn’t change that much – at best just archive. If someone says did you get my email ?? you can just say Can’t seem to locate it can you resent it?

    Trots off to that right now…

    Keep us posted Matt…..

  15. Some ideas:

    * Flag some e-mails as public and let others answer your e-mails
    * Group similar e-mails (keyword density, content analysis, etc) into tags and let one reply answer all e-mails in the tag
    * Analyze all incoming & outgoing replies and let Google suggest the top 3 responses. Refine over time.

    Amazon has a policy of crafting template replies for every inquiry. New and/or unique questions go through a response crafting process, then is added to the template library. If this could be intelligently automated, I could see the Q&A type of e-mails being mostly removed from human intervention.

  16. “I want to make sure that I spend my work time in the best way I can.”….. a true professional’s statement and thats what you recognized for. I think those who know you or understand you will not complain you about…Yes, beside the official replies…:)

    Anyway, background of the pic is awesome.

  17. I was going to e-mail you with my comments…. I don’t think one needs to respond to every message received. If someone wants you, they can simply talk to you.

    There are few high profile people who reply to every message. Case in point is Avinash. I would be happy if you responded to a message I sent you Matt. But have no expectation that you would as I know you are a busy person.

    My personal strategy is to respond to every client inquiry immediately. If someone is trying to sell me something, they will get a cursory review, and perhaps a reply. Internal parties and business partners will always receive a reply, albeit after clients.

    I hope you put an auto-reply on your e-mail outlining your plans. Also keep in mind that this e-mail deluge is the partial responsibility of your employer who saw fit to make e-mail usage dead easy (tongue in cheek).

  18. Isn’t this why Google invented Priority Inbox?

  19. You might need some more training to run a marathon, 9 miles runs are nothing compared to the standard 26 miles marathon πŸ™‚

    Do you track your runs ? If not, I would recommend you buy a Garmin sportswatch. It’s way more convenient than any iPhone/Android App plus they have a nice dashboard called Garmin connect where you can keep track of everything.

  20. Nice Ideas Sun πŸ™‚

  21. jim carrington

    Email inbox should be managed to 0 items. Sounds hard, but it it really isn’t. gootodo.com.

  22. It’s an interesting approach to not respond to any e-mails from outside a person’s organization. Your circumstances may be unique in that you’re a “public interface” for your firm whereas most of us don’t have nearly the exposure you do.

    The approach in my organization is to prioritize based on filtering – giving first service to those inside the company, secondly to customers with perceived (our perception, of course, since we’re more or less triaging) genuine needs, and respond to other correspondence as time and energy allow. It’s not perfect and may not even be ideal, but it seems to work for us at this stage.

    Excellent on pushing one’s self to get exposure to new things, experiences, ideas, etc! To step outside the routine feeds creativity! ! !

  23. Much like you have here you can have an auto reply to non Google emails that directs the user to a help forum or FAQ page. I imagine this will cut down a good chunk of your e-mail.

    Other ideas are:

    Have an assistant weed out some of your mail for you
    Forward some of your outgoing mail to other Google employees that may be better suited to answer the e-mail
    Create several templates that answer similar emails then add a quick personal touch at the end

  24. While this isn’t the long term, sustainable solution you are looking for, these guys have approached this very problem in a pretty cool/novel way. It’s called the email game and at the very least, it makes cleaning out your inbox a lot more fun and much quicker. http://emailga.me/

  25. Hi Matt,
    It would be better if you add a photo that was included your face too, should be hesitated look

    By the way, is there any way to put all the no reply emails to one folder?, I have added some conditions (rules) but still there are some emails together with my personal emails.

  26. Nice picture… like the Skydiving idea.

  27. Three steps for me:

    (1) Start at the source. Within a company or group, people need to be taught how to email β€” appropriate titles, appropriate use of To & CC & BCC, and understanding when not to respond and when not to email at all. I’d imagine Google employees are pretty good about it, but there’s always room for improvement, and we all know those handful of people who send out a string of emails of dubious relevance when they could sit down and save us all time by collective their thoughts and recognizing whom to email via To, CC, or BCC.

