How I Email: Khe Hy, Blogger, RadReads

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.

Khe Hy is the creator of RadReads and a contributing editor for Quartz at Work. He left a successful career on Wall Street to help people get unstuck and live a more intentional life through his writing. In fact, CNN referred to him as “Oprah for Millennials.” 

What does your daily email routine look like?

I have a lot of rituals around email. I’m a batcher so I really try to respond to emails within set time periods, so I’m not “grazing” all day. To enforce that, I use a Gmail plugin called Batched Inbox. It manipulates my email through folder structures that get delivered to me three times a day: at 7am, 1pm and 5pm. I can usually get to Inbox Zero within those windows before the next batch comes in.

I use email as a method of quick communication, not for long, drawn-out tasks. So for instance, if someone asks me for hotel recommendations in Bali via email, I’ll move that out of my inbox and create it as a task. I don’t view that as email — it’s like a request someone has that will be delivered by email. That task then goes into Omnifocus, the main system I use for keeping to-do lists.

I also use TextExpander on Mac, which helps me create snippets of frequently used text. I use these pre-written responses when people ask to meet up for coffee or want to schedule a call. Also, I’ve written about 400 blog posts in the past 5 years that answer a lot of the questions people typically ask. So I have my 50 most popular posts as TextExpander shortcuts that I can use to quickly respond.

Lastly, I use Toggl, which is a time tracking app. I don’t worry so much about actually tracking my time but it’s more about the intentionality behind time-tracking. If I sit down to respond to emails, I’ll set the timer for 25 minutes. Through time tracking, I’ve realized I spend about 35 minutes a day on email.

Have you been more productive since you’ve started tracking your time?

I’m definitely more efficient on email and I’ve found that I get much more focused. When you sit down and focus on email for 20 minutes, you can write and respond to a lot of emails in that time. I’m a big believer in mono-tasking; you really can’t be productive when you try to get everything done at once.

I think people get stressed out about email because they use it the wrong way. Email shouldn’t be used as a to-do list. For instance, my wife got a gift certificate when we got married six years ago and the only way she can remember to use the gift certificate is by starring the email, so it’s been sitting at the top of her inbox for years. That would drive me nuts. You really should treat email like texting rather than a to-do list or calendar reminder.

How can people use Gmail to improve their networking?

My belief of what makes a good networker is whether you’re able to add value to other people’s lives. If I want to build meaningful relationships, I first need to ask how I can add value to this person’s life. To do that, you need a map of the person and the things they care about and are working on.

There are four classifiers that I use when I think about people. First, what do they do? Second, what industries do they touch? Third, what excites this person? Fourth, what are their super powers? By super powers, I mean people who are great networkers or public speakers or programmers. I just use tags across those four buckets that I access through an app called Full Contact.

That’s a pretty customized way to use Gmail. Got any other interesting ways to get more out of Gmail?

I use email through Zapier, which you can think of as the plumbing that connects all the different software and SaaS tools that we use. So you can tell it that if you star an email in Gmail, then it should save the contents of the email to an Evernote file, for example.

I have dedicated email addresses for all of the apps I use. So I can send an email to my Omnifocus address and it will turn that subject line into a task. That way, I can input tasks into my to do list without ever leaving my email.

What improvements or features would you like to see in Gmail?

The first would be a very simple filter that separates emails into four buckets: ones that are sent directly to you in a one-on-one communication, one where multiple people are in the to line, one where you’re CCed, and one where you’re BCCed.

I’d also like a smarter out-of-office system. If there’s a certain word in the subject line or the email comes from a specific address, it could send a different response for the scenario.

Also, the Gmail address book is really bad. I shouldn’t have to use full labels to put in contacts when that’s a feature that’s actually part of Gmail contact groups.