Actor and producer Ashton Kutcher is known in Hollywood for his wacky roles in films. What you may not know about him is his view on email and the strategies he utilizes toward managing it.
Besides gracing the silver screen as an actor and producer, Ashton Kutcher prides himself as a venture capitalist, philanthropist, and father. Like so many of us, he is split in many directions when it comes to his work and has to manage his time (and his priorities) the best that he can. So when it comes to email, it’s no surprise he feels the same way as so many of us do: email is a time suck and stalls productivity. In a recent interview on The Thrive Global podcast, he admitted wholeheartedly his views on the medium: “I consider email to be everyone else’s to-do list for you.”
This admission, so simple in its concept, is just so terribly true that all you can do is shake your head in agreement. It makes so much sense. The moment you login and open that first email, your agenda changes. What was once a simple act of read, reply and close conversation, has now become a full time job that takes hours rather than a few minutes. And more often than not, when you finally close out your email, you inevitably suffer the defeat that your day has been lost and your productivity has been shattered yet again. It’s a never-ending cycle that is incredibly difficult to combat and overcome.
As AccelaWork’s own Robby Slaughter acknowledges, the email epidemic is self-inflicting in a way:
Here’s the terrible secret to the email productivity crisis. Reducing the amount off email—or getting of email entirely—will only make the problem worse.
That’s because we all have a need to communicate, we are just using the available channels inefficiently. It’s easy to write an email (just type, from anywhere) and easy to read it (just scroll, from anywhere), so we don’t take any effort to respect the medium.
We don’t try to use email intelligently or write emails in a way that’s respectful to our audience. Instead, we just dump our thoughts onto the screen and scramble to deal with the next message.
Of course, so long as the motivation to get email management under control is present, you can take back control of your day. Ashton Kutcher shared his newfound email strategy with Arrianna Huffington on the podcast:
When I wake up…I spend the first hour of my work not looking at email, and actually just writing out what it is that I want to accomplish in a given day. And then before I go through my emails, I’ll do all my outgoing, outbound stuff, which is what I want everyone else to do for me. And then I’ll go and get reactive to whatever’s going on.
But he doesn’t stop there. When it comes to his venture capital firm, Sound Ventures, he has defined strict guidelines not only for his clients, but for his employees as well.
When they bring a new company into their portfolio, they send a mailer to every founder that says, “Here are the team members. If you want X, go to this person. If you want Y, go to that person. If you want Z, go to this person.” “If you go to me, the likelihood of my responding within 24 to 48 hours is very, very low, so go to these individuals who are responsible for these things. And it actually creates efficiency inside of our organization.”
If you’re hoping to regain control over your inbox, but have no idea where to start. Consider the following tips we’ve shared on The Methodology Blog over the years:
- STOP Replying to email the instant you receive it, turning it into instant messaging. (If it’s really that critical, they shouldn’t have sent an email. Let them wait.)
- STOP cc-ing your boss to prove you are working. (That’s not an email problem, that’s a you-have-a-terrible-job problem.)
- STOP Replying to an old message with a new topic but leaving the subject unchanged. (Instead, start a new email.)
- STOP Using email to conduct policy discussions. (Have a meeting. Most communication is non-verbal, and the most of the rest is verbal. Very little can be captured in written words alone.)
- STOP Using Reply-All (Chances are that not everybody needs your follow-up.)
Whether or not you’re a fan of Kutcher’s movies, it’s hard not to be a fan of his philosophy on email. Perhaps he’ll consider including some of this advice in an upcoming blockbuster!