    (2) Compartmentalize. It is highly inefficient to review an email about Topic A, then an email about Topic B, then Topic C, and so on. You think your brain can do it, but you’re wrong. Some folks say to themselves they’re going to read it, immediately reply, and move on to the next email β€” and thereby not waste time “coming back to” an email and re-reading it β€” but I’ve never seen this work in practice. People get fatigued and distracted when they go through many, many topics in succession. Just like a professional writer, you need to work on Topic A when you feel ready to work on Topic A, Topic B when you feel ready to work on Topic B, and so on and so forth. None of the great authors could sit down and churn out great content on demand, they had to get in the mood, so to speak.

    The better course, IMHO, is to set up multiple inboxes and/or forwarding rules so that like emails are grouped with like and can all be read and dealt with. Gmail’s automatic sorting by subject helps, but, when you have dozens or hundreds of emails coming at you, you need even more effort put into hiding emails from you so an off-topic email doesn’t distract you while you’re working on one subject. I never see listservs in my inbox nor news updates nor anything else like that — they’re auto-forwarded to appropriate folders where they can be reviewed at the appropriate time, without distraction from other emails on other subjects competing for my attention.

    (3) Get your reply times down.I am a big fan of the Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software. I used it to write this comment. As a litigator (and blogger), I have to churn out an enormous amount of high-quality written material every day. One thing a lot of people under 40 years old fail to recognize is that, even if you have a fast typing speed, typing pages and pages of content with your fingers is draining and can leave your hands and arms fatigued, so much so that you slow down in your responses without even realizing it.

    Consider this: for decades, the high-volume content producers of the legal profession, like litigators and judges, have always dictated their material to secretaries/typist. Same goes for corporate executives and everyone else who can afford it. I assure you it’s not a matter of laziness or self-importance; it’s a matter of necessity and efficiency. These days, you can get the same result from software that costs less than a fancy dinner. Try it.

  28. Matt,
    I’ve been thinking about email for some time. My hope is that careful thinking and a refined description will eventually lead to a solution. Here’s my current parameters (several of which overlap your comments):

    1. It needs to be backwards connectable with the enormous integration email has already made in our lives.

    2. It needs to jettison traditional writing metaphors so we can worry less about crafting and more about communicating.

    3. It needs to facilitate groups better than email and current social media.

    4. It needs to finally address the issue of spam. While the filters are working, they’re tenuous and a tremendous waste of resources.

    5. It needs to have some means to absorb and render practical new ways of people choose to communicate in the future (ie Twitter).

    Care to add any others?

  29. Create a software program that charges per email like a postage stamp, and if its someone you know or don’t want to charge you can refund the money with a click of a button.

  30. that picture just makes me want to go out and DO it! congrats!

  31. Hey Matt, I’ve got one for you!

    I’ve been trying for about I don’t know 7 years to become a DMOZ editor. It will never happen and my business will never be listed there either for that matter, no matter how many times I try (any of my sites for that matter).

    So let’s see how long it would take YOU, Matt Cutts, using your real name and info to become an editor in DMOZ. I figure if you can’t do it yourself, being who you are, in oh, say a couple of months, then maybe Google ought to kick down the DMOZ completely.

    Maybe setting a more reasonable goal like just getting some random site listed that you think deserves to be there but isn’t.

    Yes, I know this is a completely random comment but I just happened to be discussing the topic and reading your blog at the same time today and it just kinda kicked my fingers into gear!

    Besides, you’ll NEVER get your email under control. It’s ridiculous that you would even consider trying!

  32. Okay one more comment because I hadn’t read them all yet…

    Bob, so are you saying the guy cannot have any free time? This is Matt’s personal blog. It’s not a work blog. I know you are upset about Panda. I am too. It’s literally killed the oldest, most authoritative, respected and quality website. Nothing’s perfect. There will always be negative affects when you are dealing with trying to perfectly rank 8 gagillion websites/pages. Cut him some slack!

  33. GTD, it’s the only way, implementing this methodology has had a significant impact on my sanity!

  34. Good luck getting email under control. Its certain when email was invented the flooding of email wasn’t thought of. We used to have a show on tv in the uk called “Jim a’ll Fix it” and I suspect lots of email you get is sent as “Matt a’ll Fix It”. Its an impossible task to keep up with email, go bungee jump off mount everest instead it would be easier…….

