Aye Moah of Boomerang: “Figure out tomorrow before you leave work today”

Figure out tomorrow before you leave work today. At the end of every day, spend the last few minutes at work reflecting on the past day and planning what you need to work on tomorrow. That way, you can determine what you need to accomplish tomorrow while your mind is still plugged in from today’s […]

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Figure out tomorrow before you leave work today. At the end of every day, spend the last few minutes at work reflecting on the past day and planning what you need to work on tomorrow. That way, you can determine what you need to accomplish tomorrow while your mind is still plugged in from today’s work. The next morning, you can jump right into tackling that work, and can better prioritize if any urgent requests come in the next morning. Start by setting a calendar appointment for yourself, blocking out 5–10 minutes at the end of each workday. This technique is especially effective when you keep an organized task list — you can quickly glance at it and see everything that you need to work on.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingAye Moah.

Moah is a seasoned startup entrepreneur and Chief Product Officer of Boomerang with a decade of experience in bringing category-creating products to market. Boomerang, the most popular extension for Gmail and Outlook, enables millions of people to email more effectively. Moah is an innovator with multiple patents and a recognized entrepreneur in her field.

Moah is an experienced public speaker on productivity, entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence and product design. Her thoughts on these topics can be found in publications such as Forbes, WSJ, CNBC, Fast Company, Inc, and Business Insider.

She also serves on the advisory board of Build a School in Burma, a US 501c3 non-profit organization, dedicated to the advancement of education in Myanmar. BSB has built over 40 schools extending education access to over a hundred thousand children in rural areas of Myanmar across various ethnicities and religions.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in Yangon, Myanmar while it was still under military dictatorship. The first house I grew up in didn’t even have an indoor shower. My favorite memory of my childhood was playing in the drenching but warm tropical rain in our yard. My mom was totally okay with us playing in the rain because it counted as our shower for the day.

After a relatively normal childhood of attending a public school in a Yangon suburb, I found out about the existence of need-based financial aid packages for international students at top-tier American universities through a chance encounter with a journalist. He had just come back to Myanmar after getting his degree from Harvard. That led me to applying to colleges in the US, where I was accepted into MIT to study computer science. The flight I took to go to college was the first time I’d ever been on a plane and my first trip ever outside of Myanmar.

When I showed up at my freshman computer science class, I didn’t have an email address and my classmates laughed at me. 15 years later, I am now a co-founder of the world’s best email productivity company.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I believe I was in the 7th or 8th grade when my high school started a programming class as an after school experimental activity. The class used old Intel 386 computers and we learned the fundamentals of programming in BASIC. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the math teacher who initiated and taught that class. She’s the reason I found the delight and joy of programming and that eventually led me to major in computer science at MIT.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

When I was admitted to MIT, there was no way my family could have afforded the tuition and living expenses of an American college education. Thanks to a donor who founded a scholarship fund for exceptional students from the developing countries, I was able to begin my pursuit of the American dream. I still send his foundation regular updates on my recent accomplishments to show my appreciation for the impact his generosity has had on my life. It’s particularly fun to let him know that I am paying it forward when I send in updates of how many schools we have funded with our company’s profits.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

The funniest mistake was when I walked into the office of VP of Hiring with the same first name as an HR manager who I had been working with previously, but only over the phone. There I was, a 22-year-old fresh college graduate, walking into the wrong office and giving him a rundown of every inefficiency I found in our hiring process while I was transitioning the hiring data to a new recruiting software. It went over surprisingly well after he sorted out that I got the wrong person. He took the time to listen to my laundry list of improvements we could do, and he referred them back to his team to implement half of them. He also took the time to explain why the other half was not practical.

