The email habits of highly successful people

Sandra Busch
A woman walks cooly down from a staircase descending from a kind of email temple

While email is an absolute workday essential, it can also be overwhelming – and a tool for procrastination. I could definitely be a lot better at managing my emails. I always let it affect my workflow and interrupt me in whatever I’m doing because God forbid someone might have to wait ten minutes to get a reply… Enough is enough. So, I’ve done my research and found out some of the email habits of highly successful people.

1) They only do ‘must-send’ emails

Don’t let your inbox run wild by managing tasks, project communication and scheduling all out of your inbox. There are so many free applications that let you assign tasks to team members, manage ongoing projects, or share available time slots with your colleagues.

Take a look at LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who works from a straightforward belief: send less email to receive less email.

According to Weiner, the majority of your inbox clutter comes from the unnecessary back-and-forth: the responses from people that were added to threads, the responses from the people that those people subsequently copied, and so on…

As an experiment, try holding back on sending an email unless absolutely necessary. If it works for you the same way it worked for Weiner, you’ll be looking at a 20-30% reduction in your inbox traffic. Now that’s tangible results right there.

2) They kill off email notifications

Is easy to give in to the sound of the notifications. “Just this last one,” we lie to ourselves as we click to open another unread email. As the average worker receives 121 emails every day, opening and replying as soon as they come in is a huge time waster.

Instead, take the advice of Barack Obama who has made a habit of scheduling distinct ‘email processing time’ in which he deals with every single email in his inbox.

There will always be people who claim their emails are life-and-death immediate. But drawing that line and deciding when not to reply means you’ll be more productive whenever you sit down and go through the incoming messages that have been allowed to pile up a little.

Consider setting up an automatic message like “I’m trying to be more productive so I will only be checking emails between 8 and 9am, and again between 1 and 2pm CET so there will be a delay in response. If urgent, please call or text.

There are several practical tips on how to get more productive in this recent blog post of ours: How to be more productive during work hours.

3) They get strategic

Take a long, hard look at your inbox. You’ll probably find that the lion’s share of the incoming traffic is from the same handful of people. Instead of spending the majority of your email time writing yet another quick message to Joan, Jim, and John, why not schedule weekly check-in meetings with them to discuss those ongoing issues or subjects.

This is what Ivanka Trump always does as a way of managing her inbox, instead of letting it manage her.

This is a desirable habit for people whose time is gobbled up by writing the same few people long emails; emails that would be much better discussed in a face-to-face conversation rather than electronically.

4) They get a head start – early

If you’re not big on sleep, you might get more productive by copying Kara Goldin, the founder and CEO of Hint Water. She wakes up every morning at 5:30 am on the dot and heads straight to her inbox. Doing this, she says, gives her a clear understanding of what her day at the office is going to look like and allows her to prioritize from the break of dawn.

Kara isn’t the only email early bird. Apparently, Tim Cook has also gotten into the habit of waking up early to get a headstart on his inbox. Every day, he wakes up at 3:45 to do emails for an hour, then gym, then Starbucks (and more emails) before heading off to work.

5) They take immediate action and keep their inbox tidy

Emails differ in nature, so our email habits have to adapt. Some messages are lightweight and can be simple acknowledgments of something. Others are weighed down with huge attachments where people expect you to read through a 10-page report and make comprehensive notes or suggestions.

Bill Gates receives both kinds and decides how to deal with them instantly. “You process some and get back to others at night. You make sure if you put something off you get back to it later.”

The key takeaway here is to make a quick decision: either delete it, reply to it and archive, or ad it to your ‘to-do list’ for later. That way, you keep your inbox clean and tidy.


It’s time to expect more from your Gmail. Consider using to start developing some of the email habits we’ve been talking about. puts verified, personalized data from millions of companies at your fingertips. Get it free from the Chrome store.

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