Guy Kawasaki--a master at using social media to influence others--is always trying to prevent the communications of others from mastering him. One of Silicon Valley’s favorite pundits, Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of an online design company called Canva, and the former chief evangelist for a little outfit known as Apple. He has four children ages 9 through 21 and 575 pending emails. Kawasaki explains how he manages the latter so he can have at least some time for the former.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to work-life balance?
By far the biggest impact is email. I have a naïve belief that everybody except spammers merits an answer, which is the kiss of death. Then if you layer on social media, these take up so much of my day that it affects the amount of time I spend with my family.
Having said that, email does make my life more efficient. I haven’t figured out a resolution. I have a virtual assistant who has access to all of my accounts. She looks for the junk, the stuff she can answer, and skims them off the top.
Only I can make a decision for some emails, like whether I want to do a book blurb or speak at an event. I forward my declines to a virtual assistant who crafts a polite “no” better than I could. Also, if I haven’t answered an email in 90 days, I delete it. That helps.
Do you have any coping mechanisms to deal with the constant incoming email?
A partial solution is to just throw money at the problem by using a virtual assistant. Another partial solution is understanding that the sun will still rise tomorrow even though you don’t answer every email. I learned this when I’ve lost all my emails and nothing happened.
I believe that there’s no such thing as too short an email. Many people write entire paragraphs to build a case why I should read and respond to their email. In fact, I’m egalitarian. I don’t care about your past--I can either help you or not.
Finally, I use a tool called TextExpander to reduce typing. For example, I type “atb,” and this expands to “All the best, Guy.”
Have these tricks freed up some time for you?
I can’t tell you that these shortcuts have tamed the beast. Right now I have 575 pending emails. If you watch Martha Stewart, she’ll show you a more efficient way to get the husk off garlic cloves, but a perfectionist attitude is still the underlying motivation. I’m just figuring out better ways to shake the husks off the cloves.
How does your family feel about your self-professed workaholism?
I’m constantly trying to thread a needle between being a good husband, father, and provider. Those are the only roles that I really care about. It’s not easy, and it’s an ongoing challenge.
I travel a lot to make speeches, but I don’t take any time off to play tourist on trips. I’m in and out of almost every city in the world in less than 24 hours. I once visited Russia to make a speech, and I was there for 10 hours.
When I’m not traveling, I don’t go into an office. I try to take my kids to school and pick them up. My family makes fun of me for being on the computer all the time, but at least I’m there. I do a lot of things with my kids. My wife is a busy person, too. She’s strong. Her identity is not defined as being my wife--honestly, she’s the brains in this couple.
The real world is not people walking on beaches completing each other’s sentences. You just have to try to thread the needle among competing needs as best you can. That’s all I can tell you.
Do your kids emulate your obsessive behavior?
That would be scary! They are not glued to screens, and I don’t force them to be tech geeks. I just want them to find and pursue their own interests. I vacillate between thinking that they see me on the computer too much versus modeling working really hard.
You don’t seem like a great model of work-life balance.
I don’t pretend to be a role model. At the end of the day my secret is just that I love to work. I’m not a visionary or a genius, but I can outwork anyone. I worked very hard in my 20s. You’re supposed to work hard then, so man up and do it. You’ve got to pay your dues.
Life is about making the field tilt toward you. It took a lot of effort to get to this point. But I have to say that of all the things in my life, my children have brought me the greatest joy.