The Holy Grail: How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again

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What if you never had to check e-mail again?

If you could hire someone else to be spend countless hours in your inbox instead of you?

This isn’t pure fantasy. For the last 12 months, I’ve experimented with removing myself from the inbox entirely by training other people to behave like me. Not to imitate me, but to think like me.

Here’s the upshot: I get more than 1,000 e-mail a day from various accounts. Rather than spending 6-8 hours per day checking e-mail, which I used to do, I can skip reading e-mail altogether for days or even weeks at a time… all with 4-10 minutes a night…

Let me explain the basics, followed by tips and exact templates for outsourcing your own inbox:

1) I have multiple e-mail addresses for specific types of e-mail (blog readers vs. media vs. friends/family, etc.). tim@… is the default I give to new acquaintances, which goes to my assistant.

2) 99% of e-mail falls into predetermined categories of inquiries with set questions or responses (my “rules” document is at the bottom of this post — feel free to steal, adapt, and use). My assistant(s) checks and clears the inbox at 11am and 3pm PST.

3) For the 1% of e-mail that might require my input for next actions, I have a once-daily phone call of 4-10 minutes at 4pm PST with my assistant.

4) If I’m busy or traveling abroad, my assistant leaves the action items in numerical order on my voicemail, to which I can respond to in a bullet-point email. These days, I actually prefer the voicemail option and find that it forces my assistant to be more prepared and more concise.

Each night (or early the next morning), I’ll listen to my assistant’s voicemail via Skype and simultaneously write out the next actions (1. Bob: tell him that…. 2. Jose in Peru: ask him for… 3. Speaking in NC: confirm…., etc.) in a Skype chat or quick e-mail. How long does the new system take? 4-10 minutes instead of 6-8 hours of filtering and repetitive responses.

If you only have one e-mail account, I recommend using a desktop program like Outlook or Mail instead of a web-based program like Gmail for a simple reason: if you see new items in your inbox, you’ll check them. Like they say in AA: if you don’t want to slip, don’t go where it’s slippery. This is why I have a private personal account that I use for sending e-mail to my assistant and communicating with friends. It’s almost always empty.

E-mail is the last thing people let go of. Fortune 500 CEOs, bestselling authors, celebrities — I know dozens of top performers who delegate everything but e-mail, which they latch onto as something only they can do. “No one can check my e-mail for me” is the unquestioned assumption, or “I answer every email I receive” is the unquestioned bragging right that keeps them in front of a computer for 8-12 hours at a stretch. It’s not fun, and it keeps them from higher-impact or more rewarding activities.

Get over yourself. Checking e-mail isn’t some amazing skill that you alone possess.

In fact, checking email is like everything else: a process. How you evaluate and handle (delete vs. archive vs. forward vs. respond) e-mail is just a series of questions you ask yourself, whether consciously or subconsciously. I have a document called “Tim Ferriss Processing Rules,” to which my assistants add rules when I send them via e-mail with “ADD TO RULES” in the subject. Over the course of a week or two with a virtual assistant (VA), you will end up with an externalized set of rules that reflect how your brain processes email. It often shows you how haphazard your processing is. I’ve included my “rules” at the bottom of this post to save you some time.

A few tips:

1. Setting appointments and meetings takes a lot of time. Have you assistant set things up for you in Google Calendar. I use input my own items via my Palm Z22 or iCal, then use Spanning Sync and Missing Sync for Palm OS to sync everything. On my uberlight Sony VAIO, which I still use for travel, I use CompanionLink for Google Calendar. I suggest batching meetings or calls in one or two set days, with 15 minutes between appointments. Scattering them throughout the week at odd times just interrupts everything else.

2. If you jump in your assistant’s inbox and answer anything, BCC them (probably your own address) so they are aware that you handled it.

3. Expect small problems. Life is full of compromises, and it’s necessary to let small bad things happen if you want to get huge good things done. There is no escape. Prevent all problems and get nothing done, or accept an allowable level of small problems and focus on the big things. I highly recommend reading my short article on “The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen” before outsourcing your e-mail.

Ready to jump in and test the holy grail? Here are the steps:

1. Determine exactly which accounts you will use and how you want them to respond to (or just categorize or purge) email for you

2. Find a virtual assistant. See “The Personal Outsourcing Olympics: Bangalore Butler or American Assistant?” and “Extreme Personal Outsourcing” for tips and providers.

3. Test for reliability before skill-set. Have the top three candidates do something on tight deadline (24 hours) before hiring them and letting them in your inbox.

4. Use a probationary period of 2-4 weeks to test the waters and work out the problems. Again: there will be problems. It will take a good 3-8 weeks to get to real smooth sailing.

5. Design your ideal lifestyle and find something to do other than let your brain fester in the inbox. Fill the void.

###

TIM FERRISS PROCESSING RULES
[Note the Q&A format — some of the questions are my standard points for VAs, some have been added by my assistant, who put together this document.]

PASSWORDS:

Calendar:

http://calendar.google.com

Login: XXXX
PW: XXXX

Google G-mail Account:

http://mail.google.com

Username: XXX
PW: XXX

http://www.NoCostConference.com
Username: XXXX
Password: XXXX

http://www.SpamArrest.com
Username: XXXX
Password: XXXX

http://www.Amazon.com
Username: XXXX
Password: XXXX

http://www.PayPal.com
Username: XXXX
Password: XXXX

Reader Only Resources:

http://fourhourworkweek.com/wms/members/members.php >> PASSWORD FOR READERS ONLY IS: XXXX

TEAM REQUIREMENTS:
[I often have exec-level assistants manage 4-5 other “sub-VAs” who handle certain repetitive tasks, often at half the exec VA’s hourly rate. The exec VA takes on an office manager or, in some cases, COO-level function.]

- Download: http://www.alexa.com – Toolbar

- Learn Statistics, Rank for Business Prospect and JV Opportunities

- Deadlines are extremely important. Be Aware of them, and Be Punctual!

