In today’s episode of the startup chat, Steli and Hiten talk about why you should archive all your emails now.

Email is one of the most common ways of communication in the startup world, and a lot of founders receive thousands of messages in their inbox. It goes without saying that managing your email is a crucial part of running a successful business and your life.

In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about why your inbox is not a prison, how responding to all emails can be counterproductive, Hiten’s relationship with email and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:37 Why this topic was chosen.

03:23 Why your inbox is not a prison.

04:48 Why you don’t have to respond to every email.

05:15 How responding to all emails can be counterproductive.

06:16 How there are better ways to manage your life than through email.

06:40 How email is still very commonly used.

07:12 Hiten’s relationship with email.

07:40 Tips to help you manage your email.

08:41 Why email shouldn’t stress you out.

3 Key Points:

  • Your inbox is not a prison.
  • This idea that you have to respond to every email is ridiculous.
  • There are better ways to manage your life than through email.

Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.

Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.

Steli Efti: And today on the startup chat, we’re going to talk about a piece of advice that I gave to somebody recently, which is, archive all your emails right now, you don’t have to respond to a single one of them. So I want to frame this and share the story, and then I’m really curious, Hiten, what your response and comment is going to be on this. Here’s the deal, here’s the story. Recently, I was talking to somebody and he was super stressed out. He was telling me, “Listen Steli, I just took a vacation, just came back, my inbox is a mess, there’s all these emails in my inbox, I have the super important priorities that I need to tackle, and then there’s all these other projects, it’s just too much right now. I feel my anxiety is on 20 from a scale of 1 to 10. I’m trying to manage this, it’s been a week since I’ve been back and I’m struggling. What should I do?” And there’s a lot of nuance in this conversation, a lot of things that I’ll put to the side, but one of the pieces of advice that I gave him was, I talked to him a little bit about his inbox. And I asked him, “How many times do you check your inbox right now?” And he was like, “To be honest, every couple of minutes.” I’m like, “Do you always respond to an email when you check your inbox?” He was like, “No, right now it’s just so bad. I look at my inbox and I feel terrible and I leave again. But then I have to check it again to see if there’s something new in there or if I find the focus and the flow and the energy to start tackling some of them.” I was like, “All right. How many emails did you get your vacation?” He’s like, “You know, it’s not,” and that was the interesting part, “It’s not that many. Maybe I have 50 emails or so.” I’m like, “Okay, cool. How many emails in your inbox do you have that are older than a month?” And he was like, “I don’t know, a couple of hundred.” I’m like, “All right, try this. Just go to everything that’s older than two weeks ago and just archive all of it. Just archive it.” And he was like, “What if there’s something important in there?” And I told him, “If it’s that important, you should know about it and remember it, or it will pop up again because somebody is going to follow up or somebody is going to respond to some kind of a threat. More likely than not, especially with emails that are older than a month, if you have not responded in a month, you’re not going to respond in three months. I’m sure there’s emails in your inbox that are six months old. What are they doing there other than stressing you? You’re not going to respond and it doesn’t matter anymore. Just archive all of it. Don’t worry, the world will not end.” And I told him this story that, I had experienced this many years ago when I came back once from vacation. And I was talking to Anthony, my co-founder, and I had a similar situation where I was like, “Ah, I have so many emails, this, that and the other.” He was like, “Dude, your inbox is not a prison, these are all optional. You don’t have to respond to any of them.” I was like, “Yeah, but no, no, no, no, no.” He’s like, “You just archive everything. If it’s important, it’ll pop up again. Don’t worry about it. You’re overthinking this. Just archive it, and then you’ll feel good, and with that clean mindset, you can tackle the stuff that’s really important. And the emails that you’re really into, you know about. There’s a handful of things you need to, people you need to address, you won’t forget. So just do it.” I was like, “Ah…” And then he was like, “Hand me over your phone.” And I gave it to him because I trust him. And he was like, “Here, I’m going to do it for you. Just archive everything.” And at first I was like, “Oh my God, this is going to be my death, I’m going to fail, my company is going to fail, we’re going to be bankrupt, terrible things are going to happen.” And then nothing happened. I remembered a bunch of people and things that I knew I needed to send emails to, and I did, and a bunch of things that were more important or urgent that popped up in my inbox again, and I managed them then, and there was a shit ton of email that was probably nice to have, maybe something that could have been even good that I didn’t address, but it gave me the space to tackle some really important projects and make important decisions and move on in life. And I’m not saying that my general advice to everybody on earth is always just delete or archive all your emails and never respond to anything. But this idea that you have to respond to every single email, especially also you have to respond to emails even if they are months and months and months old is ridiculous and false. There’s no rule. You’re not going to go to jail. And I think we are overly stressed, and when we’re in this constant state, especially, people come back from vacation and now they would have had the peace of mind and clarity and calmness to make big decisions and to attack some really creative work, but they can’t because they’re getting bogged down on bullshit that doesn’t matter at the end of the day. So I’m dying to hear what you have to say about this piece of advice of, maybe you should just archive all of your emails, you don’t have to respond to them, especially coming from somebody like you who’s prolific in email and responds to everything as far as I know. What’s your response? What are you two immediate cents listening to this story?