    Otherwise I remember an episode of the Simpsons where Marge twenty years on gets a reply from Ringo……….

  35. In fact :
    Jump out a plane..
    Climb a mountain…
    Swim a ocean..
    Surf a tsunami..
    Date the most gorgeous women in the world..

    Nah they don’t impress much !

    Control your email…… Nah thats impossible

  36. Matt,
    The problem is many of us in the service industry are handcuffed to our emails and need to check them regularly. Sometime we all need to switch off the electronics to give ourselves some personal time. Maybe you can quickly browse your emails and sort all the techno geek questions for your team to answer to save time.
    Great that you tried skydiving, I would suggest your next goal be scuba diving. (One extreme to the other!) Don’t stress on the panda haters, the business has just gone to other websites, you can’t please everyone.

  37. I hear your pain Matt. But a quick reminder of why you’re such a special case. You’re Google’s ambassador to the webmaster community. There’s a multi-trillion dollar industry of websites on one side and a black box algorithm on the other, and in between there are forums, conferences, sites, SEO “experts” (of various levels of integrity and expertise) … and you. I hope that your solution to this problem is in the direction of delegation and efficiency, and that it increases the personal connections between Google and the internet’s content creators.

  38. of course the other solution is hire a PA πŸ™‚ years ago I used to help run an event (the raft race that was part of the second largest event after notting hill carnival in the UK) and one of the other people who helped us was the PA to the local Fire chief and she was so stunningly efficient I remember joking with the Chair that if either of us ever manged to land a senior job we would both try to poach her to come and work as a PA.

  39. LOL!

    Dood luck with that, Matt. Mind you, I thought it was already compulsory for anyone working at Google to not reply to outside emails. πŸ˜‰

  40. I really want to go skydiving one day, even though I’m not so good at heights its just something I would love to do.

    On the email subject though I spend hours everyday filtering through junk, The day when I just get important emails and genuine business questions will be a good day.

  41. Hey Matt,

    You are an inspiration to many!! I wanted to thank you for posting all your goals and 30 day disciplines. It inspired me to quit smoking and start training for Triathlons.. I wasn’t a full time smoker, but would at conferences and with friends drinking. I haven’t smoked in over a year in a half and placed 5th overall in the Honolulu Sprint Triathlon and 1st in my age group…

    Keep the posts coming!!


  42. I just woudn’t dare jump off the airplane , what if the parachute won’t open? there is a very small chance but hey….why risk it? adrenaline i guess

  43. @Aaron Cooper

    Bob vents the frustrations many of us feel. Thankyou Bob. I think its perhaps time Matt clarifies if this is indeed a personal blog or paid for by google. This would come under disclosure and clear up any misconceptions.

  44. Let me tell you my story……

    I was doing great online untill I was out surfing one day and thought of a great idea and domain name. The domain was “beyond the break”. Ever since I got it my life has turned to shit.

  45. As things fell apart so did I, random things took over. I dressed as a women once, got a tattoo, drove probably drunk to KFC, got into a police chase, spent time in a secure mental instution………

  46. But hey I’m OK now πŸ™‚

  47. I’m so with you in regard to email. Even with filters, priorities and icons the war is far from over… well put!

  48. I wasn’t going to respond to Bob, because I didn’t originally see his comment in the RSS feed (by the way, Matt, that may be a blog bug) but the comment was so asinine that I had to. You gotta love the way someone with an obviously fake name (Bob Bible-ski, eh? Selling the Polish good book?) comes on anonymously and rants about how evil Google is and how they have a great site and Algorithm Update X wiped out all the rankings and they had to fire all the employees (which consist of the other 5 split personalities these guys have), yet we never see the sites…or on the rare occasions that we do, they’re some low-grade spammy piece of crap that never deserved to see the light of day in the first place. Seriously, guys, if you post this, it’s wrong and it’s getting old. Does Google screw stuff up? Yeah. But we as webmasters generally screw more up than they do…that’s just the reality of the situation.

    Now, as far as the email thing goes, I think there’s a simple way to solve it, and it’s an extension of what you were thinking, Matt.

    Priority 1: anyone who works for the company that signs your paycheques.
    Priority 2: anyone who works with the company that signs your paycheques (suppliers, etc.)
    Priority 3: multiple questions/emails of the same vein that can be answered with a video.
    Priority 4: everything else.

