How I Email: Katie Notopoulos, Senior Editor, BuzzFeed News

Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.

Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News where she writes about tech and internet culture. She adopted “boss email style”  for responding to and processing emails. We asked her more about that and how she Gmails in general. 

Recently, you wrote about how keeping your email responses short – like a CEO would – helped you process email more quickly. You also note that it had a “spillover” affect on your productivity overall – in what other ways did it make you more productive?

I was aware that “oh, I have to reply to that email later..” was something always jangling in the back of my mind. I didn’t realize how noisy that jangle was until I actually tackled my email quickly so that I never got that wave of dread when I remembered I owed someone an email. It allowed me to focus on my other work tasks – writing, researching, etc.. – without feeling as distracted by needing to check my email. I also felt a sort of runner’s high of productivity. The best way I can describe it is that momentum you feel about doing something healthy; like if you have a salad for lunch, you might feel more momentum to hit the gym after work, beacuse hey, you’re on a roll now!

What I didn’t expect is that it helped me relax more at night after work. Before, I found myself catching up on replying to emails from the workday at night, because I had put them off during the day if they weren’t essential or urgent. When I had completed all my emails from the workday during the workday, I realized that it was pretty rare to get a truly urgent email at night, and I could unwind without stressing about finishing up old emails.

You wrote, “Email is a given, it’s old, it’s a thing you need, not a thing you choose.” Given that, do you think email needs to be reimagined? If so, what might that look like?

In my office, we use Slack to communicate with each other, which has been really great for cutting down on the number of emails. Most of my communication with bosses and coworkers is done in a chat room or a direct chat message, which is faster and easier than email. Obviously, that doesn’t work for the emails I do with people outside of my company, but using chat apps instead of email has removed a giant chunk of my email.

I often reach out to sources through social media like Twitter DMs or Facebook messages; I find that people are often more comfortable chatting that way. Clearly that’s not going to work in certain industries or jobs, but it works for journalists.

What was the response to the piece? Any interesting follow up or reactions?

I’ve been truly delighted with the reaction my article had. I’ve received hundreds of emails from people (I invited people to email me in the article, which is probably why I got so many), almost all saying that they are going to try it out themselves (and I always reply!).

A few people in my office and friends have told me they’ve tried the “CEO email style” and it’s really helped them – especially women, who often feel like they have to do a more flowery and long email to be polite. Feeling empowered to send polite but brief emails is such a relief for someone who tortures themselves over what to say.

Some people have told me that it would be impossible to email like that in their line of work, which I totally understand, especially people who deal with customers. But I think the core idea: “people would prefer a rapid response, even if its a little shorter” works in a lot of industries, even client-facing.

What are some of your go-to Gmail tools?

I use Gmail for web, and the tabbed inbox. I use a lot of filters and labels to help sort things. This is particularly helpful for labeling emails that get sent to a group email address at work – that way I can immediately see at a glance if the boss is emailing me directly (urgent!) or emailing the whole team (less urgent).

I also use Streak, which is a tracker that tells you when someone has opened your email. I’d recommend it with caution – there’s some security/privacy stuff about it that makes me nervous (it basically asks for access to read and write emails). But in my line of work, it has proven extremely helpful to know if someone has received and opened my emails.

For example, if I’m emailing a company to ask for comment on a story I’m about to publish, and I see they opened my email 2 hours ago but haven’t replied, I know they’re dodging me. Or if I’m trying to get in touch with a source and I’m not sure I have an active email for them, I can tell if I see them open the email.

There’s some questionable stuff about using these trackers, so decide for yourself.