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Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 4 months ago

email reduction

As one of my least preferred methods of communication, I am methodically working to reduce my use of email, both necessary and optional in order to improve my overall CommunicationProtocols. For more details on problems with email see EmailEfail.


Desired outcome: as close to zero reliance on checking email as possible on a local client (all of which have poor search capabilities) on a specific machine, such as Microsoft Entourage on my PowerBook, or Gmail on a desktop/laptop web browser (the combination of which still locks up in beachball/watch cursors often enough to be annoying, though Gmail works for searching email).


Email reduction also helps with ProductivityImprovement.



More specifically.

  1. Keep zero email in a local email client.
  2. Minimize need to check/use Gmail on a desktop/laptop web browser.




This may be the most important technique. By lowering email in your list of preferred CommunicationProtocols, you will indirectly reduce the amount of email you get. You must be disciplined about this deprioritization, which means don't check email unless you have nothing else higher priority (per your Getting Things Done (GTD) ToDoInbox / NextActions / ProjectsList or other task organization system) to do or check. Since such priority calculus is often challenging (may require a high cognitive load), consider starting with easier/simpler steps such as:

Reflexive deletion

Train yourself to reflexively delete the following types of emails, don't worry, don't sympathize etc. because there are better ways of getting this info out there, and the people sending this email already know better.

  1. BCC'd solicitation for a walk for cancer / (insert cause here) thingie
    1. plz just blog and twitter it instead.


reduce incoming

Second most important is to simply reduce incoming sources of email, continuously, and as much as possible. Here are some examples that most can benefit from:


mailing lists

Mailing lists tend to be a lot of the email that a lot of people get. Several techniques can be used to reduce usage and dependence on mailing lists. Note, for all but the "unsubscribe" case, be sure to create a separate email alias for each list at your personal domain so that you can redirect where a list goes without having to deal with the specific site/group specific list management user interface. If you don't have your own domain name, and web site, get one. You want to own and control your own identity. Your domain starts with your domain name. Then see which one of these applies to each list you're on.

  • Unnecessary. The "I don't really need to be keeping up with information on this topic" case. If you think about it, you probably joined most lists that you are on because someone suggested it to you and you thought you would check it out but then forgot to unsubscribe. Consider this first technique a reminder.
    • Solution: unsubscribe. and don't look back.
  • Ephemeral. The "I can process messages from this list in less than a minute each and can always delete them after processing" case.
    • Solutions: unsubscribe OR skim delete. As long as the volume is "manageable" (i.e. no more than about one message a week), skim/delete them as they come in. If the volume is too high, the content too noisy, annoying, or emo-hijacky (i.e. not worth the seconds it takes you to skim and delete each message), then unsubscribe.
  • Archive-worthy. The "I don't really need to read each message but would like to be able to search them once in a while" case.
    • Is it a public list kept by an organization with trusted archival policies and sufficient public archival experience? These are few and far between. In fact just these for now AFAIK: W3C, IETF (microformats is getting there, maybe after 5 years of solid archives).
      • Solution: unsubscribe and search the archives provided by the respective organization (e.g. search W3C public list archives, now if only there was a real-time (or at least time/thread centric) search engine that indexed public mailing lists).
    • Other archive-worthy lists.
      • Solution: redirect to listarchives gmail. Create a new http://gmail.com/ account like "yournamelistarchive at gmail" or something similar if you don't already have one. Redirect the custom alias you created for this list to that listarchive gmail account. Create a filter accordingly in the gmail account that labels and auto-archives emails from the list accordingly. Anytime you want to search (or just see what is recent) in one (or all) of those lists, you can log into that gmail account and use their kickass fast, thorough, and relevant search capabilities. Now only if web search engines were as good at searching web based email archives like the microformats-discuss archives.
  • Ephemeral and Archive-worthy. The "I can process this list in seconds and delete, but I also want to keep around for future reference" case. Apply both solutions.
    • Solutions: (unsubscribe OR skim delete) AND redirect a copy to listarchives gmail.


site notifications

Similar to unnecessary email lists, regular site updates may sometimes "feel" necessary but really aren't. If you feel the need to keep up with a site's updates, subscribe to their feed. Here is an example (are a few examples) that is (are) both unnecessary, and has (have) specific reasons to unsubscribe.

  • PayPal specifically: "What's new from PayPal" emails. PayPal is one of the most often email phished sites. Thus by turning off all PayPal email notifications, you can confidently delete/filter all emails that appear to come from PayPal. This probably also applies to every other bank/creditcard company. Instructions for how to unsubscribe, from PayPal (with additions) :
    • Log in to your PayPal account (always type "PayPal.com" yourself into your browser, do not just click a link to go there, and verify that it redirects to an "https" URL).
    • (skip any annoying interstitial offers, look for the small "Go to my account" button and click it.)
    • Click the Profile sub-tab, then click the Notifications link under Account Information.
    • Uncheck the notifications you don’t want to receive (i.e. ALL "General Notifications", and "Information Sharing").
    • (under the heading "Notification Format for Emails", choose (*) Plain Text, which will help you automate deletion of any HTML email that claims to come from PayPal.)
    • (click the (Save) button at the bottom of the page.)


