Organizational Zen

Marissa Mayer
VP, Search Products and User Experience, Google

Executive summary: Don’t just cope with information — revel in it.

I don’t feel overwhelmed with information. I really like it. I use Gmail for my personal e-mail — 15 to 20 e-mails a day — but on my work e-mail I get as many as 700 to 800 a day, so I need something really fast.

I use an e-mail application called Pine, a Linux-based utility I started using in college. It’s a very simple text-based mailer in a crunchy little terminal window with Courier fonts. I do marathon e-mail catch-up sessions, sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday. I’ll just sit down and do e-mail for ten to 14 hours straight. I almost always have the radio or my TV on. I guess I’m a typical 25- to 35-year-old who’s now really embracing the two-screen experience.

I’m very speed-sensitive. With TiVo, for example, I just seem to spend too much of my life looking at the PLEASE WAIT sign. I adore my cell phone, but there’s just a second of delay when you answer it: Hello, hello? I do have a BlackBerry. I don’t use it at work because we have wireless throughout the office. I like my laptop a lot more, especially now that I have an EVDO [broadband cellular] card that gives me online access almost everywhere.

I almost always have my laptop with me. It’s sitting with me right now. We are a very laptop-friendly culture. It’s not uncommon to walk into a meeting at Google where everyone has a laptop open.

To keep track of tasks, I have a little document called a task list. And in the same document there’s a list for each person I work with or interact with, of what they’re working on or what I expect from them. It’s just a list in a text file. Using this, I can plan my day out the night before: “These are the five high-priority things to focus on.” But at Google things can change pretty fast. This morning I had my list of what I thought I was going to do today, but now I’m doing entirely different things.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to make time that was previously unproductive productive. If I’m driving my car somewhere, I try to get a call in to my family and friends then. Or during dead time when I’m waiting in line, I will hop on my cell phone and get something done.

My day starts around 9 A.M. and meetings finish up around 8 P.M. After that I stay in the office to do action items and e-mail. I can get by on four to six hours of sleep. I pace myself by taking a week-long vacation every four months.

I have an assistant, Patty, who handles calls from the outside, answers e-mails, letters, and requests. She does a great job with scheduling. In an average week I’m getting scheduled into about 70 meetings, probably ten or 11 hours a day. On Friday, Patty lets me out early — around 6, and I go up to San Francisco and do something interesting.

From 4 to 5:30 every day that I can, I’ll sit at my desk to answer any question that shows up on my doorstep. We have a big sign-up sheet outside. We joke that we should get one of those deli number tickers — “Now serving No. 68!” But we have nice couches and power for laptops and things outside the door where people wait.

The average seems to be around 13 people per day. Sometimes they show me mockups or new demos of ideas they want to advance. Sometimes they have a presentation they’re working on. Or sometimes they just want to ask me a question about Google’s overall management. Anything is fair game. So if they ask, “Why are we in China?” I try to answer as candidly as I can.

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