  49. @Multi-Worded Adam, you are one of the SEO trolls that ‘hangs out’ with other supposedly famous SEOs to say that you are cool. Every comment here is in a way or another a brown nosing, hoping to be liked or remember by Matt Cutts. Why? I have no clue but I feel bad for you and other trolls. It’s a waste of time, no one likes @ss kissers.

    Instead of bashing sites you have never seen you should focus on the one you spam with every comment. The fact that Panda hasn’t hit your spammy, keyword stuffed site, shows that Panda has to improve. Organic search is of an avenue of traffic for most, just as spamming forums is for you hoping someone makes a mistake and clicks on a Google ad. Isn’t asking people for a link, in exchange for a cheesy template not kosher?

    Bob made a very legitimate point, even Matt knows that Panda is not there yet and many innocent sites have been destroyed by Panda. But I doubt Panda is in Matt’s hand, the other search team along with the CFO are doing it. Matt would not have punished innocent sites for 4 months.

    Please publish this message, it’s a rebuttal of someone making fun of people that have a lost a lot with Panda.

  50. @Multi-Worded Adam

    Thanks for racist and abusive come back, I’m sorry that my surname offends you – and yes, it may anger or amuse you even more to discover that I am a Christian and have Polish heritage. I find it amusing that you jump to Matt’s aid, using your name as a link to your SEO business, carefully your tongue doesn’t get stuck.

    Apologies to Matt for the comment previously, but please could I suggest that if this is google sponsored or work blog then make it entirely so. If it is your personal blog, then please keep it entirely about personal matters so that we are all aware of what is worth reading and what is not.

    Everyone screws up yes, but when Google screws up is costs real people real pain. I’m expressing the views and frustrations of many. What annoys me the most is the Google is so powerful that it now dictates the business models of online companies, they have to conform or risk upsetting Google and being penalised. The only way to be innovative and unique, perhaps do something that does not conform, is to buy in traffic from other media building brand and direct to site, which is an impossible barrier to entry for most.

    Anyway, apologies again to Matt if my cheap jibe offended him, but I stand by my points made – especially that I my personal view Google needs a bit more consideration, and offer advanced transparency, in releasing updates like this to minimise the impact on honest businesses. Peace!

  51. I experienced skydiving a few years ago Matt! The feeling when your free falling for that initial 50 seconds or so is phenomenal, and the sights you see are just incredible. I can’t say i’ve ever ran a marathon though, but your definitely an inspiration! I hope the marathon goes well for you!

  52. I have never gone out for extreme sports but here is what I do to manage my inbox:

    -don’t check it every 10 minutes, its distracting you… stop it
    -either respond when you get the email, flag/star it for later, or ignore it forever and ever
    -write less but say more πŸ˜‰

  53. Hey Matt, go for the marathon. It’s a huge win.

    I got guaranteed entry to the Nike Women’s Marathon from last year here: inside.nike.com/blogs/nikerunning_events-en_US/?tags=nike_womens_marathon_2011, but you should check out the Catalina one. I heard it’s beautiful (and radical on the elevation change) pacificsportsllc.com/catalina-marathon-photos/race-photos/.

  54. Last month I got my emails under control, boasted about it, and then they piled up again.

    By the way, I think that it is not good to mix business and pleasure. To even mention the email inbox with skydiving robs the experience of skydiving of some of its pleasure πŸ˜‰

  55. Hi Matt,

    Congratulations and the best of luck reaching all of these goals – especially email! Smart Mailboxes have become my best friend, along with the delete button. But I agree, it’s important to spend time the best way possible – Have to start somewhere right? Good luck!


  56. Get a new email address and only give it to the people that need it. Or use separate personal and work email accounts so the two do not get confused.

  57. Matt, thanks for all your help without even knowing we existed. (1791 Diamonds). If you ever run far enough that you get to New Zealand, come and skydive in the best dropzone on the planet. (The snow kiting is pretty good too! Put that on the list for next year!).

  58. Hey Matt,

    Congratulations on your goal to run a marathon! That was a life goal for me that I completed in 2009. I managed to finish the Long Beach Marathon in 4:25, just 3 minutes shy of a perfect 10:00 minute mile average. Granted I’m not the fasted, I just want to finish and not take all day . . .

