Candice Kumai Has a Genius Strategy for Managing Her Inbox (Seriously, We’re Stealing This)

December 16, 2021
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Welcome to our series A Day in the Life where we ask women we admire to share the daily minutiae of their professional lives, from the morning rituals that set them up for success to their evening wind-down routines. In this edition, we’re chatting with multi-hyphenate entrepreneur, journalist, author, podcast host, producer, director, and model Candice Kumai. Scroll on to find out how she gets it all done, including her genius strategy for managing her inbox and her delicious go-to lunch on a busy day (a.k.a. every day).

You’re a journalist and six-time bestselling author who has been called “the golden girl of wellness” by Elle. How were you first drawn to wellness and what inspired you to pursue this path?

While walking through Union Square at 26, a friend in New York once said to me, “I don’t think you chose this job, I think it chose you.” I come from a lineage of Japanese impressionist and tapestry artists on my mother’s side. My grandparents escaped the second atomic bomb in Kyushu by random chance during World War II. On my father’s side, my grandfather was a POW. While serving in Poland he was captured by the Russians, and he escaped death off a moving train on the other side of the world, roughly at the same time. If I’m carrying their legacy of survival, as one of the last and youngest members on each side of the family, I ought to serve them well. Each of our family members and their lineage lasts within us, and our family’s past shapes our present-day choices, our outlook on life and the opportunities that appear.  

I had always felt that my calling was to be of great service to others and to help the only way I knew how. Wellness and communication were my strongest suits all the way through college, culinary school, and while writing at the top magazines in NY, penning multiple books with doctors, nutritionists and journalists, and through the insurmountable amount of struggle I have faced in my own career as a minority female. I suppose wellness, and the way I communicate it through different mediums (podcast, shows, books, news, magazines, journals, TikTok, Instagram, newsletters), is a cover-up to all of my own pain, and perhaps my lineage’s pain. Wellness is how I can communicate relief, grief, and support to others who also may need a little inspiration or comfort from a very real and relatable standpoint. Again, probably not a choice, rather a deep-rooted calling. 

You’re also the host of the podcast “Wabi Sabi,” where you talk about all things wellness. What inspired you to launch this podcast, and what do you hope people take away from it?

When I wrote “Kintsugi Wellness,” my sixth book on Japanese wellness, people didn’t understand it. It was 2018 and nobody in my space had introduced this lens of Japanese wellness to the masses yet. I didn’t get booked on all the shows I normally did with my other books because it was such a “foreign concept” compared to the basic clean green eats books I usually wrote. Soon, I thought, I better explain what this book is about through a different medium: a podcast. By sheer luck, the smart ones got it. It clicked for many and the hashtags #goldenrepair and #kintsugi are TikTok faves seven years after I wrote “Kintsugi Wellness.”

The podcast “Wabi Sabi” is a love letter to every girl (and some wild men!) out there. If you need a pick-me-up, don’t grab the wine. Instead, listen to the podcast and go for a run. I speak from my mixed, minority female, with immigrant parents background on business, love, relationships, spirituality, mental health, sex, and wellness as told through my experience with managing emotions and boundaries in my F-ed up life from NY to Tokyo, LA and beyond. 

The “Wabi Sabi” podcast is free of ads, and I pay out-of-pocket to put it up myself simply to help others. It is public service journalism at its finest. It gets thousands of downloads each week and has 700+ five-star reviews. I could use much more help on it, so feel free to email me anytime at info@CandiceKumai.com.

Lastly, you ask “what do I want you to take away from it?” I have cheered on my many colleagues who have made it right beside me. I think what I want you to take away from the podcast is that I, too, belong here even if I never wanted to become “famous,” and if the public heard my story, they may discover a fresh, perfectly ripe, and unique bridge to culture, wellness, and spirituality they have been searching for. It’s not the same, dated gross cup of coffee every basic person drinks, it’s a Japanese-American bowl of fresh matcha. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take actionable steps toward taking ownership of their wellness and leading a healthier lifestyle?

Baby steps, be gentle, but take action. Do these three things: Stop drinking sugar, stop eating out, and stop trashing the planet with at-home packaged meals or meal kits. 

“Wellness is how I can communicate relief, grief, and support to others who also may need a little inspiration or comfort.”

Image: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

Now, let’s talk about your workday routine! First, are you a night owl or a morning person? When do you do your most important work and why?

