Now, email is a pot constantly boiling over. Like King Sisyphus pushing his boulder, we read, respond, delete, delete, delete, only to find that even more messages have arrived whilst we were pruning. A whole time management industry has erupted around email, urging us to check only once or twice a day, to avoid checking email first thing in the morning, and so forth. Even if such techniques work, the idea that managing the communication for a job now requires its own self-help literature reeks of a foul new anguish
Today’s Nice Email
On the subject of the very public awareness of my workaholism (cue joking references to clones and machines):
"It clearly must be a myth because it’s not possible to write such good poetry as yours without taking time out."
Oops. Next action: schedule more writing time.
Most emails just aren’t that important.
Aside from the grammatical debate that it sparked in my head about the use of email as a count noun rather than a mass noun, the link above will lead you to one of the most sensible and straightforward posts about managing email I’ve read for a long time. Coincidentally, I’d scribbled some notes on email management that I was going to pull together and share before reading this. The basic points:
- Make it easy to do the right thing: kill your email notifications. Check your email according to a schedule you define, not every time your inbox chimes. And stop pressing that “get new mail” button every 5 minutes. Seriously.
- Use folders to sort email messages that need to be acted on from all the other unimportant stuff. Yes, I know you can do lots of smart things with tags and smart folders, but that doesn’t get you very far if you want to process your email on your smartphone.
- Use a smart folder to limit your view to yesterday’s “action” email. Get those out of the way in today’s first email session.
- If you dip into your inbox again today, don’t spend more than a few minutes there at a time, please. Whatever’s incoming, file it for action tomorrow, archive it or delete it as appropriate. Of course, if there’s a really urgent task or opportunity that’s come in via email, deal with it, but really - anyone that uses email rather than a telephone to communicate urgently is just asking for a lifetime of bad productivity karma.
- Anything that’s been in your action folder for more than a day or so without action probably needs to be pushed into your task management system (and if you don’t have one of those, that’s a whole different blog post…)
- Manage people’s expectations. You may find it necessary to let them know what your average response time is (particularly if there’s some change), and an alternative way of getting hold of you. Auto-responders are very cool; unpredictable extended silences, not so much.
- If you’re away from your inbox for any significant period of time (and particularly if you’re used to receiving a high volume of email) schedule time in your calendar to deal with your incoming items on your return. Block that time out in your calendar before you leave. My own rule of thumb is roughly 45 minutes for every day I’m away. Having said that, most email messages have expiration dates. And of course, you set an auto-responder before you left, instructing people to get back to you if they sent you something that needed attention but didn’t get a response within a reasonable period of time after your return. Didn’t you?
- Remember, you’re not an email monkey, shell script or a robot. You’re a [insert vocation here]. Your goal here is to make sure that you pay attention to the important incoming items, deal with the unimportant as efficiently as possible, and don’t let your inbox clog up to the point of dysfunction. Other than that, get out of your inbox and do the (real) work you’re supposed to be doing.
Other articles referenced herein:
- The Closed List: Regaining Control Over Your Day, or, in other words: incoming email is constant, yesterday’s email is finite.
- Time Management Secret: Do It Tomorrow, or, in short form: action is generally better than reaction, but your reactive mind will defeat your rational mind with one hand tied behind its back, almost every time. Don’t let it happen.