My Life with Email

by Matt Griffin

17 Reader Comments

Back to the Column
  1. Thanks for the healthy perspective and good tips, Matt. I use the Pomodoro Technique (a time-block based time management system) and try to keep my email program closed when I’m in a 25-minute working time block. I plan separate time blocks for answering email.

    Your most helpful tip for me was to resist temptation to just quickly check email when you don’t actually have time or headspace to address any possible issues right then. Will try to keep that in mind!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  2. Great article Matt!

    I was JUST having this conversation with a group of people over the weekend. One thing I do, which seems to have put the group into shock, is that I DO NOT use my iPhone to respond to emails. Yes, i’ll check it occasionally on my phone, but I don’t use it to respond. This helps me keep it cordoned off to my physical work space and mentally puts me in a place where I don’t feel like I need to respond to everyone asap.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  3. ring “Hi, I sent you an email a few minutes ago. Did you get it?”

    Looking for advice on how to handle that one.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  4. Sean:

    “Yes, I did. Will you let me know when you get my reply?”

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  5. Sean,

    Honesty is the best policy for me, as long as it’s delivered in a friendly way. Just let them know your schedule for checking email, and that you do that to keep yourself productive and efficient with the work you do each day (like their project!). Switching costs are expensive, after all, and you want to save their project the extra cost and time.

    Then ask them if this is a particularly urgent matter that requires you dropping what you’re working on right now. Usually the answer is no. :)

    If everything from this client becomes a “phone call urgent” matter, then it may be time to have a talk, and see if they can recalibrate their sense of urgency. If that doesn’t work, there are always more clients in the sea!

    MG

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  6. Great column! I like how applicable everything is. One thing I’d add is how helpful it is to have a no-tolerance unsubscribe trigger. Constantly, constantly unsubscribe from things. One trap I fall into sometimes is creating a filter for certain kinds of messages but over time realizing that they get filtered and then I never, ever read them. Unsubscribe! In the same way I try to read and respond to emails as a single task, I try to immediately unsubscribe to things that aren’t of high value in the immediate term. A big part of my email strategy is around reducing overall volume where possible. Unsubscribe is one tactic, as is getting on daily-digest notifications (instead of granular emails) for services I do have to stay involved with.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  7. I use auto-replay messages to let the sender know that I received the message and I will replay tomorrow or something like..

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  8. Wasim,

    I like the idea of sending an auto reply message as that “May” inform the sender that you do care about their message and will get to it. The problems rises if the recipient takes your auto reply message in the wrong way and determines that you don’t care for their needs.

    I attempt to tell co-workers, management, and clients that I schedule when I look at email so that I can dedicate my time to meeting their needs as quickly as possible. That if I answer email or instant messages as they come in that means that I have to stop their or another person’s work, answer their question, then attempt to get back to the place in the process where I was before answering their question. Interruptions make everything take longer, introduce bugs, and if I schedule the time I answer their questions, I can work more effectively and they’ll have a better product delivered more quickly.

    I turn off notifications and only use instant messaging like a phone (I one time worked for a startup where the employees did not have business phones) or when talking to that specific person.

    Every time management or productivity methodology that I’ve read tells you to schedule when you read email, turn off email notifications, and turn off instant messaging. So far, I like GTD best because it allows you to take things that would normally be in your mind and put them in a trusted source in an accessible way. When your mind is clear you can focus on the task at hand and be more productive.

    Unfortunately there are still managers out there who believe that you should drop everything and answer their email or instant message right away, no matter the priority or urgency of their request.

    You do have to be flexible depending on the culture of where you work. I was at one startup where strange as it seems, the CEO of the company did not want anyone talking. He believed that even if you were collaborating on a project with a co-worker, if you were talking you weren’t working. We were all in a large room so if you talked you also interrupted others. So we used instant messaging instead of talking when collaborating on a project. The CEO didn’t understand that allowing employees to collaborate together would make them more productive and create a better product.