I am a morning person. I am obsessed with the sunrise and meditating with matcha for 30-60 minutes each morning. My best work always takes place between 6:30/7 am to 10 am, typically because there are fewer distractions.

What time does your alarm go off, and what’s the first thing you do upon waking?

I get to bed by 8 pm and wind down or read, no alarm unless I have an early am call time to shoot. My phone sleeps away from me. I wake at sunrise and I put on a cozy or sexy robe (depending on the feeling) while I boil water for matcha.  

What does your morning, pre-work routine look like?

Boil water, make matcha, go outside on the patio, watch the sunrise. Then meditate for 30-60 minutes, undistracted on pillows. I feed Sisi, my chunky tuxedo cat, check emails (I open the best ones first), and don’t touch my phone for at least the first two hours of the morning. 

Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” What’s the first thing you do when you get to your desk?

I stay as organized on email as possible and send out emails that work for my business first. I’ve had to step back from helping everyone else and slowly learn to help myself first, for the first time in my career. 

What are you working on this week?

To put things into perspective, I run one production company, one content-creation company, and one Japanese-American start-up. I still model into my late thirties and I still write every single book, recipe, and shoot, write, develop, direct, and produce all of my own work. 

This week, I worked on three budget Excel sheets (we call them line sheets) for upcoming shoots. I’ve been planning out 2022, working on a new project for Shiseido, working on scheduled posts for Kora Organics, scheduling a shoot for Porsche and Goop, working on car selections, makes, models, red cams, drones, scouting shoot locations, interviewing crew, working on production schedules, crewing up/hiring and post-production deliverables. Organizing footage, contracts, editing tape, music selections, hitting deadlines, and making clients happy. 

In terms of production, we shot Thursday, Friday, and Sunday for 12 hours each day. I worked the front and back of the camera. Sunday I was booked to cover the Goop 2021 In Health Summit and booked to shoot separately with a Porsche Macan for five days. I covered and shot the event from 8 am to 2 pm at the Porsche track. Then, went home, changed, prepped, and drove downtown to shoot late into the night with the car in DTLA and then returned the car by 8 pm (hence the 12 hour days).

I’m also writing my seventh book with Audible, and I commit to writing in the early mornings from 630 am to 8 am and Saturday or Sunday mornings with few distractions. I love my books so much. Each book I’ve written takes years to finish and I’m hoping, one day, someone will notice. 

In terms of video content, I shoot and edit videos each day with my team and we curate highly stylized and integrity-based content that is useful and looks stunning. We keep all footage organized on hard drives and Dropbox.

Then there are the weekly essentials. Calls are organized on my Google calendar. We have a team call most mornings, followed by Zoom calls with new business development/clients, my legal council, and agents. I draft a new newsletter each Saturday, work on TheMatchaShoppe.com orders and record a new “Wabi Sabi” podcast each Sunday or Monday night. The podcast drops on Tuesday mornings all for free. Roughly 90% of my work is unpaid.

I also make time for IRL get-togethers each week. I have scheduled meet-ups organized on my calendar. For example, this week, I attended a Sculpt Society event to support my girlfriends Megan and Kelly, went to an Alo Yoga party with my friend Rosie, and went to the food bank to volunteer on Saturday for three hours at the local church. I talk to my besties from junior high and one from college (they make me happy!), I work out for 50 minutes daily (I think I said this 3x, I’m obsessed). 

Lastly, the boring essentials. I comb through pitches and proposals from clients, publicists, ad agencies, and my agents each day. I check accounting items like bank statements, payroll, tax forms, work closely on bookkeeping with my CPA, and I pay bills and taxes on time. I keep my office organized with wardrobe, props, lighting, camera equipment, files, art, and work-related materials. I try my best to upkeep my websites, images, social, writing, and résumé.

Image: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

What’s been the most rewarding part of running your business? The most challenging?

The most rewarding: Helping others, being of great use to others, giving back all that I am able, creating jobs for hundreds of crew and staff in the US. Mentoring young women on how to run multiple creative businesses in different sectors, production, creative content, media, and wellness. Reading letters, emails, and DMs of thanks and gratitude, the iTunes reviews on my podcast are known to make me cry. 

Most challenging: Outdated work models, working with a**holes, having a very dated, unstable playing field, discrimination, racism, restricting contracts, stale/old production, flaky people, non-communicators, unprofessional entitled individuals, those who culturally appropriate Japanese culture (educate yourselves). Mostly, I am working through my own challenges daily, as I am most certainly not perfect.  

