Zappos CEO Has His Own Way to Manage Email — WSJ

By Rachel Emma Silverman 
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Tony Hsieh wants to hack your email. Not literally, of course. The chief executive of online retailer, Inc. has figured out a clever way to help busy employees avoid what he calls the “never-ending treadmill” of daily messages.

Several years ago, Mr. Hsieh devised an email management technique he calls”Yesterbox.” The idea is to go through yesterday’s messages today. That way, Mr. Hsieh says, “you know exactly how many emails you have to get through,” rather than constantly battling incoming missives throughout the day. At the end of the day, you can reach a point when you have no more email left to process from the day before, he says.

Mr. Hsieh says he often completes his emailing by noon. He rarely responds to a nonurgent email the day he receives it, and says the methodology has speeded up his email response time because he procrastinates less often on tough-to-write responses, which used to take up to several months.

Mr. Hsieh forces himself to process — by filing, replying, deleting or adding to the calendar — at least 10 of yesterday’s messages before he checks more recent incoming email.

One of the toughest parts of the technique, Mr. Hsieh says, was training himself not to answer emails that come in that day, even if the response is a simple one-word reply. He first determines if the response can wait 48 hours without causing harm. If the response time doesn’t matter, as is the case with most email, he says he forces himself to wait until the next day to answer it. (He does, however, allow today’s email to be deleted, forwarded or filed — but no responses unless urgent.)

It “takes a lot of discipline,” says Mr. Hsieh. “Unless it can’t wait 48 hours, they are not your problem today.”

Some messages, however, take more time than others when it comes to crafting a response. Mr. Hsieh tucks those messages into a separate folder and schedules time on his calendar, like a meeting, to respond to them.

Going through yesterday’s email usually takes Mr. Hsieh about three hours. When he goes on vacation, he schedules adequate email catch-up time when he returns, starting with yesterday’s email first.

Given his strict system, Mr. Hsieh turns to another technology to ensure that he doesn’t miss pressing messages. “Anything urgent I prefer to just use text messaging,” he says.

Write to Rachel Emma Silverman at rachel.silverman[a]

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