- If Tim says “Call me back”. CALL HIM BACK, do not send an e-mail. This is an important point; as Tim has lost thousands of dollars because someone e-mailed him instead of calling him and he does not always have e-mail access because he is traveling a lot.
[See this post to understand why I practice this inaccessibility regardless]

- Even if it is late in the evening, he is up late, if he does not want to answer his phone, he will not. But PLEASE call him back when he asks you to. He much prefers a phone call instead of an e-mail.

- Purchase and read “The Elements of Style” regarding proper grammar and punctuation. We are dealing with high-profile clients on Tim’s behalf and the proper writing techniques and message says a lot about his team.

- Become as familiar as you can with his book and his website as to answer questions accordingly.

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Tim Ferriss
[maiing address]

Tim Cell (your use only): [private cell]
Number to give others: [Grand Central number]
Skype: XXXXX
Billing ADDRESS (Private)
[billing address]
PURCHASES:
ASK [Head VA], for his AMEX NUMBER, SHE WILL ADVISE WHETHER PURCHASES CAN BE APPROVED.
QUESTION & ANSWER (Preferences):

(1) How do you feel about Joint Ventures?

I’m open to them, but my brand and respectability is #1. I will not do anything with anyone who comes off as deceptive or amateur. “Make millions while you sleep in our super-insane foreclosure program!” on the website disqualifies someone. I cannot be associated with anyone who might be seen as a liar or snake-oil salesman. Just ask yourself: if the CEO of a well-known company saw this, would he lose interest in speaking with me? If so, it won’t work.

For those who pass that criteria, what have they done already? I’m not looking for first-timers, generally, unless they have an excellent track record and reputation elsewhere.

(2) Do you focus solely on Profit Generating Tasks (I can explain further on the call)

No. I also look for prestige (Harvard, government, etc.), wide exposure, as well as building networks with people who have world-class skills in some area.

(3) How do you handle spam?

SpamArrest and Gmail. I have no problem with spam at this point.

(4) What is your optimal response rate? (i.e. respond to all e-mails no later than 48-72 hours after received)

Same day. I’m bringing you on to respond quickly.

(5) Do you respond to any e-mails?

Yes, plenty, but I’ll want you to filter them first, respond to all you can, then mark the ones I should look at with the label “TIM” in Gmail

[Note earlier in this article how I’m using now having VAs leave to-do’s via voicemail]

(6) Do you put in any events in your calendar?

Yes, but I expect I will move more and more to having you do it.

[I use a Palm Z22 without Internet connectivity to add events to my calendar, which are then syched to iCal on my Mac with Missing Sync for Palm OS. iCal is syched with Gmail calendar, which my assistant uses to manage my calendar, with Spanning Sync. See links earlier in this post]

(7) Do we “manage” your items, or do you delegate? We are cool with both, but prefer to manage. :-)

I’ll try and give the list to you to take care of. I NEED confirmations that you received the task (“on it — will be done at Xpm” is enough) and like status updates on larger projects with milestones.

(8) Who is on your team?

Me, the publishing team, and some PR folk at this point. I might have you get involved with my other businesses later, but that’s it for now.

(9) Who do we have to collaborate with on a regular basis?

See above. 90% me, then possibly my publicist(s), tech support and web staff, and my book agent. More will come, I’m sure, but that’s it for now.

(10) Who calls the shots for you?

You can decide anything under $100. Use your judgment and report the decisions.

(11) Do you have ‘days’ off (as in no business appts.)?

Let’s shoot for no appointments on Fridays, but let’s play it by ear.

(12) Who has been handling your appts. up until now?

Me. I haven’t had any in-person meetings for close to four years. Things have changed with the book :)

(13) Explain to us your ‘optimal’ work week? (i.e. how long between phone calls, how many meetings per week, travel preferences, etc.)

-I go to bed late, so try and avoid calls before 10am PST when possible.

-Try and “cluster” phone calls and meetings so that I can bang them out at the same time, as opposed to having on at 10am, another at 1pm, and another at 4pm. Have them all in a row with 15-20 minutes in between whenever possible. I’d like to do phone calls before 1pm PST when possible (so 10am-1pm). Calls should be kept 15-30 minutes, always with a defined end time. If someone asks to “jump on the phone” with me, send them something like: “To make the best use of every one’s time, Tim likes to have a well-defined agenda with objectives for a call before jumping on the phone. Can you please send over some bullet points with what you’d like to cover and decide on the call?” Something like that.

(14) Do you like us to schedule personal items in with your business calendar? (i.e. order your mother flowers for mother’s day, etc.).

Absolutely.

(15) What are ‘all’ the e-mail addresses we respond to for you?

XXXX

(16) Do you like us to respond as ‘you’ or something like ‘client support for Timothy Ferriss’.

The latter, probably something like “Executive Assistant to Tim Ferriss” below your name — I’m open to suggestions.

(17) How many times a day do you want e-mail checked?

Twice should be fine to start. Let’s aim for minimum of at 11am and 3pm in your timezone.

(18) What are your working hours?

10am – 6pm PST, then often 11pm – 2am PST
[Before you cry, “What happened to the four-hour workweek?!”, realize that “work hours” here could be replaced with “active and available-by-phone hours.” I have lots of projects and do not preach idleness. I am VERY active. More on this in the 6th comment on this post.]

(19) Do you like using IM?

Not really, unless it’s a scheduled discussion. Just leave yourself logged in, and I’ll log in if I need something. [I tend to use Skype chat these days, as I can then avoid a separate IM program]

(20) Do you prefer a phone call or an e-mail to answer a quick question?

PHONE CALL, absolutely. DO NOT email me for anything urgent. I really follow my own advice and don’t check email that often.

(21) What is your favourite colour?

Green like cedar leaves in July.

(22) Call at the end of every day (if) there is something that Tim needs to respond to in his e-mail.
(23) E-books: tell them they can download the e-book from http://www.powells.com
(24) If Tim says “Call me back”. CALL HIM BACK, do not send an e-mail. This is an important point; as Tim has lost thousands of dollars because someone e-mailed him instead of calling him and he does not always have e-mail access because he is travelling a lot.

