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The Ten Unread Messages Rule

I have a rule that dictates that I do not end my day unless I go below 10 unread messages in my inbox; this means I do not go to sleep, until I meet this goal
Photo: Assaf Luxembourg
Photo: Assaf Luxembourg

Sometimes, I get to sneak into other people’s mailboxes (with their consent, of course). I got used to see 50 unread emails… 100 unread emails… even 1,000+ unread emails. Some of you may not care. Some of you may actually think that a lot of unread emails make you important.

As for me, this reminds me of the person in 1985 who had 100+ unread documents and mail on his or her desk. Would you consider that person a professional? Would you want that person to be your consultant? Accountant? Lawyer? Marketer? Employee? Boss? Me neither.

Would you like to be the customer of the person with such a desk? (Photo from: Pixabay.com)


Since I really believe that we are all business units in today’s on-demand economy, and since I really experienced on myself how knowing your “why” allows you play for the long run – it hit me a few years ago:

If one day I would like to tell my staff that “in our company, a customer (or anyone else) will not have to wait for more than 3 business days to get any kind of reply” – than I have to first adopt it on myself, as a business unit.

And so, in order to meet this crazy goal (it’s crazy for me that people think it’s crazy), I adopted a rule that dictates that I do not end my day unless I go below 10 unread messages. Meaning, I do not go to sleep, until I meet this goal. Thus, there is almost no chance someone will have to wait more than 3 business days in order to get a reply from me. Not customers, team members, supervisors (back in the day), not my staff, and not even “Joe Shmo”, who sent me a pure aggressive sales email (as long as he’s not spam or phishing).

Here are the rules:

  • Everything is converted or counted as emails.
  • Emails acrosss mailboxes I have are all directed into one place, and even if not – they all count.
  • Whatsapp and SMS messages are considered emails, so they all count. If I read a message and cannot turn it back unread, I send a memo email to self. so it counts.
  • Any other message or comment on Silo, LinkedIn (yes, connection requests too) Slack, Twitter, even Skype – they too all count as emails.
  • Calendar updates such as tasks, birthdays – are sent as email updates, so they too count.
  • Spam, social updates, ads and commercial email – yep, they too count.
  • Even notes and memos I want to pin to myself – are sent as emails, so they count.

Now, I know, some of you are “heroes” and have 7 unread emails – But you have more than 50 open drafts. So, two more rules are:

  • Open saved drafts count as unread emals.
  • If I open an email which does not require any reply/forward, but rather a task to do, and I have yet to execute that task – that goes back to unread until it’s done. So it counts too.

Now, let’s see you finish your day with less than 10 unread messages. It’s super hard. Super demanding. But you get better as time goes by. Not by making people not write to you – but quite the opposite, by dealing with more.

It allows you to answer potential customers faster than the competition. It allows you to answer your boss faster than other employees. It allows you to help other team members before others help them. It allows you to help people in your community faster. So, they all come to acknowledge you, to trust you, to rely on you, to want to “buy” and “consume” more of you. Looking for a job? It also allows you to biz-dev faster.

And then, one day, when you’ll stand in front of your beloved staff and tell them that “our organization stands for values”, that they should care, that they should execute faster, better and be more communicative, that you should all show the market how you’re better than the alternatives, that unread messages are like unread papers on their desks, that this is about improving and caring and being a professional – they will not think you’re full of s**t.

They will know that you live by what you stand for. Which is why they all want to “buy” and “consume” more from you, and walk alongside you in your journey.

About the Author
Assaf is passionate about promoting business in and with Israel, helping and mentoring entrepreneurs, advising young professionals with career planning and self-fulfillment, and more. Assaf acts as a brand ambassador of Israel as 'Start-Up Nation', speaking to thousands of businessmen, investors, entrepreneurs, young professionals, students and others, both in Israel and around the world. Assaf also works as a business development and marketing consultant to Israeli start-ups and others.
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