    I want to drop you a note of encouragement! As the mile get longer and the time in one’s own mind becomes longer with each forward stride, it is helpful to know that you CAN DO IT! A great portion of your success will be more mental than physical!

    To be honest, I could not have completed or my training without the help of Team in Training! You should check them out and see if there is a group near you. It becomes a double bonus; you complete a marathon and raise money for the battle against cancer!!! It is a true win, win!!!

    Anyway, I’m just an average guy and not “Joe athlete”, so if you want some input from an average guy, I would be happy to share some of the things that help me get to the finish line and finish strong!!! No matter what, make sure to have the proper nutrition and “fuel” during the run so you do not hit the wall. I used the products from Hammer Nutrition and they worked great!!! Hope this does not sound like a spammy reply because of the mentions! This is real deal and I would love to help you any way I can. You have my email feel free to drop me a line!

    Average Steve

  59. Wow! Skydiving? That seems pretty radical. I think I would have a heart attack while falling to the ground. I prefer to run a marathon.

    Email and cellphones represent the same problem: Now people have a way to contact you anytime anywhere, even if it is not important. Maybe you can get an asistant to reply all the not important mail…

  60. Skydiving rocks! I went for my first Tandem jump back in May. I have to say I was hooked.. We had a group of 6 and did our jump in Lake Wales, FL. Next time we’re going to go to Titusville, they tell us that you can see the Kennedy Space Center as you are coming down over the coast. I am sure there are probably some cool sites to jump in CA also. You are right that the fear of heights pretty much goes away once you’re falling.

    Anyway, good luck with the e-mail experiment. I have tried a number of things and I still can’t seem to de-tether myself from it. I chalked it up to the times we live in where we carry it around on our smartphone. I look forward to reading what you come up with.

  61. Good luck with the 3rd goal! hahaha. I know you’ll be able to do the first two and would love it if you did the 3rd one for all the rest of the world!

  62. You should have an assistant to help with your e-mail. Just not answering e-mails sounds kind of drastic. You just need some help to filter the most important things.

  63. I know you’re cutting back on reading email and comments, but I wanted to tell you that although I really love your mission and blog, I really wish there was a follow up post afterwards. I saw the TED talk and see how this influences your life, but it would be great to see how each affected you – pros, cons, etc.

  64. The solution to e-mail is simple.
    Just as you don’t give your phone number to everyone do the same with your e-mail address.
    And use filters to store away those messages you feel don’t merit your precious time, but you might want their contents to be part of a hypothetical search in the future.
    May I recommend GMail for that? It’s also great service, best anti-SPAM client there is and free. You probably must have heard about it?

  65. Bonnie Parrish-Kell

    Glad to see you opted to train for a marathon (that will help clear out all the mental clutter too!). Couldn’t pass up registering for this year’s Rock n Roll Las Vegas half because it’ll be run at night! Should be an awesome experience. Choose a fun race to help keep you motivated.

    Re: email management. “Delete all” works for me; agree with Kieran that most folks use email to opt out of 1:1 chats with people. CYA gets old…

  66. Having done a skydive myself which is great you have chosen these in the right order. After the marathon you will be wanting to sit down so sorting the email will flow naturally

  67. Lol! I like that “a small set of big goals”. Thats the same approach I take to many things. Sometimes it turns into a bunch of small goals before the big goal can ever be completed. Then it just turns into something completely different. Number 1 goal, stay on track.

  68. Hello Matt,

    I know you have been complaining about email for a long time (several years).

    I think you are taking the wrong approach to this problem.

    Ask yourself how did Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Larry Page, Steve Jobs solve their email overloading problems? I suggest you investigate how others solved this problem and use some of the best methods you find in your investigation.

    I receive a lot of emails, however I could easily handle 20+ times more emails. My methods are scalable.

    First use http://www.cloudmark.com to remove and manage SPAM emails. Then create several email addresses and have some of your top staff screen all emails for you and especially outside Google emails. Ignoring outside emails I think is a huge mistake, you will most likely miss out on something very important.