(25) Even if it is late in the evening, he is up late, if he does not want to answer his phone, he will not. But PLEASE call him back when he asks you too. He much prefers a phone call instead of an e-mail.

(26) [removed]

(27) [removed]

(28) Label all e-mails from “Expert Click” for Tim. No need to respond or forward.

(29) All Linked-In E-mails can be archived or deleted as Tim receives notification of invites as soon as he logs into his Linked-In Account.

(30) For start-up Inquiries in the Health & Wellness Industry (or BrainQuicken Start-up Inquiries) please see the templates in G-mail titled: Congratulations and General Business Questions — Brain Quicken Templates

(31) For Language Inquiries, please see the templates in G-mail titled: Reader Question on Language Resources — Language Templates

(32) When Tim types ‘dictate’ in the e-mail response; this means that we can say to the recipient: As Tim is traveling at the moment and not able to personally respond to your e-mail, I mentioned your message while on the phone to him, and he asked me to dictate: This makes the process easier as we do not have to change the context of the person responding.

[This is to avoid having an assistant convert my 1st-person “Please tell him that I…” to 3rd-person “Tim says that he…” – providing shorthand for “cut and paste” save hours of assistant time.]

(33) If someone email blasts a bunch of people and I am one of them, usually safe to ignore or delete. Read them carefully, of course, but if it says for example “a few influential people I know” or something like that then if someone can’t take the time to personalize for me, forget them. If Tim is CCd, of course, that’s a different story.

(34) Tim’s address is XXXX. THIS E-MAIL IS NOT TO BE DISTRIBUTED OR GIVEN TO ANYONE. If you want to copy Tim on an e-mail, please use the BCC field, so that it remains private.

(35) Mark anyone from St. Paul’s or Princeton for me to look at (TIM label). [Note: I’ve since had to modify this due to volume]

(36) If I decline someone and they persist, give them one more reply — “Tim appreciates the persistence, but he really can’t…” etc. — and then archive future requests. Use your judgment, of course, but that’s the general rule. Some people don’t know when persistent turns into plain irritating.

(37) Please also create a rule to respond with “scheduled” for all items I send to be put in the calendar (when they’re put in the calendar). [Missing calendar items can cause big problems, so this is a check and balance to confirm]

(38) No need to follow up with someone after a call has taken place. Unless Tim instructs otherwise, or they request something from us.

(39) Send all Speaking Requests to XXXX and ensure that he confirms receipt. (However, also see items 42 & 48)

(40) Foreign language requests (i.e. purchasing rights, if the book is available in particular language, etc.) send to [the appropriate person at my publisher].

(41) XXXX’s replacement at Random House is: XXXX

(42) Inquire with Tim first before booking any speaking gigs on a specific date, as he may be travelling.

(43) When booking appointments in the calendar, be sure to also ask which topics they would like to discuss, and put in the calendar description for Tim so he can prepare. Also be sure to ask for a back up phone number in case they are not able to reach Tim. [I almost always have people call me unless I am abroad, as this is another safeguard against missing appointments]

(44) Put initials in the subject line of calendar events so we know who [which virtual assistant] put the item in the calendar.

(45) Prepare inquiries for Tim before sending to him for his review. I.E. Get their Alexa ranking, possible dates of the event, a link to past events they have held, their budget, other confirmed speakers, etc. Then send this info to Tim for his review.

(46) Respond to PX Method Inquires with the following response:

Hi [name],

Thanks for your inquiry about the PX Method, however the PX method page is designed as just a template others can look at as a reference for testing their own product ideas.

We are not sure if or when Tim will offer the PX Method for sale, but there are no plans at this time. We appreciate your inquiry none-the-less. Thanks!

[I get quite a few emails from readers who do not see the disclaimer on the PX Method mock-up page and thus attempt to order a product that isn’t ready to ship]

(47) Download eFAX viewer to view Tim’s faxes. His fax number is: XXXX

(48) Event or Speaking Inquiries can be responded to as such:

Thanks for your e-mail and for your invitation to Tim. In looking at the event online, I see that the event is April Xth and Xth, 2008 in Portland, Oregon [for example]. Before I present this Tim, could you answer a few questions for me, so we can make a more informed decision?

– Would you like Tim to be at the entire event?
— How long would the keynote presentation be? Or would it be a Q & A Panel?
— Do you cover travel and accommodation along with a speaker’s fee?
— What is your budget for keynote presentations?
— Have any other speakers confirmed to present?

As soon as I hear back, I can speak with Tim about the possibilities of making this happen. Thanks again!

Warmly,

[Name]

this email is: [ ] blogable [x] ask first [ ] private

[name]
Executive Assistant to Timothy Ferriss
Author: The 4-Hour Workweek (http://www.fourhourworkweek.com)
(Random House/Crown Publishing)
Bio and Fun:

http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog

Did you like this post? Please take a second to vote for it here, and subscribe to new posts here to get cutting-edge lifehacks you can really use…

###

Odds and Ends: Live Seth Godin “Marketing for 2008″ panel discussion this Tuesday (today) at 2pm ET

Join me, Seth Godin, Chris Anderson (Editor-in-Chief of Wired, The Long Tail), John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing) on a live panel and Q&A about new marketing strategies for 2008. What works and what doesn’t? What’s new and what is a waste of time? Sign up here:
http://www.sethgodinteleseminar.com

Related and Recommended Posts:

How to Do The Impossible: Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voicemail Again, Never Return Another Phone Call…

E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend

Chapter 8 – Outsourcing Life: Offloading the Rest and a Taste of Geoarbitrage

Win a Virtual Assistant for 2008

10 Steps to Become an Email Ninja

How Scoble Reads 622 RSS Feeds Each Morning

Posted on: January 21, 2008.

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150 comments on “The Holy Grail: How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again

  1. Changing perspectives is good–my thought process has been to attempt to outsource those tasks that don’t need my expertise. I found your notes after the post very interesting and am sure they will prove useful.