The obvious lesson I took away from this was to always double check whose office you’re walking into. But the bigger takeaway from this incident came later in my career when I became a leader myself. Great ideas and fresh eyes can bring insight into an organization and as leaders, we might not hear about them if we don’t make ourselves accessible.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

It might sound like a generic answer, but the best advice that I can give someone is to never let anyone else limit you. I’ve been very fortunate to build a company with my partner and a co-founder who are also my friends. But I had to overcome a lot before I could get to that point. I’ve heard “no” from so many people in life, but I never let that stop me. I knew that I had good ideas and a strong work ethic, so I just had to keep going.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

This is a really hard question for me to answer, so I actually can’t narrow it down to just one. In fact, it would be hard to even narrow it down to a single genre. I read so much, from so many different perspectives, and I try to find lessons in everything. So, if I’m going to offer a piece of advice, it would be to approach everything you read or listen to with an open mind. You never know when you’re going to find that piece of information that resonates with you in a deeper way.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I’m not sure if I would call them Life Lesson Quotes or if the first one can even be considered a quote. There are two phrases that I use often in my life as guidance.

The first one is three fundamental truths in Buddhism, also known as three marks of existence. It’s helpful to remind yourself:

1. Nothing is permanent regardless of how good or bad the situation is.

2. Suffering is tied to existence. Every being suffers in some way.

3. You don’t control everything; hence you are not responsible for everything and your “self” is ever evolving.

The second one is a quote by Alabama football team’s coach, Nick Saban. He said to always focus on the process of what it takes to be successful. It again meshes really well with the acceptance of not being able to control everything and everyone. This strengthens my internal locus of control by keeping my focus on the things I can work on, rather than worrying about external things that I have no control over.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about scheduling. With more of the world moving to working online, we keep hearing how many more meetings people are getting on their calendars. Conversations that might have happened by the water cooler before now require two people to make time for one another and set up a virtual meeting space.

We know that there are a lot of problems to solve around scheduling. A single meeting can take up to eight emails back and forth before it happens, and that’s assuming that nobody’s schedule changes in the meantime. Most of the products on the market today are so easy for the sender to use, but they aren’t very respectful of your guest’s time. We’ve built scheduling features into Boomerang for both Gmail and Outlook that address these issues and so many more. This was the right time to go back and see these problems in a whole new way, and we’re really proud of what we’ve already accomplished in a short amount of time.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Creating good habits is important for efficiency, time management and work/life balance. When something becomes a habit, it’s effortless to maintain them. Your day becomes smoother by default.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up into bad habits — one of my biggest pain points being the email vortex — which hinders productivity, cuts into valuable time that can be spent on timely projects and blurs the boundaries of work/life balance. Here are a few stats that serve as great examples as to why email addiction is a bad habit:

  • According to an analysis by McKinsey, the average professional spends 28% of the workday reading and answering email, which means for the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day. That’s more than one-fourth of the workday lost to reading and responding to email!
  • Studies have shown that it can take up to 20 minutes to regain momentum and that we can lose up to 10 IQ points when allowing our work to be interrupted by emails. This severely hinders the quantity and quality of work we are able to produce.
  • According to a study by the Academy of Management, on average, workers spend an extra eight hours a week sending company-related emails after work hours — a number that has surely risen with a significant amount of the workforce shifting to remote during the pandemic. Not to mention, after work emailing is linked to worse quality of sleep and reduced engagement the next day.

Overuse of email is a vicious cycle and with our constantly connected workforce that makes us so easily reachable, it can be a tough habit to break.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Habits have played a role in my success by helping me stay focused, on-task and to optimize my time. Not only am I the Chief of Product for a thriving, growing company, but I’m also a wife and a mom to a preschooler (without a preschool) and a baby, while serving as a Senior Advisor to a VC firm and an Advisory board member to a non-profit organization. Time management is a critical skill for me in order to stay afloat and stop wasting time on an endless stream of email. Here are a few habits that have helped me:

Make your calendar work for you: Not losing control of your day in this chaotic time starts with a well-managed calendar. This might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it is to let your calendar own you instead of the other way around. One of the most important times I reserve on my calendar is my “Brain Defrag” time. I block out at least 15 minutes at the end of each day to give myself some time to:

  • Review what didn’t get done for the day and move them to the appropriate time
  • See if I missed anything urgent in my inbox
  • Add appointments that came over the phone to my calendar
  • Review my calendar for the next day

