First let me set the record straight – I am not being snarly nor a smart aleck. If anything I’m about to say comes across that way then I ask your forgiveness in advance.
I completely understand the angst over email clients – I have plenty of my own. What I don’t quite understand is all of the angst about managing email. I have 200 employees and over 900 parents that I deal with as the head of a large private school. Believe me, when you are dealing with peoples’ children, money, and religion and now add in Covid, masks, social justice issues, and a presidential election, there are lots of emails for me to contend with!
But I just don’t find it difficult to manage emails. I am currently looking at my inbox. I did not clean it out in anticipation of writing this short post. I currently have a grand total of three emails not processed. Overtime I have been rigorous about establishing rules, marking things as junk, and processing to my task manager for needed follow up to emails. The fact that I have enough time late afternoon during a short coffee break to post this is reflective of the fact that I’m not overwhelmed with emails.
I guess I’m just a bit surprised that another article is needed on this subject when it has been dealt with so many times by so many.
Dr. Mosbacker, I am in total agreement with your post. Once I (a) developed the discipline of inbox zero**, and (b) set up a series of rules to filter out newsletters and other less important mail, I’ve had no problems with e-mail, nothing has ever slipped through the cracks since I’m not using my inbox like a task manager, and e-mail is not a headache. In fact, I like it quite a bit.
**My version of inbox zero sounds like they way you manage your inbox: respond to the e-mail; or process the required tasks into (for me) OmniFocus for deferred action.
That is exactly what I do and I only use a junk gmail email address for website signups, stores, vendors, repair services, etc., and then any of those I really want I create a rule to forward them to my “real” email address. Again, I’m not meaning to come off as a smart aleck but it just doesn’t seem that hard.
Now, sir, I have many questions
Actually really just a handful at the moment – how long are spending every day in your inbox, how much of that do you actually answer to, and how long are your usual answers?
(I’m one of those guys who never seem to be able to stay on top of email despite all the courses and workflows in the world )
All fair questions in good humor. So, I’ll try to provide a very candid response.
I probably spend ~1.5 hours total in a given day on emails. I try to do email in bulk, I’m not always consistent, like the moth to the flame, I sometimes burn myself but I try. I’m not sure what you mean by “how much of that do you actually answer to.” I am the “boss” as it were but I answer to a 15 member school board. Moreover, employees and parents try to jump the “chain of communication” directly to me bypassing my team. I redirect most of those to my team members. I have also created template responses that I customize for various things—e.g., invitations to events, referring the inquiry back to one of my team members etc. The length of the answers depends on how complex or sensitive the issue is. For an upset parent, I draft a response and then revise and send it the next day. My rule is to respond within 24 hours. On average, I’m guessing I spend 2-3 minutes per email-some much shorter and some much longer. I try to catch typos, etc., so that will take more time. I’m more careful with emails in that regard than posts on this forum.
You are, absolutely, thank you. (By “how much” I actually meant – how many emails in the whole, but you did address that with the rest.)
I think the cinch here in my case would be the 1.5 hours / day. I’m nowhere near doing that, which might explain things. I have long surmised my problem with email is not entirely the workflows but the time I put in it – which is simply not enough. And I would venture I’m actually not alone in that case. At some point, you have to put the time in.
One last if I may: do you have specific times for processing email in the day, and do you have a preferred device for doing so?
Thanks. You might actually be giving me the kick I need for reevaluating my workflow under a smarter light. (a Hue bulb then, of course. )
I agree. I effectively divide my email into tranches: the important personal/work email which gets handled immediately for inbox-zero, and less important email (newsletters, subscriptions, offers, shipment updates) which are less essential or consequential, though perhaps interesting. I have no problem later deleting swaths of unread old mail by sender, or even by date (because I’ve undoubtedly handled the important tranche).
It sounds like the OP’s job is answering email (communicating) — at least, for 1.5 hours of the workday.
Mine isn’t. My job is to do the things requested/generated by the email. In other words, email represents tasks for me, and the tasks are not to reply to email. (Or, at least, replying is only a small part of the work.)
In addition, I frequently deal with people who do not communicate well in writing, so it is not possible to understand what they’re asking for in a few minutes, let alone write a response. And often, they email me to complain vaguely about something and to ask me to to call them. (Don’t get me started on that time-waster.)