    I am wondering what the three biggest challenges have been during your search and subsequent hiring of VAs. Also, is there anything in particular that you absolutely refuse to hand over to someone else?

    Like

  2. Thanks, guys. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while.

    @Diana:

    The three biggest challenges when hiring VAs:

    1. Letting go of micro-managing and being willing to let the small bad things happen in the beginning. It’s all part of the process.

    2. Firing VAs upon which you become semi-dependent if they stop performing. It’s hard to do, but it’s like a band-aid — faster is better. It’s not that hard to find replacements.

    3. Shifting from a “per hour” mindset to a “per project” mindset. Someone who costs $20/hour might be cheaper than someone who costs $5/hour if they take 1/4 the time or do great work with fewer mistakes. Look at the cost per completed project or per week, not just per hour.

    Hope that helps!

    Tim

    Like

    • Not sure if you or your VA sees this :) But I am super appreciative for everything you shared. I’m hiring my first VA and although I have a solid idea of what I need you added some things I didn’t even think to ask.
      Thank you.

      Like

  3. Tim,

    Thanks again for sharing what you do. It makes the process much easier.

    Are you saying that if you have multiple e-mail accounts it is best to use gmail?

    I think I will implement this and then just have one ultra personal e-mail address for my partner, parents and close friends which as you say will remain pretty much empty.

    I’ll be sharing this post with my clients and the VA’s that work for me.

    best regards

    Gavin Allinson
    ###

    Thanks for the comment, Gavin. I’m not saying that Gmail is best, necessarily, but that it is perfectly effective if you are using multiple accounts to firewall your attention and prevent commingling of trivial vs. important e-mail. Hope that helps!

    Tim

    Like

  4. You replied to the question, “What are your working hours?” with “10am – 6pm PST, then often 11pm – 2am PST”.

    Hey, what happened to your 4-hour workweek?

    Do you invest your money to let it work for you? (I make $thousands working just 2 hrs/month managing my investment portfolio.)

    I’m enjoying your book and plan to review it on my website soon.

    ###

    Good question. It comes down to what “work” refers to. It’s different in the title of “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “work” in “work hours” here. In the book title, I’m referring to things people would rather spend less time on. That generally means financially-driven work that is boring or excessive.

    In the case of “work hours,” I simply mean “active hours” when I’m working on projects of various types, whether that’s dissecting Hebrew (coming soon), doing national- or international-level educational work (www.litliberation.org), or simply available for phone calls from my assistant.

    The 4-Hour Workweek isn’t about being idle — it’s about doing more of what you want to do. In my case, those projects are pursued in what I referred to as “work hours,” and I use that label just because no one would understand “active hours,” even if it’s more accurate :)

    Hope that helps,

    Tim

    Like

  5. Blogging the world!!!!! Cool post.. Tim. I think your template can be used for even the daily activities, it is basically a set of SOP s . This seems really genius, I would also like to comment on the way you “chunk” things together. This really forces one to complete the critical tasks in chunks.

    Have Fun out There….

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

    Like

  6. interesting post. how do you manage to get such trustworthy and excellent VA’s. I’ve been ending up with lots of incapable assistants, that require heaps of time. How many hours did it take to “train” them for this particular task to manage your inbox.

    ###

    Hi Seb,

    I use referrals and client feedback (on sites like http://www.elance.com) to weed out the incompetents, then it’s a matter of watching performance over the probationary period. It’s closer to “conditioning” than training, in the sense that you want to see a continual improvement curve as they learn from trial-and-error what your preferences and rules are. If they’re not 80-90% there after two weeks, I move on to someone else.

    Hiring is hiring. I encourage anyone looking to find a good VA to read how good HR people recruit good workers. Look at articles about Google or Southwest hiring.

    Good luck!

    Tim

    Like

  7. At this point, although I love your system, it seems like more hassle. I usually can deal with emails (if I batch them) in about 20 minutes a day. I like the feel of answering my own emails, and most family/friends not forward stuff to me.

    Although, if I were in a high profile position, and if my email account got to the point of 50 a day, I would implement these.

    Like

  8. This is not meant to sound snarky, but it probably will. After seeing several typos and grammatical mistakes in the section of this article that you wrote, it made me laugh to see the subject-verb agreement mistake in the assistant’s note on reading The Elements of Style! As someone who also blogs, I understand that the desire to publish sometimes outweighs the desire proofread and edit every single sentence, but he irony in that paragraph was just too amusing to stifle.

    ###

    LOL… snarky is fine. If the errors were in the article body before the “rules,” I take full responsibility. I ain’t no real journalist, to be sure. BUT, if the errors were in the “rules” themselves, they were mostly written by the VA in herself. So if you found any errors therein, you understand why I recommended she and her sub-VAs read The Elements of Style, no? :)

    Well played, sir,

    Tim

    Like

  9. Fantastic stuff as always.

    Thanks for the heads up on the Seth Godin call! The last two people who borrowed my copy of The Dip quit their jobs about a month later and are living much happier lives (no more 50 hour work weeks or living in hotels).

    Like

  10. Tim,

    Great template for dealing with a VA. For now, I work in the banking world and there are rules governing behaviour, so I am not allowed to communicate with clients from a non-work account, for example. I also tend to use my work email for personal emails to family and close friends, since outside of the working day I do not want to be answering email.

    I have a full time assistant here, who helps me with research. He is bright. But I don’t want my personal emails going to him.

    Do you have any ideas for someone in my situation that would meet the following criteria:

    1) Don’t want my assistant dealing with my personal email

    2) Don’t want to be dealing with personal email in the evening because that’s family time, highly valued.

    3) Need to be able to access personal email from work, and in my environment most web-enabled mail programs (gmail, etc) are blocked by the IT department.