Hiten Shah: Well, first of all, I was expecting, not 200 emails, but a lot more. And so I’m like, “Oh, 200, that’s easy.” So that was the first reaction, because that’s not a lot of emails, and 50, that’s not a big deal, I can get through that pretty quickly. So first of all, that’s not a lot of email, in my opinion, after a vacation. I think the way I would put this, besides the things that you said is, the person must have been managing their life using email. And that’s not to say they were getting the wrong kind of emails or anything, it’s more to say that, if we get stressed out over how much email you have, you’re managing your life through email. There’s probably a better way to manage your life. And that means that you’re looking at that thing like it’s a task list, an inbox of shit you need to do that you don’t want to do. And so I think the higher level is, people probably have some work to do in general around their relationship with email. And the reason I say that is that’s how we communicate with the world today, and it’s probably the most ubiquitous, most common method people use to communicate today. And so I just look at that and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s a relationship problem with email. That’s not necessarily an inbox problem of too many emails.” I know a lot of people have that problem.

Steli Efti: Let me ask you, how would you describe your relationship with email? Because you get a lot more emails than most people, and you respond to a lot more emails with a lot more thoughtful comments than most people. How do you think about your inbox?

Hiten Shah: I don’t. I go to it when I want to go work on it, when I want to go through that list of tasks or whatever it is. And I get notifications rarely for it because I turn all those off. And so I go when I want to deal with it, and then I deal with it. And I try to answer things as quickly as I can and as best as I can and I move on with my life. So the way to not be in email is not be in email all the time. But that doesn’t mean you don’t answer your emails or you have to archive them all or anything like that. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t archive them, I’m good. I don’t know, for me, I don’t have any judgment over anybody on how they manage their time or how they manage their emails or whatever, because I think a lot of email is… When you learn how to deal with email, whatever your methodology is or your way of working is, you end up essentially realizing how to get control over parts of your life that you might’ve felt like you weren’t in control of. And so no judgment if you want to do and archive all, I think that’s great. If that makes you feel better after a vacation, that’s what you need to do, go for it. I think that there is an absolute truism around the idea that if you archive it all and something is important, you’re truly going to get bothered by it by somebody. And that’s acceptable. I think that’s okay, that’s something I believe in. But I don’t really archive my email very often. I’m also, I used to be way more into inbox zero, now I don’t care as much about having zero emails in my inbox because email just doesn’t stress me out. I think that’s the key. It’s your relationship with email, which is really about your relationship with how you do work.

Steli Efti: Most people check their email as if it’s like-

Hiten Shah: A chore?

