JF1125: How To Declutter Your Email #SkillSetSunday with Dmitri Leonov

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If you’re anything like me, you hate seeing a full inbox. Unfortunately, that happens daily more often than not. Dmitiri and his company, SaneBox, are here to help with that. Listen in on today’s episode to hear how you can clear you inbox. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!

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Dmitri Leonov Background:
-Leads business development, sales and marketing efforts at SaneBox
-Previously spent several years at Overture (acquired by Yahoo) in sales strategy and business development
-Based in Venice, California
-Say hi to him at www.sanebox.com

 


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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless, and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast. We only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff.

I hope you’re having a best ever weekend. Because it is Sunday, we’ve got a special segment called Skillset Sunday where we’re gonna teach you best practices for decluttering your e-mail. With us today to talk through that, Dmitri Leonov. How are you doing Dmitri?

Dmitri Leonov: I’m doing great, thanks for having me.

Joe Fairless: Nice to have you on the show. A little bit about Dmitri – he leads business development sales and marketing at SaneBox. SaneBox is an e-mail filtering service; we’ll let him talk a little bit more about that. He’s based in Venice, California, and the whole purpose of our conversation today, Best Ever listeners, is to help you (and help me, too!) declutter your e-mail. How do we declutter our e-mail? Holy cow, I hate, hate, hate with a passion e-mail, and I’m having to unsubscribe to the newsletters that I kind of wanna read, but I just don’t wanna get those e-mails… I think Dmitri has some solutions for us he’s gonna talk through. With that being said, Dmitri, before we get into the topic at hand, how about you give us a little bit about your background?

Dmitri Leonov: Sure. I started my career in finance, investment banking back before it was kind of looked down upon by everyone for destroying our economy. Then I spent seven years at Yahoo! I worked at a company called Overture, which got acquired by Yahoo! I spent two years there.

Then I did my first startup, and I’ve been working on SaneBox for the last six years.

Joe Fairless: Cool. And what’s SaneBox?

Dmitri Leonov: We are a cloud service that helps people who get a lot of e-mail deal with it. We’re kind of an AI (artificial intelligence) solution for your inbox. We understand what e-mail is important to you, what’s not, and we move all of the noise out of your inbox and summarize it.

Joe Fairless: Okay, cool. It sounds like the solution that you just talked about, SaneBox, makes sense. Let’s talk about higher level or macro level, versus this specific one solution. How about macro level – what are some best practices for decluttering our e-mail? And you definitely know that based on where you work; you’ve got a solution, I’m sure, but with or without this one solution, just to take it a little bit more high level, what are some best practices for decluttering e-mail?

Dmitri Leonov: Actually, I would like to talk as little as possible about SaneBox… Really, the reason we built our tool is kind of with those best practices in mind. Whether or not you sign up for SaneBox, it doesn’t matter today; the principles behind it are the same. And really I wanna talk about the three most important things.

The first one is a realization that e-mail is like a game of Tetris – no matter how good you are at playing the game, you will eventually use. The faster you clear out your e-mail, the more e-mail keeps coming. Today, an average professional – meaning anybody with a desk job, anybody who relies on a laptop/desktop, or frankly, a phone, to do their work, that person spends about a third of their work life dealing with their inbox… Which is insane, considering that it’s a completely reactive activity that’s nowhere in your job description.

The volume of e-mail keeps growing every year with about 7%. We actually just ran some metrics that we’ve been tracking over the last few years and we find that the volume of unimportant e-mail as percentage of total keeps growing. When we started, about 58% of all our e-mails were noise (still more than half); now it’s 65%.

Joe Fairless: How is that defined – unimportant or noise e-mails?

Dmitri Leonov: It really depends. What our software does is we look at what e-mail do you open, what e-mails do you respond to, how quickly you open, how quickly you respond, how often, how far back the relationship goes, and so on. We do this, by the way, without — privacy is by far our number one priority, so we do all this analysis without ever looking at the body of the e-mails. We only look at what’s called the e-mail header, which is basically just a timestamp and the subject line, and some data that comes with it. We can tell what people consider unimportant based on their interaction with those e-mails.

Joe Fairless: So whenever I receive an e-mail from a newsletter that I didn’t subscribe to and I mark it “Spam” every single time, you’ll know that’s unimportant to me.

Dmitri Leonov: Not only that. If you never open it, we just delete it right away. That’s also a signal for not important. Basically — we call it the signal-to-noise ratio of an average inbox is just getting worse and worse, and the volume is getting more and more. So just like in Tetris, it’s speeding up. You finish your day, you cleared out all your e-mail, you’re at zero, but you wake up in the morning and you’re at 200 again. You never win.