    Do not use Twitter, or Facebook. Just use improved email methods and telephone conversations and develop strategies to have knowledgeable screeners for your emails and learn to delegate better. I think Google has this problem in general, too many bottlenecks and too many important issues waiting on too few expert people to make decisions and fix Google problems and defects. I am not saying it is easy and I know Google tries very hard, however other people have found solutions to these problems. I think if you study multiple methods over time your frustrations regarding email will improve. You make many valid points, yet it seems like you have given up before you even started looking for a solution to your email problems.

  69. What helps me most with my emails are knowing my priorities and filtering. I automatically filter spam, newsletters and mailing lists, emails from family (never urgent but always important πŸ˜‰ ) and prospective clients. Everything else is sorted in potential spam and that’s for sure where it belongs.

    So my priorities are usually:

    mailing lists
    potential spam
    and if I am bored I might even take a look at those spam mails.

  70. Note to self: tidy up email! I agree with Rick, treat your email like your mobile number.

  71. The 30 days goal idea is so wonderful I’m going to do it although I completely note my resistance!

    My initial ideas are:
    – Diary my food intake
    – Spend 15 minutes a day getting rid of items I’ve not touched (or enjoyed, like the cats)
    – Learn to play the bass (I have one, but what I really want is a marimba.. need to find a spare $1500 or so for that)
    – No eating after 6 pm (followed by no carbs after lunch)
    – Rising no later than 6 am
    – Sending a sales letter and making a phone followup each day for both web design and SEM
    – Make at least one (healthy) meal at home each day (not easy!)
    – Thought diary twice a day
    – Write a short article about Google advanced search features
    – Write a short article about cognitive biases and marketing
    – Do NOT go on Facebook or LinkedIn!

    Matt… any serious thought to having a section for folks to post ideas for 30’s?… hearing others would be quite helpful.

  72. The strange thing about getting to a zero inbox is that it’s more about changing mental models, than tactics. Or to put it another way, with the mental model in place, the tactics naturally flow from there.

    Like anything, if you change your inner-game first, the rest is easier.

    If you Google for zen of zero mail, you should be able to find a set of principles, patterns, and practices that are timeless truths, and highly effective. The example is in Outlook, but you can easily apply the principles and patterns to any email system.

    The real trick is treating your email as a stream of potential actions, and actually using it as a message system, while keeping your action items in a separate list you can prioritize and shuffle with ease.

  73. For famous people like you, that’s normal πŸ™‚

    But sometimes googlers need some human support for special case studies…
    And somtimes it’s for the benefit of Google πŸ˜‰

  74. Matt – go finish AFF at the DZ and then let’s get a meetup/boogie going for Google related skydivers.

    Jeff / A57934 USPA

  75. I’d like to see two new buttons on the Gmail interface…..

    1) Ban this email address from my inbox

    2) Ban this entire domain from my inbox

    Both of those would also “report as spam”

  76. Egol – someone had to say it. I really miss that button when I receive spammy pharmacy emails πŸ™

  77. I’ve given up on email that comes in on my laptop under an older email address.

    I try to manage my Gmail account but this is becoming a challenge, especially with the way Gmail is presented and managed.

  78. Matt,

    I would like to say congratulations on getting the courage to jump out of a perfectly good airplane πŸ™‚ I’ve done it myself, at Skydive Minnesota in Milaca, MN, and it is by far the best thing I’ve ever spent my money on. I’ve tried to get some of my friends to go but they were under the notion that they would end up having a heart attack. It’s quite difficult for me to explain the feeling of peacefulness when free falling for about a minute from 2 miles up to someone who hasn’t experienced it and to try and get them to go.

    Also, good luck with the marathon! While I don’t like running for extended periods because it is somewhat hard on your joints, I prefer HIIT cardio and weightlifting, it is an accomplishment in and of itself.

    Have a great day,

  79. Amir Masoud Abdol

    I have a question which is not appropriate for this post. I don’t want to bother you, but please read it.
    Google disabled my Google account 6 months ago, and they don’t answer my email and … I don’t know what to do. I have lots of information (2 blogs, lots of documents, …) in my account and I believe that it was an accident, but they don’t listen to my explanation. Please help me to get my account back. I have used my Google account for almost 6 years!

  80. So many things…But One comment on “Email also encourages us to pay attention to things that are urgent at the expense of things that are important.”