    Like

  11. Very very nice way of using other people’s time in exchange for a pay. Well I don’t mind using my spare time to check on your email as long as I am paid. That said, anyone wants to hire me? FOR HIRE, HUMAN E-MAIL ASSISTANT. ICQ#335765734

    Like

  12. Tim, so is it indeed you responding to these blog posts? Do you have someone filter & forward posts to you or do you load your page and read all comments?

    I’ve just started with Getfriday and am working with one guy there. Since you use many VA companies, can you tell me what you still delegate to Getfriday exclusively?

    last one: Why tim@XXXX instead of info@XXXX if people know they’re not actually emailing you personally?

    be well,
    Bill

    Like

  13. From the artile: “…prefer a phone call…I really follow my own advice and don’t check email that often….”

    Seems that’ll just result in people spamming him by phone rather than by email, wouldn’t it.

    It’s kinda funny that for me, I treat phone&email almost the opposite of what he does. All phone calls go to voicemail; while all emails to my (non-spam) email account are dealt with within a few hours. If I get a voicemail that needs action, I email myself a summary of it.

    If I had an assistant, I’d have them send me email summaries of my phone calls rather than voicemail summaries of my email.

    Totally agreed about his multiple-email-addresses to pre sort email, tho.

    Like

  14. The gaping hole in your system is that the layman doesn’t have assistant(s)… you’ve outsourced your email to an assistant… uh, brilliant.

    What you need to include is where can I, first, find an assistant?

    ###

    Hi Justin,

    Please check out the links at the bottom of the post, as well as the two in the post on “personal outsourcing.” Those will get you started, and you can find someone for $5-10/hour.

    Thanks!

    Tim

    Like

  15. Hey Tim,
    This is one of my favorite posts that you have put up recently… very good information, thanks for sharing the results of your experiment. Also, I notice certain patterns in your blogging style and frequency… When are you going to post your experiment results about blogging? :)

    It was hilarious to see all the Digg people griping because you were on the Front Page! I love it when you stir the pot like that… reminds me of when I was reading the controversy about 4HWW on Amazon last year right after I read the book for the first time. Brilliant.

    Erik

    ###

    Thanks, Eric. I’m continually amazed at the volume of griping online — it’s great fuel for the fire, regardless. Here is the first thing I’ve learned online: if you have anything remotely worthwhile to say, some people will love you and some people (very vocal people) will hate you for it. Par for the course, and I’m down to play :)

    Tim

    Like

  16. My VA isn’t so V. I’m married to her.
    And give me email all day long over phone calls. Just a few reasons:
    1. If you can’t clearly convey it in writing, then I’m likely uninterested.
    2. I can read/review on my schedule, not yours.
    3. I can reply on my schedule, not yours.
    4. Urgent matters can be text messaged with some note that I need to call immediately. Then I’ll call and put out a fire if necessary.

    But that’s me. And my life is boring. I’m no Tim Ferris!

    Like

  17. You have a typo in (46).

    “We are not if or when Tim will offer the PX Method for sale, but there are no plans at this time. ”

    should read

    “We are sure not if or when Tim will offer the PX Method for sale, but there are no plans at this time.”

    ###

    Doh! Thank you. I’ll get it fixed.

    Tim

    Like

  18. Hey Tim, this is unrelated to your post. But, just wanted you to know that your content rocks!

    I’m American (yank), but spent 3 years off & on traveling the world after college. The stories I could tell- my, my- no one would ever believe me. The surf, the girls, the parties, the comedy, & the pictures to prove it…

    Even if I never did nothing again, I’d still have “lived a million lives”. It’s hard for most people to comprehend that, but oh well.

    Just wanted to say thanks for blogging & the tips. Much appreciated man.
    :)

    Like

  19. WOW! Have someone else manage your email? Its genius!

    Probably why every exec in the world does this.

    And A pda w/o wireless sync? what is this, 1994? Go buy a blackberry already.

    Like

  20. Tim,
    I’ve seen your book around and I’ve heard great stuff about it, but I thought you’d like to know that after reading this post, I’m going to order your book right away to see what else you have to say. Thanks, for the valuable insight and information you provide.

    Like

  21. Tim, if you’re about to get into Hebrew, does this mean we can expect you to take a mini-retirement here in Israel any time soon?

    ###

    I’d love to visit Israel! It’s definitely on my list. I’ll keep you posted… :)

    Toda,

    Tim

    Like

  22. Cool teleconference!!!!!!! There were some great ideas exchanged there. Suggestion for a post: How to get free tutoring at the apple store. I have been using the apple one on one for about a year now. They told me at apple that after 3 sessions of tutoring( $99/year or 52 sessions) they lose money. Can you imagine what it costs to have someone teach you apple applicable techniques? Even if you did only 25 sessions a year, it comes out to $3.96/session…… About what some VAs cost… Killer Deal!!!!!!!

    I am by no means a computer expert and have just seen the value that Apple offers to its clients. Their machines are cool, I use both Windows and Max OS X on it. Anyhow, i am still digesting this blog. Piece by piece I am understanding it.

    Enjoy LIFE……

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

    ps. Any seminars coming up in the N.E. anytime soon?

    Like

  23. Hey Tim,

    Just want to say thanks for your overwhelming generosity. Seriously. My partner and I read the book recently and it added structure to what we’ve been working toward for the last 6 months. July last year i hauled myself out of a 24/7 3continent job (which I loved, but was undeniiably addicited to!), and we are now focussing on elimination automation et al!

    I have recently tried outsourcing some stuff to rentacoder, and had 2/3 bad experiences so I am going to take you up on some of the other companies you mention in the book and here on the blog.

    I hate answering emails… it is like a slow painful death for me, so I will be heading down this path soon.

    You mentioned that you had a process for how to deal with the emails. What I see here is a whole bunch of rules. Is this list somthing you started when you took your VA on, and just keep adding to? Or is there anothe document that you’re hiding somehwere. If this is it, I’m willing to give it a shot and start from the top and work my way down. Give me freedom any day of the week.

    As for all the typos comments: crumbs! Isn’t that your whole point? No-one is going to die over a typo!!