wiki update notifications

Similar to site notifications, wiki update notifications are something you can probably cut back on (ironic for those seeing this addition to the wiki via email). Consider eliminating all wiki email notifications,

consider keeping just:

  • personal wiki edits (important enough to see others edits)
  • rarely edited wikis which you are an admin for, and thus may need to fix things.
    • but even this case feels like a "get to it eventually" kind of task, and thus could be done via feed subscription instead. perhaps evaluate on a per wiki basis as new notifications are received in email and switch the notification for each over to feed subscription, and then terminate the respective email notification.

definitely remove notifications from:

  • people that have directly trolled or picked fights with you in the past. Related: TrollTaxonomy.
  • people that have passive aggressively attacked you in the past
  • exes

Because in all these cases, a notification of an update of something of theirs just reminds you and refreshes the negative emotions invoked by their past actions. Related: CommunicationFilters.


by type of email

With enough rules for handling different types of emails, you can both/either:

  • handle them quickly
  • document it on a personal email policy page that you can refer people to


filters for previously unknown senders

This section needs review. Consider simply deleting all recruiter/press emails until templates created to respond to them.

Some thoughts on filtering previously unknown senders (incomplete). Create groups (and perhaps subgroups) by type of unknown/unfamiliar senders, and then put each group in a priority handling level proportional to utility (expected return) and inverse to cost (time to handle emails from them).

  • _income (scholarship, advising, speaking, consulting) -> level1
  • _recruiters (perhaps subgroups e.g. _execrecruiters) -> level0 - until I have updated my resume, indicated explicit non-interest in fulltime positions, and written email templates to quickly reply to recruiter inquiries, then reconsider raising to level1
  • _press -> level0 - until I have a "press" page indicating press communication protocols, and email templates to quickly reply to press inquiries, then reconsider raising to level1



Sometimes it helps to have a few templates to copy/paste to handle common types of emails either over the short or long term.


See EmailTemplates for some that I've written as needed.



Use email signatures to actively discourage further use of email, in dereference to other communication methods. Here is a sample template that I'm using to both respectfully acknowledge the imposition of my email, and make it clear that I'm not looking for an explicit email response.



As I admit I am overwhelmed with email, and actively working to reduce[1] my use of email in preference to other forms of communication[2], I very much appreciate and respect your taking the time to read and process this email.

I've written this email so that there should be no need to reply unless I've made an error in the contents, in which case, corrections are encouraged.

[1] http://tantek.pbwiki.com/EmailReduction

[2] http://tantek.pbwiki.com/CommunicationProtocols




Business transactions appear to be an area where email is still a requirement.


As Jeffrey Zeldman noted:

those of us who interact with the business world can’t abandon e-mail. A potential client of Happy Cog is not going to Twitter about it, nor would I want to negotiate a fee on a public platform.


For now, I agree and tend to use instant messaging (IM) for clients / speaking / other business transactions discussions, with email for "checkpoints" of agreed upon sets of points (something you can reforward to them later etc.) that I typically then process into a private wiki for my own tracking.



(This probably merits moving to a separate page at some point)


I think Jeffrey's remark also points out an excellent business opportunity for someone who can solve the problem of doing business with clients with a nice, easy to use website, easier (less noisy/annoying) than email.


People used to buy products from companies by email (speaking from personal experience of a 1996 startup), and that was replaced a while ago by web forms (same experience), e.g. Amazon for most people.


Ebay went further and enabled user to user (for some reason I dislike the B2C, B2B, C2C terms) transactions for "stuff".


I think there is a natural evolution occuring here, and that the scenarios you outline of "client discussions", and "negotiate a fee" are merely further along the spectrum.


If the ecommerce (yes I think there is still a place for that term) successes of Amazon and Ebay are any evidence, there are likely additional opportunities for innovative startups that simplify other types of semi-structured transactions that were (have been) assumed to be unsimplifyable.


For example (just thinking out loud) perhaps there is an opportunity for a site for speakers to pitch sessions they can give, and months/dates they are available, and conference organizers to bid on them or otherwise make them offers. Such a service might even make it easier for conferences to find a more diverse set of speakers, a long tail of speakers, if you will, just as Amazon and Ebay have made it easier to find a more diverse set of "stuff".


Bottom line: minimize use of email, and consider each seemingly required use of email as an opportunity for an entrepreneur to create a web startup.



old solutions

Some old solutions that were just not working. Perhaps worthy of exploration only to analyze, understand, and document failure points to help design better solutions in the future. List of old solutions is flattened and listed by previous case they were designed to handle.


  • mailing lists with ephemerally relevant messages. The "I can process messages from this list in less than a minute each and can always delete them after processing" case. As long as the volume is "manageable" (i.e. no more than about one message a week), slot these into a "neutral priority" handling queue, and then process them in bulk once a week.
    • Old Solution: filter to level0. process it once a week. no problem.
      • Problem: never get to that "neutral priority handling queue" and never want to process it.
    • New Solution: See above. Either admit you don't really care (because you've ignored the "neutral priority handling queue") and unsubscribe or skim/delete as they come in until/unless they are enough to be annoying in which case, unsubscribe as before.







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