Tony Hsieh has a weird method for organizing his inbox.
As the CEO of Zappos, and arguably the most successful Las Vegas entrepreneur in recent history, I was surprised when I heard how he handles his email inbox. It's a system called "Yesterbox."
And if you’ve never heard of it before (neither had I), it’s genius. Tony explains how he’s been able to clear his inbox so much faster, but with much less stress:
There is actually a sense of completion when you're done, which is amazing. I would say that on half the days, I'm actually completely done with all my email obligations by NOON, which has been an incredibly freeing feeling.
TL;DR - How does Yesterbox work?
In short, emails are still coming in today, but he only handles email from yesterday. So at the start of every morning, he has a fixed amount of emails to answer, versus an endless flood of new emails coming in.
Once he finishes emails from yesterday, he’s done.
No new emails. No new headaches. No surprises. Just a static list of emails to answer at the start of every day, hitting Inbox Zero by noon.
Here’s how his genius system works in more detail, step-by-step:
Step 1: Set a daily time on your calendar to handle yesterday’s emails.
First, he sets time on his calendar for three hours every morning to check his email:
For me, getting through the previous day's email takes about 3 hours, so I simply schedule a 3-hour meeting at the beginning of each day for Yesterbox.
This keeps him on a rigid schedule. If he has a morning meeting, he’ll move the calendar event to check email to a later time:
My assistant knows that if I need to take a morning meeting, that the email time can't go away -- it needs to be rescheduled for later in the day. Or on the rare occasion there isn't enough time in the day, then my assistant knows that there needs to be makeup time scheduled the next day for time lost on the current day.
The key is building the habit of checking your “Yesterbox” on a consistent schedule.
Step 2: Filter out today’s emails, so you only see yesterday’s emails.
If you’re a Gmail user, use the advanced search function “before” in combination with today’s date. For example, if today is September 24, 2015 … type before:2015/09/24 into the search bar:
This shows ONLY email received before today’s date, September 24th, 2015.
Now drag this URL into your bookmark toolbar:
Every time you need to check email in the morning, click this bookmark, and this filtered search will automatically load:
Obviously the dates change, so whenever you click the link, just change the day to the current date. For example, the next day you would simply change the date to September 25, 2015:
Using Outlook instead of Gmail?
If you’re an Outlook user, simply collapse your “Today” group of emails by clicking on the arrow in the header (to the left of the word “Today”).
This helps you avoid cheating and reading today’s emails prematurely.
Step 3: Label emails that require more than 10 minutes to answer.
Tony Hsieh puts emails that will take longer than 10 minutes to respond to into a different folder:
For any email from yesterday that takes more than 10 minutes to respond, or requires additional research, etc., you should simply file it away into a folder.
In Gmail, go back to the before:2015/09/24 search.
Now check the boxes for emails that will take longer than 10 minutes to answer. Click Labels, Create new, then type “10min” as the new label:
Now type before:2015/09/24 label:10min into the search bar:
This only shows yesterday’s emails that require more than 10 minutes to handle. All of the other emails (that take less than 10 minutes to handle) will be filtered out.
Typically emails that take longest to answer are most important … so I’d suggest answering all of these 10-minutes-or-more emails FIRST. Get them out of the way.
After those are answered, erase label:10min from the search bar to get all other emails from yesterday:
These are the easy emails you can answer quickly. After all of those are cleared, you are DONE with email for the day. Then you don’t check it again until tomorrow morning.
Pretty awesome, huh?
Using Outlook instead of Gmail?
For Outlook, follow a similar process.
At the start of each day, do a scan of yesterday’s inbox. Then check the boxes for all emails that will require more than 10 minutes to answer and dump that into a folder labeled “10 Minutes.”
Answer all emails in that folder first. Afterward, move back into your “yesterday” inbox and answers all of those.
Our inbox is now a to-do list with static tasks, not new ones constantly coming in.
By using Tony Hsieh’s “Yesterbox” method, our inbox doesn’t have a constant flood of new messages coming in.
We know exactly how many emails we need to respond to at the beginning of the day, and that never changes.
Our inbox then becomes an invariable to-do list, versus an endless stream of new messages piling in. This avoids that Sisyphus feeling of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down.
With a fixed set of emails, this makes Inbox Zero so much easier to obtain.
Originally published Oct 2, 2015 2:50:58 PM, updated February 01 2017