    Anyhow… cheers, thanks for the roadmap, thanks for the inspiration, and bring on salsa in Cuba!

    Cheers,
    joey

    Like

  24. Tim,

    If all you are doing is sending back an item list to your assistant then cutt the email all together and send the list to your VA’s email with jott! It is an amazing tool that i use all the time to send people email and notes when I dont want to either text them or send them an email. All you do is call jott and your message gets transcribed and can be sent to anyone on your list or a telephone number as a text.

    its as simple as that. I would also recommend jott to anyone out there who wants to remember things but doesnt want to constantly have to take notes. You could even Jott to your VA and have them put it on your calendar ;)

    AMAZING post!

    ###

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the kind words! I love Jott, and this is a great alternative. I just find that typing it out forces me to be clear in my instructions, but Jott could work really well as a sub and prevent getting caught in the inbox. Good suggestion.

    Mahalo,

    Tim

    ciao

    Like

  25. Is it you, Tim, replying to these blog comments– or a VA on your behalf?

    I receive many reader’ questions via email (plus comments on my blog) and I’m having a hard time keeping up. I love the community that my blog is generating and I really want to respond to readers. Any tips from you, Tim (or his VA)? Thanks!

    Like

  26. How’s twitter working? Thanks again for the advice on the teleconference.

    Best

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

    ###

    Hi, Jose. Twitter is fun to play with thus far. I’m not really using it for “updates” as much as either notifications in real-time to those who care, or invitations (like last week’s invite to see “There Will Be Blood” with me). I set it up primarily for last-minute invites and notifications for those who might want to grab a drink with me or do something cool I learn about at the 11th hour.

    Tim

    Like

  27. Brilliant as always Tim. It’s amazing to think that one could get an hour or two back every day for ~$10/hour using a method like this.

    I have a gaming keyboard (Logitech G15) with a built-in stopwatch that I use to make sure I only spend 2 minutes per e-mail (as per Gettings Things Done) – else it goes onto my TODO list to be prioritized normally.

    For real productivity geeks, check out Steve Pavlina’s excellent article on Time Logging:

    http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/triple-your-personal-productivity.htm

    This requires more discipline (but less money!), but can help you find the sweet spot where you work the least and get the most done (and can show you where your bottlenecks/outsourcing-targets are).

    -Charlie

    Like

  28. Hi Tim, thanks for these rules. Got me on the path knowing there’s a framework to. As of Tues/Wednesday midnight I got rid of my inbox.

    One question, do I set an autoresponder so that people know that I am away from e-mail and that an assistant will deal with it?

    Kavit

    ###

    Hi Kavit,

    Good question and congrats! I don’t currently have an autoresponder on my personal email, as few people have it, and those who do know my policies. My assistant does have an e-mail autoresponse, which not only sets expectations for responses but also indicates that — due to volume — it isn’t possible for us to respond to certain types of e-mail. If I travel, I will put an autoresponse on mine as well.

    Good luck!

    Tim

    Like

  29. Hey Tim – I just wanted to say thinks for the invite to the teleconference today, a lot of things resonated with me while listening. I needed a boost. You rock! :) ~Marcie

    Like

  30. (I wrote this response up once before and saw it animate and “post” but it seems to have not been saved.)

    Brilliant, as usual Tim.

    I use the stopwatch in my keyboard (Logitech G15) to make sure I’m sticking to the Getting Things Done 2-minutes-per-email rule. As soon as I’m making enough money to justify the amount of time I’m spending on my inbox, I’m adopting your system.

    If you’re really into this stuff, you might want to check out this article on “time logging” but Steve Pavlina:

    http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/triple-your-personal-productivity.htm

    Both Tim and Steve’s approaches to decreasing time without losing productivity are blowing my mind. Keep up the great work guys!

    -Charlie

    Like

  31. Tim,
    Read your book, Awesome. You a Cool MF too.
    Hired my first VA, $5 hr (India) Elance
    Stopped answereing E-mail
    Got rid of my Cell Phone.

    We are kinda the same, I’ve been Traveling abroad to Thailand,Cambodia, Hong Kong,Macou, Shenzhen China, Canada for the last 3 years. Staying in Each place for a Month or Two. Each place I go I set up shop and start an Import Export while I’m there. It’s Awesome. Some how I make so much more money overseas than in AMERICA it’s CRAZY!
    You see I know what you really do…

    Travel the world and Meet Women…..at least that’s what I DO!!

    Keep up the Good Work

    – Alex S. 27 Bethesda, MD

    Like

  32. Hi,
    Having a VA to handle emails meants he/she has access to my inbox, read highly sensitive/critical info. Are you suggesting that we can trust a stranger with our mail contacts, bank, loan info?

    Thanks for the advice.

    Like

  33. I’ve written more detailed thoughts on my blog, but one simple point I wanted to make is that many people will get a large chunk of the benefit of these strategies simply by limiting the number of times they check email throughout the day to a handful of predefined blocks of time.

    Like

  34. Hi Cindy,

    If you’re really concerned you can always set up a seperate e-mail address that just has the personal stuff. I’m doing that for my partner, parents, and key clients so that I’ll just be answering those e-mails.

    If you don’t want to do that, i don’t think much sensitive financial info is ever sent via email anyway not from banks anyway, I always have to go and login somewhere else.

    Gavin

    Like

  35. Tim wrote: ” I use input my own items via my Palm Z22″

    Hey Tim, it struck me as odd that you’d go for the lowest end PDA available rather than a Tungsten E. Wondering if you can shed some light on your choice in this PDA, other than the fact that it is a hundred bucks cheaper? Thanks.

    Also, have you read the Zen To Done ebook? http://www.zenhabits.com/. It’s something you may find quite valuable. A mix of David Allen’s GTD and some new tweaks.

