This Email Habit Could Save Your Career

In his new book, How Google Works, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt provides readers with nine rules for effective emailing. Coming in first as the number one email habit for the most effective professionals is the art of the quick response. According to the book (cowritten by former Senior VP of Products Jonathan Rosenberg):

There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can’t. Strive to be one of the former. Most of the best — and busiest — people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us [Googlers] or to a select few senders, but to everyone.

Based on Schmidt's observation, then, it seems as if letting emails pile up in your inbox is one of the worst things you can do for you career. It signals to your colleagues that you're not a dependable worker, or that you're perhaps too overwhelmed to offer assistance. On the other hand, How Google Works tells us:

Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions, and being responsive to everyone reinforces the flat, meritocratic culture you are trying to establish.
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Plus, you can rest assured that if you're not responding quickly to emails, there's another one of your colleagues out there who is. Of course, Eric Schmidt reminds us in his book that this habit isn't meant to be tedious or time-consuming:

These responses can be quite short — “got it” is a favorite of ours. And when you are confident in your ability to respond quickly, you can tell people exactly what a non-​response means. In our case it’s usually “got it and proceed.”

With just two little words, then, you can indicate to your employer that you're an efficient, reliable worker who's worthy of their trust. In addition, other habits like keeping your emails short and crisp, or answering them on a Last In First Out basis, can help to boost your professional accomplishments. But there are also many habits outside of email that seem to characterize success. Here are four of the top habits adopted by some of the best in business, from Vera Wang to the POTUS:

1. Develop Clear Priorities.

According to Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the surest ways to success is to develop clear priorities and plan your time accordingly. This means focusing on things that will help to advance your professional goals rather than stressing over non-essential problems that only seem urgent. Even President Obama seems to have taken this habit to heart. He has said in the past that he only wears gray or blue suits to cut down on the decision-making process and leave room for thinking about more important things (aka running the country).

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2. Take Time For Yourself.

Covey also suggests in his book that professionals take the time to attend to themselves and replenish their energy rather than getting bogged down by the daily minutia. And what do you know, this also seems to be a favorite tactic of Bill Gates, who is once again the richest man in the world. According to USA Today, Gates makes it a priority to take a week off every year and reflect in a cabin in the woods.

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3. Read Before Bed (Or Whenever).

According to Business Insider, Gates also makes sure to read a bit of substantive literature each day, as do other successful businesspeople like Ariana Huffington and Warren Buffett. In fact, Buffett once said that the "the key to success" is reading 500 pages a day (a bit excessive, but you get the point).

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4. Find Your Safe Space.

Vera Wang likes to look at staff emails in the comfort of her own bedroom, Kate White (former Editor-In-Chief of Cosmo) writes fiction while standing up in the kitchen, and Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne prefers to take a 20-minute walk each night. Wherever your safe space may be, it's important to take the time to designate a location where you feel comfortable working and/or reflecting.

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All this is to say that, even if you're not the best at email, there are other ways to contribute to your professional success independent of technology. The fact remains, however, that email is our primary form of communication in the workplace, and oftentimes the first impression employers receive when we're applying for a position. Taking Eric Schmidt's nine tips to heart, therefore, could just be a career-saving move, or even a shortcut to landing your dream job. And while wearing the same suit or retreating to a cabin in the woods may work for some of the world's most powerful, I'd wager that industry giants like Obama and Gates can send a damn good email as well.