Do you ever reach inbox zero? How do you handle the constant influx of inquiries writers are so familiar with?

I use four separate email accounts, and they are color-coded. I like to keep organized this way.

I get spammed with non-stop PR pitches on email. I block unsolicited emails and I set big boundaries with texts, DM, emails, etc. Being available to everyone all the time is not my thing anymore. I return emails to work colleagues within 15 minutes of receiving them during work hours (8 am to 6 pm), and I write back to those who bring value. 

My info email account is an open space where readers/listeners can write. The love letters are deep and passionate, and I often cry when reading them. I read them aloud on my podcast at times, with permission.

What is your go-to work lunch?

Matcha. Miso avocado toast. Lots of water with greens powder. 

What advice do you have for balancing the minutiae of day-to-day tasks with big-picture planning?

When you run your own business(es), others have to remember you are the only person who will keep that company afloat. Your work schedule begins from the moment you open your eyes until you close your eyes at the end of the day. Period. You work on weekends, you work on vacay, you work on long flights. 

I let go of friends who I felt deeply judged me; it is ok to do so. I let go of people who thought my social media was my real life and they never asked me how I was doing in person. If you need to do this yourself, allow yourself the gift. Suffering comes when we hold on to things that are no longer meant for us.  

If we are a reflection of the five closest people to us, I stick to the wonderful, beautiful, and real friends who are with me when times get very dark. The friends who are warm, loving, compassionate, hilarious, weird, and keep me smiling. I hope I can do the same for them. 

Volunteering at my local church food bank for a few hours each weekend has been my saving grace. The investment in giving to others has been wildly helpful to my health. I highly recommend volunteering at least once a week and learn how to serve others with nothing in return.

Image: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

What are some work habits that help you stay healthy, productive, and on track to reach your goals?

I work out for my mental health at least five days a week and meditate for at least 20 minutes a day; it makes a difference. I also set boundaries. I stay away from insubordinate or hard-to-work-with individuals. I choose to hire those who are a pleasure to work with and only the best at what they do. When anyone I hire begins to complain, I don’t hire them again. I rehire those who work with integrity and a smile; teamwork makes the dream work.

Any favorite apps you use regularly?

I try to minimize all app usage. I am not a fan of electronic devices. I’ll recommend my podcast “Wabi Sabi.” It’s free and it helps others to learn you are never alone. Otherwise, my advice is to read a physical book, go for a hike in the woods, a swim, or go for a surf. Apps and the phone are too much for your beautiful brain. 

What are you reading, watching, and/or listening to right now to help you wind down at the end of the day?

“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah is one of the best books I’ve read in my life. I am reading it again because it’s hard to find a good book like that these days. I use a salt lamp at night, I use a noise machine, and I sleep with crystals. My bedroom is my sanctuary and sleep is my favorite part of the day. Invest in a quality mattress, new pillows, and fabulous sheets!

What’s your “optimal” number of sleep hours?

Eight to nine hours  

What’s the most rewarding part of your day?

Great question! And yet it is so hard for me to answer.

Strong Work Relationships: Recently, I listened to a voice note from my DP (director of photography) in New York, Carlos. There are a few like him on my team Christina S., James H., Robert R. and they’ve worked with me for a decade, some longer. I feel so lucky to have them in my life to remind me the work we do is profoundly helpful, beautiful, and useful.

Pets: Being with my cat Sisi, who is now 19, is extremely rewarding. I only have a few more years with her. When you have a pet, there is a time when it will all end. It is profoundly sad, but true. It is the pathos of life. We call this “mono no aware” in Japanese. 

Valuable Time: All of our time here is limited and a gift. I chose to spend it much more wisely than I once did, especially with the jobs I take, the books I write, and the people I choose to give time to.

The Girls & Flowers: Working with girls who don’t ask for a paycheck or a handout. Jacqueline, Raiany, Cecelia, Julianne—these are a few who enjoy helping the creative side of my business and, for their helping hands and heart, I am grateful. Mentoring young girls on the job is also extremely rewarding, similar to when I volunteer with those who cannot give back to me at the food bank. We hand flowers to the individuals we provide for at the food bank, and, watching their reaction, their eyes, as I reach over to hand them some flowers unexpectedly, each reaction is different and uniquely special. This little moment with a sparkle in their eyes is truly the greatest gift and I look forward to it each week.

Featured image: Kevin Kim

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