    Cheers from Portland, Oregon

    ###

    Hi Adam,

    It was the only PDA I could find that would give me syched calendar and contacts without Internet access! I don’t want a live inbox in my pocket. Too tempting to procrasterbate with :)

    Hope that helps,

    Tim

    Like

  36. Tim,

    Just wanted to say GREAT JOB on detailing out the instructions/rules for your VA’s. I operate an outsoucing company providing VA’s and Bookkeeping using QuickBooks. I have to say, since the release of your 4HWW Book it has really brought awareness for the need of a VA’s for small to medium business.

    Also wanted to comment on your post regarding “Time without Attention is Worthless”…you nailed it!!!

    ~ Todd

    Like

  37. Thank you John for the Comment on JOTT above.
    I love it. :-) (And so does my wife. :-)

    I loved the 4HWW and have put a lot of it to use in my life.
    And… I really enjoy this blog. This is the first time I
    got a KILLER hint from a comment. SO…

    Tim you are building a community beyond yourself that is great. :-)

    I am enjoying experementing with my own living style. :-)
    Thank you.

    Tom

    Like

  38. Thanks for the template and the “you’re not the only person in the world who can sort stuff” kick in the pants. Very useful.

    Now just to deal with the emotional addiction aspects …

    Question: one of your rules involved email templates set up in gmail. I’ve given my team a document of templates but it would be nice to just have them all in one place. How are you approaching this with gmail? (drafts? google docs?).

    ###

    Man, you’d have to ask my VA! I would be apt to have them in drafts, which is what I do with personal templates.

    Tim

    Like

  39. Pingback: Daily Relevance
  40. Hi Tim,

    what about people working for you? Do they find your suggestions useful? Do they follow your 4-hour workweek rules?

    I haven’t read your book yet, I’m going to order it now!

    Many compliments,

    Valerio

    Like

  41. I am completely intrigued by the VA idea, but can’t quite believe this is the solution in all business settings. We run private label tea manufacturing, and while it takes too much time to efficiently answer new prospective customer emails, it is where all new profit comes from- so seems silly to outsource. Other emails are following up with customers, and also can;’t be outsources to someone who does not know the business well. All the rest are junk, and don’t take all that much time to erase-

    Like

  42. Jake – Thats exactly the purpose of tim’s crusade, getting people to realize that its possible to actually give people control over these parts of their business so that you can be focusing on other parts of the business.

    Yes, it does take some time to work out the kinks with your VA but it can be done. When it is done you have an efficient machine answering and sizing up potential sales for you without you having to do anything. Then you will be able to go after only the most promising leads. Product question leads should be fairly linear and follow up emails can be answered by someone who has a good business op tree and can be forwarded along once the questions escalate.

    As long as you have the mentality that you are the only one that can run your business because you are the only one that can run it right. Then you will always be the one doing everything with no free time on your hands.

    I would recommend reading Tims book!

    Ciao!

    Like

  43. I never knew that someone could actually spend so much time checking e-mail everyday! I didn’t realize that one person could receive so much e-mail that the checking of it would have to be outsourced… What if we didn’t have e-mail? Would there still be the same insane amount of correspondence? I think not…

    Like

  44. People NEED to communicate, whether through email, phone, or mail. If there isn’t one solution communication will be routed through the other.

    No email… means increase in snail mail and phone conversations, which REALLY suck!

    Like

  45. When you’re at the point where you have to pay someone else to help you manage your life, where you feel compelled to maximize the efficiency of every minute of your day by creating and reworking elaborate workflow systems, where you have to schedule your precious time in little blocks – it occurs to me that maybe you’re definition of worthwhile accomplishment has drifted away from making yourself and others happy, and more towards the traditional definition thrust upon you by society. I expect your first instinct might be to fight this notion – and maybe you’re right. And I’m sure I could say it in a less confrontational way (I’m not the best writer!) And I do see that you have a tremendous talent. But do you wonder how much happier all this makes you? Do you wonder what *really* motivates you? Do you wonder if maybe the drive to accomplish is something you should fight rather than embrace? Curious.

    Like

  46. In your article, 2 sentences before “read The Elements of Style” you use “too” instead of “to”. Maybe you (or your team) should read “The Elements of Style” 1 more time.

    ###

    Hi Georgio,

    That was written by one of my assistants, as indicated. That’s why I asked them to read it :)

    Tim

    Like

  47. Responding to Chris Says:
    January 22nd, 2008 at 8:31 am

    If you have an assistant you are either very lucky, or up the food chain of the corporate world. With that in mind, you probably can get access to a personal email account on your work PC. You probably have more political clout then you think.

    1) Make friends with the IT guys to find out what the magic form is that ‘God’s 3rd level assistant’ needs to sign to get around the GLBA/Sox issues and allow special dispensation for you to access email outside the tower of babel (I am assuming from every other corporation, especially Financial services company I have seen).

    2) If that does not do the trick, try getting a corporate laptop for travel (also for remote access from home, disaster recovery/planning to be able to work remotely in the event of a disaster-see the disaster recovery plan for your organization for how to play this one). You need to be able to access your work from on the road, and they are often more open for Internet.

    3) Talk to some of the geeks around the office or the company (but not directly in charge of IT lockdown of security) to find out what Anonymizer websites (here is your 1st ones – http://www.anonymizer.com, http://www.answers.com/topic/anonymous-remailer) you can get to.

    4) There is a service that can email you a webpage (free) when you send an email – not exactly browsing, but might meet your needs.

    5) Drop the $400-800 for a laptop, and $100 for a Sprint card for Cell Internet – This has finally become a viable solution for many – http://nextelonline.nextel.com/NASApp/onlinestore/en/Action/SubmitRegionAction
    . The monthly is $60 for unlimited, but keep an eye on the market, it just shifted with unlimited voice plans coming out from 3 vendors this past week. Helio is another one to take a look at.

    6) Get a Blackberry or iPhone with Internet access and use that for your personal email accounts.

    7) See if all the instant messaging programs are locked out. Many of them are configurable to be able to get around firewalls and standard blocking. Again, look to the young geeks in the area that are happy or productive – they probably already figured it out. You can forward your email to them and then work through that.

