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EmailHandling

Page history last edited by Tantek 6 years, 9 months ago

Email Handling

 

How can we radically alter how we handle email and still maintain some level of communication compatibility with the result of the email-centric world?

 

Here are some brainstorms from a Getting Things Done (GTD) perspective.

 

Email is not your to-do list

Email is not a to-do list, because you wouldn't let just any random person put something in your todo list would you? Whereas random people can put things in your email inbox. Also if you're treating anything labeled "inbox" as a to-do list, you've already failed. Go back and read chapters 1-2 of GTD.

 

Email is not your inbox

Also, stop treating email as an inbox. It doesn't scale. It let's your time/attention be driven (hijacked) by others, making you mostly reactive, rather than mostly proactive, which you should be. See EmailEfail for more. See also: The Double-Sided Inbox: You vs. the World.

 

Email as a project

You can treat email as just another project to work on, like any other project, prioritize accordingly, and either make sure someone is paying you for this project, or acknowledge that you really like email and openly admit you do email as a hobby.

 

Email as reference

This means not only not treating email as inbox, but not even treating it as a set of next-actions, nor even a project!

 

Treat it like a stream into an ever growing reference. A reference that you only consult when you need to.

 

This has largely been enabled by the incredibly good "email search" of Google's Gmail.

 

"search as interface" has been the only thing that has allowed me to stay at all afloat in my email.

 

I'm trying this:

  • Don't bother to process email at all.
  • Just let it accrue in the inbox.
  • Until I need something, then I go search for it.
    • e.g. when I am working on a project, I have a window open into the results for searching for that project in my email.
  • If people really need me to respond, they will contact me in some other way per my CommunicationProtocols.
  • Or I'm ok with dropping their communications.

This is not a 100% solution, but it has drastically reduced the amount of time I spend "in email", and nearly eliminated that back of the mind stress I used to feel to "check" my email.

 

Redundancy

Inevitably email providers go down, sometime for hours at a time. While it is best to not depend on email for productivity, it may be worth setting up multiple email providers for some degree of redundancy for receiving/sending emails.

If this is important to you, in short:

  • get your own domain and set it up with simple hosting that allows unlimited email aliases/forwarders e.g. mine is tantek.com
  • set up free accounts at both http://mail.yahoo.com/ and http://gmail.com
  • setup an alias at your domain that forwards to both accounts
  • set the reply-to on both those accounts to be that alias at your domain

This way you can use either site to read/search all your email, and send as well. Thus if/when either one goes down, you can use the other. Given that both services have high availability, odds that both will be down simultaneously are miniscule, and it has yet to happen AFAIK.

 

For an additional degree of redundancy:

  • get a BlackBerry
  • set up your BlackBerry email to receive/send from/to both of those accounts as well
  • set the reply-to on the email account that comes with your BlackBerry to the same alias
  • update the alias to forward to your BlackBerry account in addition to the Yahoo and Gmail accounts.

 

If You Must

If you must write an email or reply to one, here are a few guidelines to follow to reduce email pain:

single topic

Write your email about a single topic. This increases the chances that it will be resolved quickly, with a reply or two.

keep it short

Keep your email short. Like a text message or IM. Shorter emails save everybody time.

use URLs

If you want to discuss something more involved, write up your thoughts clearly on a wiki page, and then reference it by URL in a very brief email.

be polite

Even with keeping an email to one topic and short at that, be polite to whoever you a responding to. Even if they're being less than polite or civil, be the grown-up and write the polite and kind email as mature people should.

 

Coping

Techniques for coping with bad email patterns.

multiple topics

Split into multiple threads. When having to reply to an email which combines or contains multiple topics, start your reply with acknowledging the multiple topics, and state your intention to split it into multiple threads to simplify each of the discussions (and hopefully resolve at least some of them much quicker than all the topics as a whole).  Here's some sample text I'm trying out:

 

Hi GIVENNAME, there is a lot in your email. I'm replying with a few separate threads in the hopes that some of them may get resolved more quickly.

 

 

Related

 

References

 


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