So, my email inbox is partially a task list. There’s simply no way around it. Last year I spent a few months diligently adding these email tasks to my to-dos, but stopped when I realized what a tremendous waste of time that was for most of it. And it’s a task list that will not — and should not — be finished by the end of the day. Some items are handled quickly, some may have to wait until I have time in my schedule, etc. Thus all email messages in my inbox are not equal. It’s maddening, but I’ve yet to find anything better.
I use SaneBox to handle the majority of my email, and it’s a big help. But periodically I have to sit down and spend a few hours purging all the lingering email messages that correspond to projects or tasks that got held up for reasons I didn’t expect or that I forgot to send to the archive because the deluge of new stuff buried them. I’d love to have a better email program for handling that.
I’d also love automatically-expiring emails. I’ve tried to figure out how to script this, but so far it hasn’t worked. I’ve gone back to my “smart mailboxes” to find old stuff to select and delete in bulk.
I understand why it may seem that way but actually, the majority of my day is devoted to meetings and project work. What I did not share are my hours. I leave the house at about 5:45am, pickup my coffee at 6 and I’m in my office at 6:15am. I work until 4pm and work over lunch at my desk responding and composing emails unless I”m at a lunch meeting (rare now days). After getting home, I take my run, and then it is common for me to work another hour or two and/or attend work events. I also work 2-4 hours on Sat morning. So, emails only take about 10% of my time, give or take.
This can certainly be the case depending on the issue and one’s responsibilities. For me, emails are sent to OF not so I can eventually get around to responding but only if I need to do more research, get information from one of my senior leaders, formulate a policy, seek legal counsel, etc. I agree it would be a total waste of time to send emails to a task manager merely because, per David Allen they would take more than two minutes to process. But, again, depending on one’s circumstances, email is usually not an ideal to-do list. You are probably better than the majority of people I’ve seen but I can’t tell you how many professionals I know who have hundreds/thousands of emails in their inbox because they are using it as a to-do list resulting in balls being dropped. I also suspect a lot of unrecognized background stress is being produced.
In short, I only send emails to OF when they require more work than a mere response to them.
Yep. This says it all. Can you come to my place and clean up my house too please? I can promise a six pack of your favorite beverage (within reason) and I will stay the requisite social distance away with a mask on.
In seriousness though, I will say that I’ve started a processing method as well. With forethought about why I need/want to use email and a bit of the GTD mantra chiming in my ear, I managed just last week (finally) to get my personal email inboxes (about four) to zero from a under a hundred in about two hours or less. I was astounded. So, I tackled the over 1000 emails on my work email (one address). I now have it down to a daily influx of around 2-3 left by bedtime.
Which is not to say that I don’t have any emails with vital content that remain to be converted to a new project or remain to be processed into an existing project. It is however to say that I now look at overflow in email as a decision equivalent to tolerating a buildup of spider webs in the room or a buildup of dirty dishes in the sink. And, by comparison, bad email management is just moving the dirty dishes from the stove to the sink to the counter before finally putting them into the dishwasher (after the ants have starting assembling around them).
Nothing. It is just us humans trying to figure out whether someone has the magic bullet app that will clean our house for us or, failing that, will come over to clean our house for us.
I average 6-8h/week when supporting a 350+ student university course, plus 1-2h a week for everything else.
I think the math gets a little tricky depending on how people count hours. If someone spends 1h drafting an email in Mail vs someone that works in another program and then dumps it into Mail at the last minute.
Thanks for this post - I agree entirely. On a related note I recently unexpectedly became Acting Chair of a largeish (18 members) academic department, & it’s reminded me how helpful OmniFocus can be — within a few hours I had everything set up to track the work of four departmental committees, merit & promotions, Fall course scheduling, etc. Now I can just reply to an email or put it where it belongs in OF to be dealt with at the appropriate time/with the appropriate people. Given how much the volume of my admin work has exploded, it’s been a pretty easy transition, and OF is a bit part of that.
That’s great! I also use Apple Notes for project notes and meetings with a link to the appropriate OF project or task(s). I’ve tried a few note apps such as Agenda but at this point, Apple Notes actually has more features. I like the idea of connecting notes with dates/meetings so I’m hoping Agenda adds more features, e.g., tables, highlighting … The overall system of OF, Apple Notes, and good email management works well.