Work

The genius email hack this Instagram director uses to manage hundreds of messages a day—and how you can use it too

Director of fashion partnerships at Instagram Eva Chen visits Build Brunch to discuss her debut picture book 'Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes' at Build Studio on October 29, 2018 in New York City.
Gary Gershoff | WireImage | Getty Images

Eva Chen used to be a strict believer in Inbox Zero.

As Instagram's director of fashion partnerships, the 40-year-old former magazine editor gets hundreds of messages a day about everything from work approvals to scheduling meetings to event invitations. To tame her inbox and handle what she admits is a stressful subject for her, Chen told the podcast "The Cut on Tuesdays" about the time-saving email hack she developed during her time at Teen Vogue.

The process

First, she took a look at the most common types of emails she'd get in a day, then broke them down into eight to 10 different categories based on what kind of response they required. For example, an event invite could elicit an "RSVP Yes" or "RSVP No," while other questions could be best handled if directed to her assistant.

She then created email signatures with those canned responses, which she selects from as she moves through her inbox to speed up the process, and adds personalized messages as necessary.

The automated method has helped as Chen has moved up in her career from beauty and health director at Teen Vogue to editor-in-chief at Lucky magazine to her leadership role at Instagram — as with great power comes great responsibility (to answer your coworkers' emails).

These days, though, it also helps that Chen takes a more lax approach to maintaining zero unread messages.

"I used to be really crazy fanatical about Inbox Zero," she told The Cut's editor-in-chief Stella Bugbee on the podcast. "Now, I have made peace for my work email with Inbox 350. I am currently at Inbox 600, but I'm going to get back down to Inbox 350, and maybe one day I'll be at Inbox 100."

How other leaders tackle their inboxes

Of course, Chen is hardly alone in being weighed down by a daily influx of work messages. According to a survey from Adobe, the average American worker spends more than five hours per day checking personal and work email.

Keeping messages short and to the point — like two-sentences-or-fewer concise — is how TV host and producer Ryan Seacrest says he manages his inbox, while Kim Kardashian says she deletes every single email after she reads it and will retain only the ones that keep a conversation moving forward. When she does respond to an email, it tends to be while tackling other to-dos throughout her busy schedule.

"I multitask," she told The Cut in 2017. "I'm doing it right now. I'm doing this interview and answering so many emails at the same time. It's honestly gotten overwhelming, though, having to keep the inbox at zero. It's hard."

Actor-turned-businessman Ashton Kutcher keeps email stress to a minimum by avoiding the platform for the first hour of his day. Instead, he writes down what he wants to accomplish, and when he does address work email, he sends out his own messages first to delegate what needs to be done before he reads what's in his inbox.

Chen prefers to start her day by responding to direct messages sent to her on Instagram, which tend to be more personal conversations from friends and family. She told The Cut she also gets about 600 DMs a day from people she doesn't follow on the platform and will sometimes answer their questions on her Instagram Stories feed, which are often around working in fashion, navigating the tech scene, requests for skin care tips or life as a mom of two young kids.

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