The lesson here is it’s really important to change the way you think about it. If you think that just kind of keeping up with it and continuing to delete and process stuff, if you feel like you’re being productive and you’re kind of winning, that is not the right way to think about it. You’re not winning. Every minute you spend dealing with your inbox is actually a minute you’re not spending focusing on your priorities.

That brings us to number, and we call them The Three E-mail Commandments. So the first one was that e-mail is like Tetris… The second one is don’t let e-mail become your number one priority. This is probably the biggest takeaway. For so many of us, e-mail is kind of this unconscious, default number one priority. You wake up in the morning, you look on your phone. You open up your laptop, you open up Outlook or Gmail, and you get sucked in. That’s why we spend about a third of our time, and most of us that don’t even realize that a third of our work life is spent on this thing.

The solution here is blocking e-mail time. I have an appointment at 11 o’clock every day called E-mail Time. I did it already this morning. By doing this, you’re scheduling the amount of time you’re gonna spend on e-mail. It can be a half hour, it can be an hour, it can be three hours. It depends on how much e-mail you get and how important it is to you, but again, by scheduling it and putting it into your priorities, you’re being in control, instead of the other way around. So what I typically do is I scan my e-mail for important and urgent things first thing in the morning, and then I close down and I get to work on my own priorities. Then whenever I have my e-mail time appointment, this is my time for sitting down and viewing what stops in my inbox.

Joe Fairless: Real quick, on number two – I’ve heard block off times for e-mail; Tim Ferriss talks about this. The reality for me is that my investors are really impressed with the responsiveness that I have when they have questions, and same with my consulting clients. I pride myself on responding quickly. Is there a solution for me? Basically, what I’m saying is I need help with e-mail, but at the same time I’m not willing to sacrifice the almost immediate response that I give people who are directly associated or tied to my business.

Dmitri Leonov: If it’s your number one priority to be responsive, then you’re in control; you’re conscious about this. The issue is for so many of us – and by the way, I fall into this trap as well – we’re not aware that we’re living in our inbox. But if you’re aware of it and it is important to you, then it’s perfectly fine.

So the quick solution here is whenever you catch yourself in your inbox and you weren’t aware that you were in your inbox, ask yourself, “Is this the best use of my time right now?” That’s the real question. If the answer is yes, then everything is fine. I think for many of us, most of the time the answer will be “No”, so that’s a sign that you need to close your e-mail and look at your own to-do list. Because really, essentially, what your inbox is is a to-do list that other people can write on. If you’re only dealing with other people’s priorities and not your own, there’s something wrong with that.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

Dmitri Leonov: [unintelligible [00:09:08].05] number three, when you’re in that e-mail time block, the brain tricks us, because every single e-mail interface, whether it’s Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail, iPhone (you name it) gives the same amount of space on the screen to every e-mail. So a newsletter you never read, subconsciously to your brain looks exactly like an e-mail from your most important client. Once you kind of think about it for a split second even, you pick up the difference. But those split seconds really add up – there’s a lot of research done on a decision that needs to be made… So those are still decisions that your brain needs to process.

So it’s really important to understand that not all e-mail are created equal. There are really three kinds. There is the noise, unimportant stuff, there is the important and urgent, and then there’ important but not urgent. E-mails really need to be processed and thought about completely differently. The unimportant stuff – this is where SaneBox really comes into play, primarily; this is our bread and butter. What we do is we analyze your inbox and move all of the noise (unimportant stuff) into a separate folder where you can scan through it.

What I do is I go through that folder once or twice a day, and if something’s in the wrong place, I can just move it to my inbox, or vice-versa. That immediately trains our algorithms, and then I just select all and hit delete. So I process all the noise in bulk with one click. If that noise is mixed with signal in your inbox – again, we’ll get back to that processing and decision-making… So you have to kind of think about “Hey, is this important or not?” and all those interruptions really add up.

The important and urgent stuff – these are fires that you really need to deal with right now. And then the important not urgent – if this is something you will deal with today, you can leave it in your inbox, but for so many of us a lot of these “not urgent, but important” e-mails – you’re not gonna work on them until tomorrow, or next week. And we tend to leave them in our inbox, and again, it forces our brain to look at them every time we open our inbox, and again, try to decide “Hey, do I need to deal with this now?” So the solution here is snoozing – moving those e-mails out of your inbox until you’re ready, or until the e-mail become actual. We have a couple of solutions as well, so you can move them into a folder called Tomorrow, for instance, and it’s gonna disappear out of your inbox and pop back into your inbox tomorrow morning. And you can also customize for next week, or any timeframe you can think of.

Essentially, by doing these steps, the only e-mails left in your inbox will be the ones that you will deal with today, and this is the important stuff that you need to spend your time on. And can I touch on something you mentioned earlier?

Joe Fairless: Please.