    So so true! I love this comment! But what happens if it is urgent and needs to be completed? I love your comment and trying to clean my inbox and find something that woks!

    Anyways! Love reading about your thoughts! Brian

  81. Matt,
    this site yahgah.stupidus.net has indexed thousands and thousands of sites in Google. Like a proxy but I am nto sure. Even Paypal works. eBya and the likes. See my link

  82. Email – I have just learned to live with it out of control. However, I know how to find everything – search. If it weren’t for email search i would lose my mind – well worse than I already have anyway.

    As far a goal – mine is to visit more places. I distribute products from the dead sea and would love to actually visit there for a more relaxing time and not just business. I also want to run the Boston Marathon but am currently stuck about 12 miles max….my mind seems to have no problem running wild but my legs……different story!

  83. Hey Matt

    At least the sky diving and marathon are achievable. Not sure on the e-mail one you may want to try world peace instead!



  84. Hi Matt,

    Skydiving looks like fun, I wish I could say the same about my email inbox. I hate not being able to respond to all the emails I get but I have got used to deleting most emails if they don’t need a reply since all I would have the time to respond with would just be something silly and meaningless. I am thinking that a email reply service could make some money here, it would need to be outsources to India or something to make it cost effective. If they had a number of common pages of information to frequently asked questions that they could direct people to that might help. If it was signed as a email helper or something so that the helpful but quick email can be seen as something that was not sent my myself I don’t think I would mind that. I think it was 4 or 5 years ago that I heard that Leo Laporte hired his sister to handle replying to the masses of emails that he got.

    All of this might be wishful thinking but I hope someday I look forward to reviewing my inbox.

  85. That’s a nice set of goals:) Mine would be getting me out of the house more often like my wife wants instead of me spending ton of hours on developing and learning on what google brings.:)

  86. I don’t check my email in the first place, so the question of reply or not to reply doesn’t even arise. The worst thing people can do is get email on their cell-phone. Now they’re constantly checking email on their computers AND cell-phones!

  87. Hi Matt,
    Well done! Goal #2 achieved!Congrats for the run! I’m a marathon finisher as well (Paris in April 2011)…
    Good luck with the next challenge (#3)!

  88. I recently went skydiving and it was great!

    It also helped me in my fear of heights!!!!

  89. You needs a service facility, someone who answers your emails, so you can get your work done. A valuable exec gets an assistant for the task to free up his valuable time.

  90. Parasailing could be fun too. I’ve done it in Bali once. Which i look forward to do it again this year. And i really consider to put skydiving as my 2012 goal.

    As for email, I’m totally agree with you, even though i’m not as busy as you, but i know that replying to all incoming email one by one is really time consuming. I can do a lot of job done if i don’t have a lot of email to take care of. Or maybe we need an assistance just for replying email?

  91. Skydiving looks pretty intense! I may put that on next year’s to-do list! My main goal for the rest of this year is get my home business up and going. Better stop wasting time surfing the web I guess!

  92. It’s my goal to go skydiving as well. Matt, you actually just eased my mind, because you said when you that high, it doesn’t even feel like your at that high of an altitude if that makes sense. By the way, I am going to get it on video.

  93. Nowadays, eMails are a very serious time trap for me. I’m a big mind mapping guy and I organize myself for the most part with mind maps which works fine. However, I’d like to implement this strategy in a daily email routine as well but haven’t found the right approach to this. Any suggestions welcome πŸ™‚

  94. Each year I try to settle on a small set of big goals for the year. Last year my big goal was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro . This year, I settled on 2-3 goals.

  95. I must say i have been inspired with your 30 day challenges. Have tried to set up a few personal goals for myself, though haven’t been successful so far. I am trying my hands on one hour daily exercise routine for next 30 days, Hope it works πŸ˜‰ As far as deluge of emails is concerned, i have learned to live with them πŸ™

  96. I don’t know about skydiving. I like to live on the edge as much as the next computer nerd but I just got back from riding some intense roller coasters and I decided that I like it on the ground!

  97. Hi Matt

    You probably have already read this, but if not Tim Ferris in 4 Hour Work Week has a pretty drastic approach in eliminating e-mail.

