Life In A Constant Stream Of Emails And Meetings

My colleague Nick wrote a post today about his productivity system. Nick’s system is way more elaborate than mine, but everyone has to find their own way of getting things done.

What I found most interesting about Nick’s post is what I put in the headline of this post. Our jobs at USV are a constant stream of emails, many of them hoping to get into the constant stream of meetings we take.

Nick put it this way in his post:

at the end of the day it all boils down to a single strategy: getting things into my calendar.  The other main thing I try to solve for is simply not forgetting things.  I live in a constant stream of emails and meetings, and it’s easy to forget something important.  So a goal here is to help ensure that I don’t forget things and ultimately, that I’m focused on the most important thing most of the time.

Nick mentions my strategy of putting everything that I must do in a given day/week/month into my calendar so that it gets done. That works incredibly well for me and is really my only productivity tool.

Nick also mentions our partner Albert’s email technique which I have always wanted to implement and some day will:

 Albert has a system, which seems to work for him, which is: using a set of predefined gmail filters, clear the inbox daily.  Not the entire inbox, but a few filtered versions (family, USV team, his portfolio companies).

I very much like Albert’s approach. It requires writing the right stored queries (gmail filters) and then keeping them up to date (which is the part that gives me pause). But it makes a ton of sense to try to get to inbox zero on the most important parts of your life vs trying to get to inbox zero on everything.

No matter how you do it, you have to find a way not to drop balls, certainly the most important balls. And that is easy to do when you are in meetings from 7am to 5pm like I will be today.

So whether it is Nick’s approach, mine, Albert’s, or your own, having a system is key. I think it is less important what your system is than having one and sticking to it.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. LIAD

    a day of back-to-back meetings would just drain by body and soul.granted not all meetings are equal and some require more energy and effort than others – but still, back-to-back non-stop – ouch.

  2. Adam Sher

    I like inbox zero. It is more stressful to me to have emails in my inbox then figuring out what to do with them. I use Google My Tasks and set dates to all of my tasks. In addition, I use calendar to block out time for different things (30 minutes email, 10 minute break to make coffee, 2 hours prototyping, eat, prospecting etc…). I’m not that organized everyday but if I hit all the categories of business items, then I moved the business forward.

  3. William Mougayar

    I have a To Do list in my Notes editor and Calendar for meetings. That’s it. I can’t respond to all emails anymore, but I star the ones I need to come back to. Time is a scarcity you can never get back.

  4. Adam Parish

    I really appreciate that Nick is willing to say this, “’s easy to forget something important.” The expectation is management “read & understand” everything that comes at them.

  5. falicon

    I think it also depends a lot on the type of “work” you are optimizing for.For me (more dev/production person than “meeting” person):Calendars work great for meetings, conversations, and not forgetting to be some where at some specific time (and not over committing or double booking).Todo lists work great for accomplishing specific goals and tasks (especially those things that might take more than one set chunk of time and focus).Email for me is the glue between these two systems.I keep “inbox read”…nothing stays in my inbox “unread”…in fact, if anything stays in my inbox, it’s a “todo” item. In fact, I often email myself notes/reminders/or even ideas. Everything else gets archived or deleted (and replied to as quickly as possible).On a daily basis, I will sometimes also physically write out a checklist of “today’s big goals”…usually on a note card and/or note pad I keep at my desk. No matter how much I accomplish from the list, I throw it out at the end of the day…I just use it to reset/focus throughout the day on the “big things”.(for example today’s list, which only means anything to me, currently reads: A. Ivory Tower B. files for Eric C. Marshall Madness update D. Blog post).Side note: Of course I love Albert’s approach. His engineering personality shinning through once again!

    1. Mark Essel

      I have a similar setup to Albert with Gmail filters but tend to process a lower number per day. As a consultant/dev GitHub and Zenhub cover the todo list with occasional Slack messages feeding in new tasks and 1 weekly meeting.For family I voice call or use Hangouts (RIP this year?) while I walk in the morning (3hrs) or after work.

  6. EduardoF

    Fred -I bet many people here would love to see your updated email stats via Email Meter: wonder how/if your email patterns have changed since October 2012, when you last used our tool. (Full disclosure: I’m still the founder.)

  7. Tom Labus

    I don’t know how you guys stay so focused after so many meetings

  8. Pointsandfigures

    Yes, when is some AI app going to replicate my brain for a calendar. Calendars are frustrating. Getting better but still not great. Contacts are another thing. Sifting. I started using and it seems to help

  9. WA

    Whoa. Precisely what’s on our desks and in our minds too. Nick is spot on and yes sir William – the scacest of non renewable commodities indeed. Great post.

  10. awaldstein

    Useful.i am busy but not in your business so, i work in a series of ongoing episodic connections, in and outbound.I use your organizing principal actually but the dynamics of what i do is different.AndI never almost never do not take the time to meditate, write and workout daily.

  11. Richard

    I think it was Warren Buffet who said there is correlation between authentic original work and emails / twitter, and it’s close to -1.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Less than zero.