Dmitri Leonov: [[00:11:45].00] e-mails that you don’t wanna see anymore. This is, by the way, very dangerous, and we see this with our customers all the time… People go on an unsubscribe binge, and end up [unintelligible [00:11:56].21] more mailing lists. The problem with that is how do you get out of e-mail mailing lists you didn’t subscribe to? Basically, when you’re unsubscribing from someone, you’re really relying on your integrity, because what you just did is you flagged yourself as 1) a human, and 2) a human who cares about their e-mail. So you become a spamming marketer’s dream come true. [laughter]

One of the features we built is called Black Hole. It’s another folder that lives in your e-mail, and if you move an e-mail into the Black Hole folder, all future e-mails from that sender go straight to trash. So it’s kind of like unsubscribing, but just much easier, safer, faster.

Joe Fairless: What I used to do – I might change my approach now – is if there’s not an easy way to unsubscribe, like a one-click unsubscribe, then I just always mark it Spam, and then that usually takes care of it. But I understand your point, because sometimes there’s the unsubscribe and you have to re-enter your e-mail address, and that doesn’t sit right with me… I feel like they’re now wanting to capture my e-mail address because some reason they didn’t have it, or maybe they’re putting it on a new list, or something. I never re-enter my e-mail address.

Dmitri Leonov: Even if they don’t ask for that, I would still be careful.

Joe Fairless: So we’ve got three steps to decluttering your inbox… That is 1) realization that e-mail is a game of Tetris – I love that analogy. 2) Don’t let e-mail become your number one priority – thank you, please keep on preaching, baby; I love that one. And 3) Not all e-mails are created equal. For number three, if they don’t use your service, how can you implement that approach without using something like SaneBox?

Dmitri Leonov: A couple of ways. Gmail has Gmail Tabs, which fortunately for us, unfortunately for people who use them, don’t work that well. It’s not really personalized, so that is why our solution has been more effective; we actually look at how you interact with your e-mail… Again, without ever looking at the body of those e-mails, just headers. You could use Gmail Tabs, and with the snoozing – this is probably an important one – create a folder called Defer, or Snooze, or whatever you wanna call it, in your e-mail. And e-mails that are not urgent, move them into that folder. The only catch is you would have to remember to go through that folder periodically and check to see when they become actionable. That’s definitely a best practice; try not to leave those lingering e-mails in your inbox, because it just forces you to think about them everytime you look at them.

Joe Fairless: Dmitri, is there anything else that we haven’t discussed as it relates to decluttering our inbox that you wanted to talk about?

Dmitri Leonov: I have one thing to add – for so many of us, and especially folks in the real estate community, we rely on newsletters. There’s a lot of valuable stuff that comes into play, and one of the things we hear from customers is “Newsletter aren’t bad. You subscribed to them. Or even if you didn’t, sometimes there’s value.” The key is to read them in the right context. When you’re in a frame of mind to read newsletters, you wanna be able to read newsletters, so that’s why what we do is so helpful, because we kind of regroup all that stuff into a separate place, and whenever you’re in the newsletter reading mode, or kind of just “information gathering” mode, you can do that.

The only real problem is in an inbox where everything is in one place, it’s just really hard for our brain to differentiate those different modes… So I’d say don’t hate e-mail, and I would even say don’t hate what some people call “junk”, but just really newsletters, informational e-mail. It’s all about kind of the right context and using it at the right time and the right place.

Joe Fairless: Good stuff. Dmitri, where can the Best Ever listeners get in touch with you or your company?

Dmitri Leonov: SaneBox.com (like InsaneBox, but the opposite of Insane). If you have any questions about us or about e-mail in general, we have an amazing support team that’s gotten really good at fixing e-mail-related problems. Basically, what happens is anytime anything goes wrong with someone’s e-mail, they always blame us, just because we’re an e-mail company… So we’ve gotten really good at solving problems that have nothing to do with us. So if you have any questions at all, just reach out – Support@SaneBox.com.

Joe Fairless: Excellent. Dmitri, thanks again for walking us through the three commandments of decluttering our inbox… As I summarized earlier – the realization that e-mail is a game of Tetris; the faster you clear, the more they keep coming. One solution I’ve implemented for that is Boomerang, where I can delay the responses; even though I actually send it, I just delay when it gets sent out. That helps, so it’s not a game of e-mail ping-pong.

Two is don’t let e-mail become your number one priority; blocking time works for some people, depending on their business. Others – myself included – I respond immediately to certain people, my investors and my clients; those are immediate. And I guess my mom and dad. Besides that, I would like to block off time to address everyone else, just so that it doesn’t become my number one priority.

Then three is not all e-mails are created equal. You gave us some suggestions for that. And in case my fiancée is listening, I will also include her in people I immediately respond to.

With that being said, Dmitri, thank you for being on the show. I hope you have a best ever weekend, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Dmitri Leonov: Thank you.