Email Management

Several colleagues have asked me to put up a short blurb on how I manage email.  Much of this stuff is adapted from GTD and some I made up myself.

Key ingredients:


1. Create a set of labels to represent priority
Personally, I use six:

  • – 0 EMERGENCY –
  • – 1 Do Now –
  • – 2 Today –
  • – 3 Soon –
  • – 4 Weekend –
  • – 5 Someday –

‘Emergency’ is rarely used.  It means that the sh*t has hit the fan and I’m prioritizing everything below my response to this particular thread.  Meetings are cancelled, other email is ignored, etc.  ‘Do Now’ represents email that I will respond to between meetings and other commitments.  ‘Today’ contains email that must be responded to before I go to bed that night.  ‘Soon’ and ‘Weekend’ are self-explanatory.


  • Be sure to include the dashes and numbers in the label names.  The dashes ensure that the labels appear at the top of Gmail’s alphabetized label list, and the numbers are useful for sorting email using keyboard shortcuts. (see below)
  • Set a separate color for each of your labels to assist with visual cues.

2. Create a set of Status Labels

I use two:

  • – Waiting for Response –
  • – Scheduled –

These labels provide additional information, beyond priority, about the current state of the thread.  Waiting for Response should be self explanatory.  The Scheduled label is used to indicate that a meeting has been scheduled, or that I’ve booked time on the calendar to complete a task related to or mentioned in the thread.

3. Set up Multiple Inboxes

Go into Gmail settings and enable Multiple Inboxes within the Labs tab.  Refresh, and a new tab titled “Multiple inboxes” should be available.  Fill out the form, adding in the labels such as label:–0-EMERGENCY– and setting the positioning to “Right side of the inbox.”  (Note that dashes replace spaces in the label field.)

4. Use keyboard shortcuts to make processing email vastly more efficient

If you haven’t already done so, enable Gmail keyboard shortcuts.  This allows you to do things like:

  • Label a message quickly.  Three keystrokes will allow you to assign a priority.  For example, to assign a ‘Do Now’ status to an email, simply type: l, 1, enter. (Label, 1 Do Now)
  • Move between priorities: g, l, 1, enter.  (Go, Label, 1 Do Now)

My days in both Engineering and Finance trained me to NEVER touch a mouse.  So, processing my email using keystrokes only is important.  A typical series of keystrokes could be: j,enter, l, 1, enter, y, j, enter, l, 1, enter.  Starting in the inbox, this translates to: move down one message, open message, label Do Now, Archive (remove from inbox, still shows up in the prioritized inbox to the right), <automatically moved back to inbox>, etc.

There are still some things that aren’t perfect yet.  For example, I wish that I could set a filter to remove the Waiting for Response label when someone responds, or move a Scheduled email back to my inbox once the calendar event is complete, etc.  (Anyone know how to do this?  And, no, I don’t want to pay for Boomerang.)

… and that’s what matters.

Interesting exchange on my Facebook wall over the past few days.

me: (commenting on President Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage)
“It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.” – A. Lincoln
Bravo, Mr. President.

a friend:
Yeah. But please admit that before he was only for “civil unions”

Yes, that’s true. And maybe that’s why the Lincoln quote is so appropriate. Take a look at history: Lincoln’s final position on slavery was not the same as the position with which he started. Politics are complicated; moral leadership even more so. But most people don’t care how Lincoln, a Republican btw, evolved to his final position. He ended in the right place – and that’s what matters. Hope you’re well.

PS – Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers of the world, especially mine!  You rock, Mom – love you!

Amazon and Advertising

Two posts in two weeks – nice!

Having received multiple recruiting calls over the past year or so, I’ve been watching Amazon’s foray into the advertising business with interest.

Let’s start with a nod to the fact that, in many ways, Amazon’s situation is very similar to the Facebook network opportunity I wrote about two and a half years ago.  In the following quote, I’ve replaced ‘Facebook’ with ‘Amazon’ – and I think the resulting passage sums up the situation nicely:

With regards to [monetizing all that beautiful data], one potential method would be to buy oceans of crap inventory at, say, a $0.50 CPM, add data, and resell it at a $5.00 CPM or higher, keeping the spread, or value creation, or whatever you want to call it.

With that goal in mind, the strategy and tactics become very interesting. Look at this situation through the lens of the emerging trends in DSPs. Where does [Amazon], as data provider, fit? Do they monetize by injecting their data into other DSPs directly? Do they aggregate other inventory, add their data, and sell the finished product to DSPs? Or perhaps, they form a DSP of their own with the [Amazon] data at the core?

Amazon has chosen the last option, essentially forming their own ad network using licensed or home-brewed advertising technology whose sole purpose is to monetize all of the fantastic data that Amazon captures from its customers every day.  Bottom line: Amazon is doing what I thought Facebook should have done years ago.

And I love this strategy.

Back in business school, one of my favorite instructors taught us how sustainable advantage could be created by engaging in activities that were mutually beneficial (‘tightly interdependent’) to each other.  And I think Amazon has done just that:

  • Amazon’s retail business yields not only profits, but tons of data (purchase histories, purchase intent, customer identity, etc)
  • Amazon’s cloud business gives them the ability to analyze and crunch that data at scale.
  • Amazon’s loyalty programs (especially it’s diabolically addictive free shipping program, Prime) virtually guarantee that they see (at the very least) a search intent signal for almost everything I buy, if not the purchase outright.
  • Amazon’s advertising business allows them to monetize this data via online marketing, while presumably driving additional sales to their retail operation.
  • Amazon’s supplier relationships (major OEMs and smaller Amazon merchants) provides  existing pathways through which to drive advertising revenue.
  • … and I’m sure a bunch of other aspects that haven’t occurred to me yet.

In essence, all of this stuff seems to hang together very well, and to a far greater degree than a cursory inspection of the above assets would have yielded (at least for me).

And this brings me to my final point.  Monetization of first party data assets – whether that data is owned by Amazon, Facebook, Google, or any other company for that matter – is going to be an incredibly important question over the next few years.  When all is said and done, I think it will be abundantly clear that companies cannot achieve competitive advantage using commodity data available to everyone.  Such activity is, at best, temporary market arbitrage.  Instead, companies who can harness their own proprietary data in a profitable and privacy-safe manner will prevail.  More on this later!