      1. Richard

        Ha! Nice catch, typo. Thinking again about it after coffee – it’s probabaly closer to -1.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          + 1, 0, -1, makes a difference!

  12. sigmaalgebra

    > in meetings from 7am to 5pmSounds like you need an overview of the landscape then some thought about what parts of the landscape then some purpose for each part then meetings for those parts. You seem to have identified crypto as a part of the landscape: IMHO there’s not enough substance in crypto and too many obstacles to have much promise, but at least you have thought about that part of the landscape. Then when you plan meetings about crypto you know what you are looking for, seeing, doing.Otherwise is sounds like each incoming e-mail is like someone, of hundreds, throwing a baseball at you and you take a swing for the fences.

  13. Kevin

    Do you not have admins? My mom is a very senior admin for senior tech executives in Silicon Valley, and has also supports VCs. She has control of their inboxes and calendars and the people she supports wouldn’t be able to do their jobs without her.I know I’m biased, but very few admins are as good as she is (she gets invited to train and mentor other admins all the time), so it may be that if people haven’t had good admins they haven’t found it very useful.

  14. Chimpwithcans

    This sort of thing was SO missing from my school curriculum and home teachings and I don’t know why. Keeping a calendar effectively….seems basic but I’m still learning in mid 30s. Great post

  15. Kevin D Stevens

    I’m a sucker for good productivity posts. Here’s my current setup:Airtable (best tool I’ve used in a long time) now contains my personal CRM and a To-Do/Anti To-Do inspired by Pmarca. I added a GTD style email system of Inbox, Action, Pending, Review with SaneBox filtering the rest + a few automations with Zapier for Evernote and Airtable.Setting it all up was one of the best Sunday’s at the office I’ve spent in quite sometime.

    1. creative group

      Kevin D Stevens:Glad that only took one Sunday.Strange how Warren Buffett doesn’t use email but is still one of the most wealthiest people in the world with hands in conglomerates around the world but calls the heads of these companies. Old School still the best school of learning.Captain Obvious!#UNEQUIVOCALLYUNAPOLOGETICALLYINDEPENDENT

  16. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:If we were in perpetual meetings for an entire work day nothing would actual get accomplished. Nothing. Gheez!The meeting about the meeting because the meeting scheduled for next year was canceled. Some people live to have endless and meaningless meetings.The tail pipe smokers will defend as a Trump supporter defends. Blindly!Captain Obvious!#UNEQUIVOCALLYUNAPOLOGETICALLYINDEPENDENT

  17. jason wright

    USV – the Documentary. I’d pay to see that.

  18. Matt Zagaja

    Years ago I read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen when that was at its peak, and it was a life changer. While some of the techniques and software may have changed, the values and approach remain the same. Weekly review of everything happens Sunday nights. I keep a task list in a program called OmniFocus. I do not retain verbally communicated information well, so my iPad Pro is my strongest ally in translating meetings into action. I have hundreds of notes in my Apple Notes app. Paper items are scanned using a ScanSnap ix500 and shredded unless there is a special reason I need the original. Paper is a shitty API but the ScanSnap turns paper into useful information. Email is wrangled via GMail in the web browser and Airmail apps on iOS and for my work “Exchange” account. The ability to process email using quick email shortcuts is my most powerful tool in handling that onslaught. Every six months I update my GMail filter list and unsubscribe from the random newsletters, updates, and notifications I do not need. The fastest emails to process are the ones I don’t. I maintain inbox near zero. I’m a bit trigger shy about “forgetting” about email conversations that I’m waiting for a reply from that might require follow-up, so no archive status for those.The other influential pieces of productivity advice I got was from Randy Pausch’s time management lecture at CMU After watching the video I finally stopped trying to maintain separate laptop and desktop systems at home and simply bought a more capable laptop for both and suddenly had half the number of computer problems to deal with (though I do have a separate work computer). I started finding ways to buy back my time and that means instead of going to the grocery store I now get a delivery from Instacart and that gave me two extra hours every weekend. Unfortunately I’ve been too trigger shy to buy laundry service even though I know I should. Learning to say “no” to things and stop over-committing was a tough lesson to learn in college, I nearly had a few grand in a bonus lost from a paycheck because I was not able to honor my commitment to a job and keep up with schoolwork. Making sure to prioritize important but not urgent things over the urgent but not important things has really helped my focus. Randy’s lecture is the best hour you could spend if you feel like you have not yet “nailed” productivity.

  19. awaldstein

    @wmoug:disqus There is a moderator somewhere?

  20. William Mougayar


  21. awaldstein

    appreciated.kinda ugly.

  22. Richard

    Did you preserve your calendar histories ?

  23. Richard

    I’m remember challenging (yes I started early) my 2nd grade teacher about why I needed to work on my penmanship. She failed to persuade me. Had she brought to my attention the importance of keeping notebooks detailed and organized, I would have been persuaded. She didn’t. I doodled instead. My penmanship has been a challenge ever since. And it has cost me some redactions and post them on your blogs sometime?

  24. sigmaalgebra

    Commonly the handwriting of boys is a disaster until somewhere in high school or college and can get better by age 40 or so, with no real effort, it just happens.