Pause your email: It might seem funny that someone who started an email productivity company would tell you to pause your inbox, but it’s something that I do every day. It allows me to create space for uninterrupted deep work time. Smart tools like Boomerang’s Inbox Pause will even allow your critical emails to reach you when your inbox is paused by using exceptions that you create.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

The best way to develop good habits is to start small and identify a trigger. Don’t overcommit yourself to an overhaul of your entire routine from the start. Good habits that help with time management are a learned skill, so take it one step at a time. Find the smallest possible piece that you can turn into a habit, regardless of how small they may be and only work on building one habit at a time. Once you have it nailed down and the habit is established, you can expand upon it or start a new different habit.

I once spent a month just building a habit to open up the browser tabs or the applications I need for the afternoon work session before going to my lunch break. This habit gives me an instant head start when I come back from lunch and prevents me from getting into the weeds of social media.

Breaking bad habits on the other hand is typically much harder. Personally, it’s easier for me to replace a bad habit with a desired habit rather than trying to stop a bad habit altogether.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

You have to have time to recharge. But we’re all trying to do more work with less time, so it can be incredibly difficult to unplug. When I hear about someone who’s going on a vacation, or if they’re overloaded, I encourage them to do the following. If they can master this, then they can feel like they are able to fully unplug:

Optimize your inbox: As mentioned above, employees spend an average of eight hours per week answering work-related emails after leaving the office according to a 2016 study. Many also admit to working on vacation or bringing work materials on social outings, which is why those who struggle to disconnect should consider adding a 3rd party extension. Optimize your inbox by creating a filter so you’re only delivered emails from certain people when not on the clock or setting up your inbox to deliver new emails only at set times that you decide.

Shelve non-timely emails for a later date: According to research from Carnegie Mellon University, more than a third of emails don’t need your attention immediately but will need to be addressed at a later date. Strategies like utilizing an email reminder service, archiving non-urgent messages, or stashing them in temporary folders give home business owners the opportunity to efficiently address their inbox without sacrificing down time. Email from your digital marketer about a fall webinar? Stash it away and set a reminder to get back to it at a more appropriate time.

Respond in batches: If you do feel the need to answer emails while off the clock, pick a few preset times as discussed above, and make addressing your inbox your immediate focus. Commit to acting on each email, and in about 20 minutes, you should be able to clear about 51 emails from your inbox. If it’s something that can be taken care of in three minutes, address it before moving on to the email that follows. Your focus should always be the next email in your inbox. You want to make sure each message gets your full attention for a brief amount of time so that you can make a quick decision on what to do with it before moving on — and getting back to your hammock and summer reading!

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

  • Create calendar appointments for 2–4 times per day when you will check your email. Try to only check email during those times!
  • Turn off email notifications — both on your phone and on your computer.
  • If you find yourself peeking, try Inbox Pause to make breaking the habit a little easier.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Figure out tomorrow before you leave work today. At the end of every day, spend the last few minutes at work reflecting on the past day and planning what you need to work on tomorrow. That way, you can determine what you need to accomplish tomorrow while your mind is still plugged in from today’s work. The next morning, you can jump right into tackling that work, and can better prioritize if any urgent requests come in the next morning. Start by setting a calendar appointment for yourself, blocking out 5–10 minutes at the end of each workday. This technique is especially effective when you keep an organized task list — you can quickly glance at it and see everything that you need to work on.

Implement a prioritization system: Set calendar reminders for important meetings, deadlines and dates, and archive messages that don’t need immediate attention — using email technology will help identify important emails and bring non-urgent emails back to your inbox when they need attention. Lastly, consider closing email or using a smart tool to pause your inbox when focusing on an urgent project.

