Guy Kawasaki’s Email Management Secret

Recently I listened to a Mixergy podcast in which Guy Kawasaki was interviewed by Andrew Warner. Over the past 25 years, I can think of at least three ways in which Guy has influenced me.

My initial exposure to Guy was in the mid-1980’s when he began working for Apple Computers. As a team-mate of Steve Jobs, Guy conducted a number of inspiring performances in which he spread Apple’s evangelical message. Back in those days, Apple was fighting for survival from the domination of IBM and later the vast number of Windows-based computers. Guy’s book “The Macintosh Way” gave rare insights into Apple’s technology marketing and management style.

Secondly, I recall Guy sharing his profound 10/20/30 PowerPoint Rule. Guy suggested that all PowerPoint presentations should not exceed 10 slides; should not exceed 20 minutes; and should not contain a font smaller than 30 points. This 10/20/30 rule helped many adopters focus presentations to the bare minimum so that a clear, and unencumbered, message could be delivered.

Today, I share with you Guy’s third influential suggestion. During this Mixergy podcast, Guy not only suggests how to help reduce email message length but, more importantly, he shares a rather unique way to reduce the volume of email messages that appear in his in-box.

In this podcast, Andrew discusses that people who use technology are getting caught up as their work day becomes longer. With increased connectivity, comes increased hours in one’s working day. More and more work-related email and text messages seem to follow one home after the traditional work day has long passed. Andrew was asking Guy how he manages the plethora of email messages that he receives. Guy responds that today is abnormally busy because it is the launch of his tenth book entitled “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions”. Guy follows up by indicating that he currently has a total of 636 email messages, 98 which  have not as yet been read. He continues with some rather interesting ways of reducing individual message length and a technique for reducing the flood of email input when he states:

It’s not typical that I have 98 unread. It’s typical that I have 20 unread and 500 to deal with. But I believe in the five sentence rule. That is every email should be five sentences long. In fact, I think one thing that would make America much more productive is if we invented a convention that all email is a tweet. So everything is 140 characters. Now that might be too rapid a transition. So I have a theory that what if every email were subject line only? The world would be a better place. Shortness is one thing. We’re going to talk about email for a long time. I really try to answer every one. Obviously, I don’t get to them all. I have an assistant who goes through my inbox looking for stuff that’s really important that I should not miss. So I have a back up. I also have a plan . . . you may find this bizarre. I’m 56 years old and when you get to be 56 years old some of your peers start dying, like literally. They croak. They go to sleep and never wake up. I have adopted a practice where if a friend of mine dies, I take my inbox and I throw everything away except for the last week’s email. That is my way of honoring them and saying to the world that at the end of my life, which I don’t know when will come, was it more important to spend time with my family or answer your email? And the answer is spend time with my family. In honor of this person’s life that ended prematurely, I’m throwing away all this email.

One may find that Guy’s strategy for discarding older email messages seems rather drastic and somewhat abrupt. Readers might suggest that such a radical discard process might work for a multi-millionaire, who probably employs an assistant to rank his incoming email in terms of importance and action.  However, such a strategy would cause serious fallout for a teacher who might consider discarding week-old email from parents or a young entrepreneur or business person who might attempt to cull email using such a drastic method.

However, perhaps Guy is suggesting that if no action has been taken on certain email during the week following its arrival, perhaps its level of importance is no longer as great as originally perceived. Although his email solution appears somewhat abrupt, perhaps Guy is suggesting that balance in our lives is more important that becoming a slave to technology. I do like the fact that he states that in honour of his passing friend, Guy will spend more time with his family. Guy undoubtedly is familiar with the saying “No man on his death bed ever looked up into the eyes of his family and friends and said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’.”

Take care & keep smiling 🙂

– Flickr Creative Commons image: “Blackberry email on the BB 8330” by Ian Lamont

This entry was posted in Food for Thought and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Guy Kawasaki’s Email Management Secret

  1. Daniel says:

    I’ve been writing 5 sentence emails for about a year now, and it really saves a lot of time. I think what he’s getting at with the idea of throwing away old email is that if something’s been in your inbox for a week and you haven’t taken action yet, it’s probably not really important anyway. You might as well get it out of your inbox.

  2. admin says:

    Five sentence email does indeed save time. I agree with your assessment of Guy Kawasaki’s strategy to clear out old email on “special” days. Thanks Daniel for sharing your experience with saving time using Guy’s 5 sentence email technique. Now, if only I could find a similar method to help me write my blog posts in a more succinct fashion ;-). Thankfully, I am forced to abide by the 140 character rule when I share ideas and resources through Twitter.

    Thanks for caring & sharing 🙂 Brian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *