The “mental frameworks” I use to respond to hundreds of emails/day

Ramit Sethi

The Mental Frameworks I Use to Respond to Hundreds of Emails Per Day: Using these tactics to do and learn more, QUICKLY.

My friend Derek Halpern was asking me how I respond to so many emails every day. “What filters do you use?” he asked.

“You’re not going to believe it,” I told him, shaking my head. “I just click ‘All Mail’ and just cycle through emails insanely fast.”

He looked at me in disbelief.

But then I mentioned something else:

“By this point, I can look at an email and ‘sight-read’ most of them in less than a second. I’ve seen so many that I can basically tell what the email is about in less than a second.”

So after seeing hundreds of thousands of emails, I can quickly “see” what the email is about.

(You already do this in other parts of your life! Think about it: Have you ever had a friend who started talking about the bad boyfriend who doesn’t have a job…who doesn’t answer text messages…who won’t commit…and you think — I’ve seen this story 50x before? It’s like that — a simple “heuristic”.)

Who else uses heuristics to rapidly identify a situation?

  • Chess grandmasters look at a board and see something very different than novices. They recognize deep patterns while novice players see pieces on a board
  • Skilled writers can look at an essay and instantly see where the transition fails…and where the reader will stop reading

How do you apply this to your life?

What if you could build your skills at automatic “sight-reading”?

Learning how to use heuristics has been one of the best skills I’ve learned in the last 10 years. What if you could instantly use these “heuristics,” or mental shortcuts, to rapidly size up a situation?

As a cognitive miser, you already do this. But if you could train yourself to be more accurate…it would let you speed up the things you’re already doing — and do them better.

I recently interviewed one of my friends, Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, and The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast!

Josh is so skilled at mental frameworks, he was THE person I called when I was stuck on a very specific part of building one of my flagship courses. I called him, he thought about the problem (which I’d been obsessing over for about a month), and instantly made a recommendation that let us fix the problem and launch the course.

In this interview, Josh talks about how he uses the systems in his business and personal life to optimize his business and work-life balance. Josh runs a very successful business (by himself!) and still has plenty of time to spend with his family, write books, and learn cool new skills like windsurfing, programming and yoga.

How? How can he learn these skills so rapidly? And what if you could do what he does to learn how to speak a new language…play a musical instrument…or learn how to cook?

Watch him tell us about how he uses mental frameworks to rapidly learn new skills.

Want to know what every single top performer I’ve interviewed in Brain Trust (including CEOs, athletes, and best-selling authors) ALL have in common? Simple. It’s habits. Successful people don’t just catch a lucky break and coast — they systematically identify and integrate winning habits into their lives, day in and day out, for years.

Ramit’s Brain Trust is now closed indefinitely. But before we closed the program, we extracted all the juiciest success habits from our guests and packaged them into a 7-part Ultimate Guide to Habits that you can read anytime, anywhere — absolutely free.


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Imagine 30 days from today, jumping out of bed early with tons of energy. You actually LOOK FORWARD to the day — no more feeling frazzled — because of the new “peak performance” tools you’re using now.

Maybe you want to start eating healthier, or cook a meal once a week. Maybe you want to start a business, or even just read one book a month.

No problem. Start small. Pick 1 or 2 things to use these powerful techniques on, and watch what happens.

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  1. Aaron

    I love the idea of systems… but I am in a creative field where there is a lot of subjectiveness in terms of design or creativity. Is it possible to systemize this or should I focus on just systemizing other aspects of the business?

    • Robert Williams

      You should definitely have a system. Especially for subjective topics like design and creativity. For example, with every design I send over, I send a “How to properly critique this and give me feedback,” document. This basically ends all prescriptive feedback like “move twitter button to the left,” and replaces it with them telling me the problems they want me to solve, and allowing me to solve them with my design expertise – you know, what they’re paying me for.

      I have a few more systems, and frameworks, for creative work – building a brand persona for branding projects, creating wireframes for complex web projects, and tons of research frameworks for copywriting – they’ve really helped me save time, and improve quality.

  2. Aaron

    Also, does Josh go into more detail about systems in his newest book? Or is this covered in his Personal MBA book? They are both on my reading list.

  3. JT

    One additional benefit of having a documented, optimized system is portability. If you can do the work of turning a time-consuming task into a documented system, you can then hand that system to someone else to execute while you turn to areas that either don’t or can’t have systems built around them yet.

  4. Annika Stahlberg

    YES! Systems are so so important, this point has been absolutely hammered home to me this week from about 4 different mentors!
    It’s the best way in business to outsource, create products, sell products, market the business – everything! I think one of the problems I’m encountering now when it comes to systemising my dream lifestyle creation business is overwhelm. Where to start systematising & what can wait. I’m taking 1 system/month right now and making that happen.
    Thanks for the timely reminder Ramit!

  5. Joe

    I like this stuff!
    I always hated math and failed at in school all my life. I didn’t care, I am good with words. Now I’m 41 and I think I’d like to revisit math, at least word problems, which I really despised as a kid. I’m becoming interested in studying probabilities and would love to apply Josh’s stuff to this endeavor.

  6. Jacques van Heerden

    Thanks for the interesting perspective Ramit. It’s important to make use of systems to organize your life and manage your time correctly, especially if you have a loaded daily email box.

  7. Jeremy

    Always love hearing the discussion about systems, especially from Ramit and Josh.

    Setting up systems to do it once and do the best job in the world- Thanks guys!

  8. Nikolai

    Frameworks and patterns recognition are extremely important. I read an article in the NYT that said that it was the most important skill to language acquisition. I speak 5 languages and all the skills I learned are based on frameworks. It just saves so much time!!!

  9. Alex

    Hey Ramit,

    I’ve been enjoying your site since 2006 or so.

    I just added your site to one of my main pages, Kick-Ass Sites:

    Keep up the good work!

    P.S. You find the coolest articles on the net. Your is the only one I visit.

  10. Simon

    NICE! I have heard pieces of this mentioned by several mentors, but now I see it clearer, thank you for this awesome piece of knowledge, I can only imagine the rest of the Brain Trust Program.


  11. Stella

    Hi Ramit,

    Thanks for sharing this post and the interview with Josh! Although you talk about “system” a lot, it was still amazing to hear it from Josh’s perspective.

    Just like you sight-reading emails, I’ve built a system to deal with customer services based on their predictable lines and have successfully minimized back-and-forth communications. For example, I used to spend 20+munites to deal with some difficult situations and often didn’t get the desired results, now I combine system with the negotiation skills and scripts you’ve shared with us, and can basically nail one under 5 minutes and get the results I want.

    Please keep up the great work! I am always looking forward to test your posts.

    Thanks again,