    Schedule when you answer email, turn off email notifications and instant messaging and you will be more productive.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  9. Ms. Danger,

    Agreed! In fact: http://cdn.memegenerator.net/instances/500x/48392186.jpg

    MG

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  10. Wasim and Tanny,

    Thanks for the tips! This is all very thoughtful stuff. Keep it coming!

    MG

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  11. Nice article, thanks.

    I actually have some fun dealing with the email flow, trying to make it simpler. Personally I have no mission of emptying my inbox. It would mean for me that the email had swallowed my whole life – not only my email life.

    I use Mail.app from Apple. But I add to it SpamSieve and two other additions, MailTags and Mail Act-On. I use Mail Act-On only to give important mails a yellow background and a flag. Finished business is colored back to white and flag dismissed. The only reason I have MailTags is to be able to access that coloring feature inside MAO.

    I have to deal with about 2500 mails a month. Important mails are marked with that bright yellow color and are dealt with as soon as possible. There is no way I could get away with only checking mail five times a day (ad agency, you see).

    At the beginning of each month I move all last months mail to an archive folder on my desktop computer. But they are not 2500 anymore. And they don’t have any attachments either.

    To clean my mail sometimes I use the Smart Mailboxes.
    I have Smart Mailboxes like:
    Promo, mail lists I subscribe to about various stuff<br /> Social, information and notices about Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc.
    travel Food and few more and then there is
    trash, which is selecting the content of all the other Smart Mailboxes. I use it to trash every now, everything but the yellow ones.<br /> Finally I have one attachments which I use to strip off all heavy attachments.

    I have had the same mail address since 1994 and archived mail is only just over 5GB in whole.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  12. omg, thank you for this article!  I sometimes feel like email and social media is taking over my life.  Have you seen the tedtalk about leaving the internet for a year?

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  13. I recently started using SaneBox. You train it to help determine what is most important and what should stay in your inbox. Everything else gets moved to a sanelater folder that you can go through later when you have time. They have tons of other features besides this but it’s the main one that I use.

    Another one I use sometimes is forwarding the email to monday@sanbox.com (or any other day/time) so the email can be deleted and put out of your mind until Monday (or whenever you need to be reminded of it again).

    I hope that’s of use to someone reading this. It’s been huge for me.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  14. Regarding the clients,

    Sylpheed or Claw’s Mail, depending on which you prefer, are great for managing many and huge IMAP inboxes.

    For style I’m recently giving Geary (currently at 0.6.0) a spin, though it still needs many adjustments for the future.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  15. Great article.  I use Outlook to manage all my multiple email accounts and it works great for me.  Never use smartphones to check it on the go as you will undoubtedly get caught in a reactionary mode of working—and definitely schedule blocks of time to ‘process’ email.  It’s no longer a huge part of my day.  Often, it’s a matter of training clients, etc. how you work with email and when you respond.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  16. My cant live without internet and Email,because of i am a online business man,here is my website http://www.betopbags.com/handbags.html

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  17. “When you run your own business, as I do, there is every motivation to always stay on top of these messages. It is, after all, your thing. You own it. Shouldn’t you be addressing every issue as it crops up, and responding with lightning speed?”

    I run business with two other partners. Our clients are from different parts of the world which means we may receive email from any one at any time time in 24 hours. And it’s really a curiosity always to keep checking emails using laptop at office and smartphone at home. It’s simply crazy.  But for us it’s also important to be on top and regularly check our emails as it is an important medium for our business.  Any thing valuable or urgent is dropped first in email to us and our quick response helps us as Clients usually like to get acknowledgement from us that their email is attended. It may be about new business, an urgent support request or update about an ongoing project. At least keeping a constant eye on it and responding quickly definitely helps. If I am out in meetings or not in the office and I receive an important urgent message, I can at least reply back using smart phones that I will be back in about an hour or so and will respond you back. From my opinion it depends on the nature of your business also that you can avoid checking emails for certain amount of time.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.