written by
Srinivas Rao

The Simple Email Hack Successful People Use to Avoid Distraction

5 min read
email hack

A few days ago I found myself drowning in email. No matter how many services, tools, and apps I used to deal with this problem, email was getting a far greater share of my attention than it should. Then I implemented this email hack.

Services like ThrottleHQ were a big help because all the emails you get go into a daily digest. Fortunately, it's what I've been using every time I want to try a new product or service. But it still didn't address the issue of everything in my inbox.

I'm a no-bullshit kind of person with no filters or capability of sugar-coating anything. I've had clients who thought I hated them because I gave them tough feedback on their work. And my autoresponder makes me sound kind of like an asshole.

But I write, speak and produce a podcast for a living. I don't attend meetings and respond to email for a living.

Replying to email is the least valuable thing most of us do all day. The second least valuable thing we do all day is attending pointless meetings.

Mark Cuban famously said "I don't attend meetings unless somebody's writing a check. I was tempted to put that in my autoresponder, but I resisted it.

Naval Ravikant says you have to ruthlessly decline meetings if you want to become wealthy. So I considered putting "I don't attend meetings unless they are a matter of life, death or revenue into my autoresponder. " But that sounded a bit too rough as well.

Employees at companies spend roughly 3-4 hours a day replying to email. The Atlantic did a research study on the cost of lost productivity due to email. They could have purchased a lear jet. If reducing the time I spend on email could get me a lear jet, why not give it a try?

There's one thing I've noticed about the email habits of some of the most successful people I know. They have a separate email address for the most important people in their personal and professional lives.

Cal Newport makes himself intentionally hard to reach so he can do deep work. There are no contact forms on his web site. And if you want to pitch him on anything, there's a page of email addresses you can use.

My friend Gareth Pronovost is an Airtable genius. Most of us send the same emails over and over. So he's automated almost everything in his business. He can reply to emails in a matter of seconds by changing the status of a record in Airtable and using a zap.

He built a similar system for me. When somebody pitches a guest for our podcast, I can change the status to interested send invite. This sends them an email with a link to my calendar to schedule the interview.

Setup a Private Email Address

If you use Google apps, add a new user. If you use Gmail, then create a new account. This next step is critical. Do not share this email address anywhere someone can find it. Never list it on a business card, enter it into a form or put it on your web site.

Make an Email VIP List

If you are brutally honest with yourself, you'll find that there are very few people you need to respond to immediately. For me, it was my teammates, my accountant, my literary and speaking agents, our ad sales team, and my investors. So I sent them a note asking them to use this new email address to get in touch with me going forward.

For anybody else in my life, they'd get an autoresponder that said the following

Nobody ever changed the world sending and replying to emails. In an effort to spend less time replying to emails, limit my inputs, and more time focused on deep work, shipping important projects, interviews for The Unmistakable Creative Podcast, and the growth of our business I'm drastically reducing the time I spend on email.

If you need to get in touch with me for any of the below, please use this form and select one of the following options in the dropdown.

Podcast Guest

Advertising on the podcast

Question For Srini: If it's something I can address I'll send you a loom video.

Speaking Engagements

Unfortunately, I'm unable to reply to every email I receive. Or I would in the words of Neil Gaiman, "become a person who replies to email for a living."

Be Selective With Replies

Contrary to popular belief you do not have to reply to every email you receive.

If an ex-girlfriend of somebody you went to school with asks you to drive an hour to pick your brain over coffee (true story), send her an invoice. Or don't respond at all.

As far as dealing with meeting requests, I loved what Naval Said in the How to get rich Podcast.

If someone wants to do a meeting, see if you can do it with a phone call instead. If they want to do a phone call, see if they can do it with an email instead. If they want to do with email, see if they can do with a text message instead. If they’re text messaging, you should probably be ignoring most text messages unless they’re urgent, true emergencies. One has to be utterly ruthless about dodging meetings.

I canceled my subscription to a founders' product. I'd tweeted his company's account months ago asking how to cancel. He asked if I'd meet with him to provide feedback and offered a discount. I said I'd said him a loom video with feedback and didn't need a discount.

Somebody who I respect and value asked me to meet to chat about a new tool we are using. I said I'm avoiding all meetings that are not a matter of life, death, or revenue. But I'll happily answer all your questions in a loom video. It's nothing personal.

Hire an Assistant

If you've ever scheduled a meeting with a busy or successful person, you're not usually dealing with them. They have an assistant who does most of this for them. If you want to get better at managing your time, but a really high dollar value on it.

If your time is worth 5000 dollars an hour, are you really going to spend it on email?

Nobody ever changed the world by checking their email. So why on earth would you let it take up so much of your time and attention?

Productivity Hacks for People with Short Attention Spans

I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.)*