    8) Try a program like LogMeIn.com (go a little slow in the menu, there is a permanently FREE version, not trial version) that lets you work your home PC from the office. That lets you solve a lot of different problems at once. Of course if you need some of the extra capabilities your can get the paid version, it is pretty cheap. There are a variety of programs/websites like this that allow remote access to your home computer with just a browser access (from work, from a starbucks, from a cruise ship). A guy I know used it to continue client support while dragging his family through Poland.

    By the way I have been using multiple accounts segmented by the different parts of my life for years. While I am still spending way to much time reading email -hence the reason for reading the blog after the book to start shifting my life – it helps a lot in shifting from project to project. Toughest part is getting the habit to check all projects on a regular basis.

    I hope there is a solution in there somewhere that your can implement.

    Like

  48. In response to • 65. John Says:
    February 5th, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    I think what Tim is saying, and has been true in my world, is the easier it becomes for people to throw communication (email, word processing, voice mail) around, the more communication that gets thrown around. And most of the time there is not a corresponding increase in value to the increase in communication.

    For example, this particular blog and its extensive comments could probably be boiled down to half or a third. If someone took the time to really write and edit it. I am not saying this to be mean, just stating my opinion. But, by making it easy to throw a lot of information around allows for new ideas, and more ‘noise’. Of course the art of (living, managing your job, managing your life, managing others) is optimizing the ‘signal to noise’ ratio. And my signal may be your noise. Going back to John’s comment, any communication is communication. But, certainly a lot of the communication being emailed is CYA (cover your assets), and ‘will you do for me, what I won’t do for myself’ – or noise to many. And since people do not perform much editing on what is written in most emails, it tends to have more noise then other forms of communication.

    Just look at how well this comment is not written in communicating the points I was trying to make.
    Or – This comment could be an example.

    Like

  49. Forgive the self promotion here, it’s on topic! I produce a Firefox addon called GTDInbox (unfortunately it’s restricted to Gmail and Firefox, but the ideas are interesting), that transforms the way you perceive Gmail.

    It’s main aim is to reduce inbox chaos, by transforming emails into tasks, prioritising them, categorising emails/info/files into projects and generally reconstructing your inbox as a highly efficient personal database. It is even benefical for teams. The website also has some general tips on common woes with email, and how to address them.

    Like

  50. Hi Tim, I´d like to translate your post and publish it in my new blog. Let me know if I have your authorisation to do so.
    Thanks!
    Barbara Langer
    Director of
    Asistencia-Virtual.com

    Like

  51. I agree that e-mail often takes up too much time. However, the idea of hiring people to think like you and respond to messages on your behalf is extremely distasteful. Life is about people and relationships – not about fake conversations. It sounds to me like you’re having a great time at other people’s expense. You’re also missing much of what life has to offer by having everyone else live much of your life for you.

    Like

  52. Myra,

    Email outsourcing does not necessarily outsource the ones that are personal in nature or require your expertise but many emails are standard in nature and require standard responses. It does not have to be all or nothing and you do not have to lose the personal touch.

    Terri Carey
    Virtual Assistant for Coaches

    Like

  53. Hi Tim! Just a quick note to tell you that your post is translated to spanish and published here: http://www.asistencia-virtual.com/blog-asistencia-virtual/2008/06/20/que-tal-si-ya-no-tuvieras-que-chequear-nunca-mas-tus-emails-traduccion-autorizada-de-the-holy-grail-how-to-outsource-the-inbox-and-never-check-email-again/ making reference to your original post for your “Processing Rules”.

    Have a nice week and thanks again!

    Barbara Langer
    Asistencia-Virtual.com

    Like

  54. Tim,

    Came across this one tonight just browsing your blog. Love the post, any tips for training a VA to think like me? One of the issue’s I have had with my VA is that his emails sound foreign sometimes, otherwise he is great, but I have had a hard time having him send emails or make phone calls on my behalf because of it.

    Like

  55. Hi Tim,

    I was just thinking that you should right a tactical outsourcing book. Detailed guidance, strategies, tactics, and implementation steps for outsourcing anything.

    For high end support like executive assistants and email managers, where have you found your best ones? (Best country, Best VA website, Best VA company)

    Your blog rocks big time. You are changing so many lives every day. Keep up the great work!

    Thank you!

    Like

  56. We run a Wealth Management firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am a big fan of the Four Hour Work Week. It got me inspired to hire a virtual assistant. We have two from a company called Secretary in Israel.

    This company hires all American college educated assistants who are living in Israel. Because the economy is not so great over there for those who do not speak the language, this company has been able to find an incredible group of assistants. All have local US phone #s, through VOIP and my clients do not even know where she is calling from. I love the time difference. Both my assistants work late into their nights. So I have coverage in CA until 3:00PM and when I give them projects in the evening my time, iit is their morning – so they are done when I wake up.

    My one assistant used to be the Personal Assistant for one of the top guys at Goldman Sachs and my other used to be an account at Deloitee & Touche. They have been able to significantly give me the ability to work on only those things that I can do. DELEGATE DELEGATE DELEGATE – is one of the things that I learned from Tim Ferris. Contacting them is the easiest way to start getting closer to that four our work week we are all striving for. Feel free to e-mail me with questions about Secretary in Israel. I am a big fan because it has changed my business.

    Like

  57. thanks for the list. It seems that this would show your clients that you have a well oiled machine no matter where you are and that you are truely living what you preach. I like that it is very detail with specific boundaries. Also, it gives your Va’s enough room to make suggests to be more efficient. I really liked the book …. elements of style. Another post that im going to keep for reference.

    Like

  58. Hi Tim,

    The VA industry has come along way since you wrote your first book. We are now in 2009 and readers are still inspired enough to leave comments on your original blog. This is an amazing testament to your vision.

    I wanted to thank you for being so inspirational. My business has grown out of the demand for VA’s that your book, articles and blogs have helped generate. We are probably the first VA recruitment agency worldwide.

    What are the major changes that you have seen over the past 12 months?

    Like