    As for goals, I am going to go zorbing this year – nothing like being strapped in a giant inflatable ball and then pushed down a hill!

    Colchester, UK

  98. Your post has inspired me.

    So, I was thinking about doing something new, something I had never done before. it was supposed to be both fun and a challenge.

    What I settled on was trying out long distance swimming πŸ™‚

    Coming from doing 20 lapses at the most in my whole life I started out with setting the bar high and tried out if it would be possible by any means to ever make it to swimming 50 lapses. To up the difficulty I was bound and determined to do this every single day for 30 days.

    I kinda shocked myself by learning that, in fact, I could do those magic 50 lapses. Easily even. Inspired with this unexpected and sporty success I paid youtube.com a visit and looked up videos on freestyle techniques. Studied them and put the new knowledge to good use.

    Yesterday was the last day of my summer challenge and guess what? Not only did I up my laps count every single day…. I finally doubled them!!

    The now official personal record solidly sits at 110 lapses πŸ™‚

  99. I have tried for many years to get on top of my emails, however its a never ending task and now I have settled for a mass delete every 6 months or so πŸ™‚

    Sky diving sounds great fun, something I would definitely want to do in my life time.

    Keep up the good work!

  100. Emails have always been a struggle for me. As soon as I get one (typically on my phone) I feel like I have to answer them ASAP. I have gotten better at prioritizing them so I don’t have to be so quick to respond depending on who it is from and what it is about. Now on to sky diving… that is something that I can live without doing πŸ™‚ Good Luck!

  101. When you say that you’re so high up that fear of heights doesn’t come into play ‘that much’; does that mean that bungee jumping would actually be a bit more scary?

    Either way; both are on my bucket list. Along with riding a hot air balloon and helicopter. You should do those next!

    – James F.

  102. My inbox has just started to tip the balance towards out of control. I try to sort everything into folders but it has become more of a to do list and reminder tool with flags!

  103. Loved your post. I’m looking to go skydiving with my daughter as a college send-off gift. Can’t wait! Regarding #3, I recommend you take a GTD course (Getting Things Done) then GTDify your Gmail. Every since I became a GTD “disciple,” I’m able to zero my inbox, deal with my stuff, and get things done. Yea, I know, I’m singing the party line, but seriously, it really does work.

  104. What if:

    1. Emails that require our input/action were marked accordingly?
    2. Emails included a priority level from 1-10 for urgency and a priority level from 1-10 for importance.

    If this is possible, we could get more efficient in managing our email and thus our work, more effectively.

  105. Hi Matt
    How about ranking/prioritizing incoming mail?
    “Just” apply your Google SE wisdom.
    It can be a killer app.


  106. Wow, I really envy you for getting the chance to skydive. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to solo in a light aircraft. That’s also quite a rush!

  107. I hope you continue to answer your blog questions. If you find a good solution to emails, please let us know. Have a good vacation.

  108. Matt, please make sure you double and triple check all your harnass’ and chute folding before taking the jump. Skydiving and marathon running, then if theres time left you can work on the emails.

  109. Hi Matt,
    I was really excited to see your video about the 30 day challenge. I have taken on a few of my own and now I am encouraging my children as well. I was encouraged so much that I decided to write my term paper on it. However, a large issue that I am having is finding good material out there that is NOT on the web. I’m trying to focus on the process of the 30 days. So I’m writing about the commitment, the action, and the outcome. Can you recommend some resources? Maybe I should have tried College for 30 days first πŸ™‚

  110. I really loved the Goals idea!
    Maybe I’ll arrange myself a set of goals for a year too.

    Thanks for the idea!

  111. One more thing I forgot to add regarding emails. I find myself in the same problem. My biggest issue is that I tend to have a biased prioritization process. I tend to get back to people based on a pre-conceived notion, and I realize this is the wrong way to do it. Obviously there are more important emails than others, but sometimes a overlook or take too long to reply to certain senders. Anyone have tips for me send em over.


  112. I don’t get that much email that I can’t handle it or that it’s a problem but I certainly couldn’t take on the approach that Tim Ferris did. It just wouldn’t feel right that someone thinks that they’re emailing me and getting someone else, if I’m mailing someone I hope that it’s going to that person as it could contain sensitive or personal matter.