Steli Efti: A chore that you, at all times, need to know what the status of it is. It’s like, “I’m not going to respond to it right now, but I will check it because maybe there’s something urgent or important.” I don’t know, it’s like a habit people build where sometimes people will… If you observe people that look at their, observe them at their workspace, sometimes people will check their email every couple of minutes without ever responding to anything. They just keep checking. “Have I gotten a new email? Yes. Okay. Have I gotten a new email? Have I’ve gotten a new email. Have I gotten a new email?” And it’s like, you could just check once in that hour.

Hiten Shah: Yep.

Steli Efti: And this is not that uncommon. It’s also a thing of, maybe a boredom thing where, when I don’t know what to do, I just check email, I don’t know what to do. Just like people check their Twitter timeline or their Instagram or something, that’s like, don’t know what to do right now, or don’t want to do the thing I’m doing right now, distraction. And one piece of social media that’s in the constant distraction bucket, but also email, just my inbox. I’m just constantly checking it. And then it becomes a habit that controls you and runs you. You don’t run it anymore. You don’t decide when you want to look and what you want to do, you’re just becoming this slave that constantly checks it and feels, every time… The other crazy thing. Let’s say you have one email that you ought to respond to and you don’t feel like responding to today. Let’s say that that’s the case. Now, you could feel bad about that once today, you could be like, “I should really respond to this today, I’m not going to do it, huh, this feels bad. Hopefully, and probably tomorrow, I will.” But instead of doing that, people choose to feel bad 37 times that day about it.

Hiten Shah: Yep. That’s totally true.

Steli Efti: For no reason whatsoever, it doesn’t benefit it, it actually makes it less likely that you’re going to have a response to this email, because you’re making it bigger and bigger and bigger in your head and emotionally, and it doesn’t help the other person that you worry that much about it, they still haven’t gotten an email from you. So you could have just worried once versus 37 times over the entire day. Those are the things, I think the inbox, I can’t think of anything else, other than social media, where people have a similar relationship to where it becomes this thing that runs their life, this thing that becomes a to-do, this thing where they feel pressure. Every single email, they feel like they have to respond, and where they have these really bad habits where they check in way too often and just make it a source of constant anxiety and stress for no reason whatsoever.

Hiten Shah: Yep. That’s what I see people do. That’s not necessary.

Steli Efti: And the people that don’t do it, at the center of it all, is a decision that, I don’t have to live this way and I’m going to take ownership and this is the way I’m going to deal with it. Either you have a process, or like you, you’re like, “I don’t feel bothered by this. This is something, whenever I want, I can do it, I can do it one way or another, it doesn’t really fucking matter.”

Hiten Shah: It’s like being bothered by all the spam messages you get. It’s the same. It’s like, dude, they’re just emails. What’s the big deal? You don’t really think of spam twice, so why think of your email box twice? Is anything that urgent? That’s the thing. I think email implies urgency to some extent, it’s just not that urgent. It shouldn’t matter, but we make it matter.

Steli Efti: But it’s in our mind. This is not gravity, this is not some physical law.

Hiten Shah: That’s right.

Steli Efti: We all, because we’ll pretend it is that way, it feels that way, but it really isn’t. You can choose what you’re going to do, you could answer all emails just once a day, you could choose not to answer most emails and just respond to the things that you really feel important. You could choose to respond to every single email with really thoughtful… You can choose what you want, there’s no rules. And this is not some homework that the world is putting on your table and you are this powerless being that has to finish it no matter how dumb it is, or no matter how little you want it, or no matter how little value it provides you. You can choose, you can make that choice and you’re not going to get to jail, and the world is going to be fine. You can choose whatever you want, the world is going to be fine, I promise to you. All right. I think that’s it for this episode. I’m curious to see what people will say about it, what they’ll share with us on this, and until next time, we’ll hear very soon.

Hiten Shah: See yah.