Write effective emails: Boomerang’s research shows that emails between 50–125 words that are written at a third-grade reading level with a slightly to moderately positive OR slightly to moderately negative tone and include one to three questions are the most likely to get responses. Being mindful of these factors will help clearly define the goal of your email and will result in less back-and-forth. There are multiple AI-powered tools to help gauge the efficacy of your email by monitoring word count, tone and call to action.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

  • Archiving, keeping emails that need attention unread, and starring/flagging messages that need later attention can all be reasonable choices to help prioritize your inbox.
  • Use Search to find messages when you need to look up information, rather than keeping those messages marked as needing attention. Almost any desktop mail client released within the last 5 years has excellent search functionality, and most mobile email apps do as well.
  • For messages that will need attention later, you can create calendar reminders, use a folder system to track them, or use an email productivity app to bring them to your attention when you’re ready.
  • If an email requires a lot of work, it often helps to turn the email into an entry on a to-do list or schedule time to work on it. That way, you can prioritize it in context with your other big projects.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Schedule your meetings in batches. Our company does all our recurring meetings on Thursdays. I try to schedule all my external meetings on Tuesday and Friday mornings by using a new scheduling tool (not available to the public yet) that we built. This approach of bunching up all my meetings into concentrated blocks of time prevents me from having to break my focus for meetings in the middle of my creative maker time.

Use your calendar to help plan out your day: Whether it’s at the beginning of each week, or the end of each day, block out times on your calendar that are dedicated to working on things that take sustained focus to accomplish. This will help protect your time and hold you accountable to get the work done.

Stop the onslaught of email: A typical email user deletes almost half of the emails they receive each day, which takes about five minutes. Over the course of the year, that’s one full day dedicated to deleting emails. Instead of wasting that time, why not unsubscribe from the email lists that you aren’t reading — the retail store newsletters, digital editions of magazines, daily recaps from social networks — and get your time back. Gmail lets you unsubscribe right from the top of an email.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Break down the critical parts of your day into processes, like setting aside predetermined times for meetings, blocking off time to work on important projects and regularly unsubscribing from unnecessary emails, allows you to focus on measuring how well they are functioning and then further optimize them.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

To get yourself into a state of flow, you need three essential parts. You need to prepare your environment in addition to managing your schedule and blocking out interruptions.

  1. I make sure I am physically comfortable from room temperature to hydration level. If I am constantly distracted by the sunlight glaring in my eyes, the chances are low that I will stay in my flow state for long periods of time.
  2. I make sure that I have at least 90 minutes or more to get into the flow state. One continuous chunk of time is so valuable, and it can never be replaced by having several blocks of 30 minutes. Also getting into the habit of carving out time for yourself weekly or at the very least monthly is important. Getting to flow state requires regular practice. if you haven’t done it in a while, the first few sessions will be tough to get into.
  3. I make sure I minimize as many distractions and interruptions as possible. Sometimes those are external distractions like phone calls or my preschooler. Sometimes those interruptions are internal where my mind wanders off to check in on the status of some task. I employ both technical tools like blocking out notifications with Inbox Pause and practice mindfulness to catch my wandering thoughts.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could start a movement, it would be to pledge half of the world’s philanthropy dollars to focus on the global climate crisis. If I could convince some of the folks who have signed the Giving Pledge to sign this climate pledge, we could maybe have a shot of saving our planet. I have always wondered whether eliminating malaria would matter if there wasn’t a habitable planet a few decades later. Same with preserving some animal species. Yes, people wouldn’t get a terrible disease, or we would still have this near extinct precious species, but what would those people free of malaria and animals live on? Hugging my kids while looking out at the orange sky due to the recent wildfires in California made me realize that the climate crisis is the biggest problem humanity is facing right now. In our own small way, we are deploying more than half of our philanthropy budget to finding new technologies for carbon capture.

With a portion of the profits from last year, we funded a lab at Colorado State where they are experimenting with carbon capture via genetically modified microalgae. We are actually looking for the next projects to fund along the same theme. If anyone’s reading this article and looking for funding as a researcher working on carbon capture with novel technologies, please get in touch with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would guess Melinda Gates or Mackenzie Bezos. I would like to ask them to sign on for the climate giving pledge. 🙂

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow what we’re up to at Boomerang on our website and company blog. You can also follow me on Twitter for updates.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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