Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Email overload? No way! I got this...(or not)

Yeah, I got this. N...no, no I don't.
You know you're buried in emails when:
  1. you actively manage 5+ different email addresses
  2. your main email has >2,500 UNREAD messages in the inbox
  3. your email responses to threads have >10 items in a numbered list
  4. you want to respond to most emails (but rarely do)
  5. you obsessively check your phone or email program every time you get a notification of a new email
  6. triage is the primary way you handle messages. Like:
  • Newsletter? Sit on it for future reading (translation: you'll never look at it again. Solution: delete it. And if you only read about 1 for every 5 or more of that newsletter, unsubscribe).
  • Close friend? Read it and want to respond. In reality you don't respond for much too long and your "close" friends start wondering if you really care. Solution: read the message then ring them on the tele.
  • Boss or project co-worker? Probably going to get a response, just not as quickly as either of us would like.
  • Forwarded message with funny pics of cats that look like Hitler? Nope, sorry. Gettin' axed.
Mashable Infographic: email today.
Am I an email addict? I used to be. But not any more. Now I'm more along the lines of apathetic, apoplectic (email) medic. Sure I check my email several times a day but I'm going to change that. And I don't hide from family or drive many miles while on vacation just to check my email.

So here's what I'm going to do about it. I'm going to start sending many fewer emails, only respond during certain times of the day, turn off incoming email notifications on my phone, and start making more phone calls. I'm going to unsubscribe from email lists, LOTS of them, even though I like getting many of the emails (at least, in theory I like it; good/interesting material!). Some habits are hard to break. On email threads with many responses in a short period of time, I'm going to wait for the flurry to die down, then respond with a single email that captures the most pertinent things I need to convey. Or I'll call you. I'm hoping this will help cut down on the frequent distractions. Even though they may be important messages that do need to be addressed, when the notifications pile in incessantly, they are still distractions...sometimes welcome, most of the time not. And they nearly always alter productivity on whatever task I'm working on.

So if you don't hear back from me within a few minutes regarding an email you've sent me, if you see I've unsubscribed from the email distribution list you curate or the blog you write or the newsletter you edit or the...(insert list here), don't be offended. It's not you. It's me. It's not that I don't like all this information. I just cannot conceivably find the time to read through all of it the minute it arrives in my inbox. I'll get to it, but only a couple of times a day. Yes, rich media is, well, rich with additional/supplemental info, but that's just the sort of stuff I'm trying to pare out right now. If it's important and needs immediate attention, give me a ring. I'd much rather talk with you for five minutes. After all, we can cover so much more ground in that time on the phone than we could in an email thread.

As much as I love electronic media, I really thrive on the personal interactions with you.


  1. A pretty good article from Wired on email overload and the likes http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2004/06/63733

  2. Hi Jeremiah,

    I hear you! And I agree with all the steps you outline here. Here's another possible approach you might consider adding to your already excellent plan.

    Start with learning how to handle today's email. Just today--set aside enough time to actually process what you receive. (And by unsubscribing and being more discerning about which conversations you participate in, you'll have less email to do this with tomorrow.) If you make a habit of taking care of today's email today (repeating daily!), you'll soon have a good process that will halt the ever-growing backlog.

    For backlog situations like the one you describe, I suggest that people delete (or archive) everything but the last few weeks. The cut-off date is entirely yours to choose depending on your comfort level, but emails that have been sitting there for longer than six weeks are pretty stale (and perhaps also moldy!).

    Keep me posted on how this goes for you!

    With best wishes,

  3. Great post my friend! I agree with Tara. I have been dealing with all my email the day it comes in and then sending it off to processed (Gmail gives me a seemingly endless pit of storage free). I can always search and find something if I ever need it again. Some call it bankruptcy. I like the word liberation more ;).

  4. I like the suggestion, Tara. I used to devote about 2 hours a day to email (one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon) but that slowly devolved into regularly checking emails. Productivity suffered. Not sure how much time to start devoting to dealing with daily emails. And this approach would seem to indicate it would be better to turn email off (or ignore it) for portions of the day. How will that be received by the general public so used to getting email responses in relatively short order? I also like your suggestion about "archiving" anything older than a certain date. I just haven't taken the time to research exactly what the archiving does. I'll keep you posted on how this process goes for me. :)