Intentional Delays

I can understand the desire to totally strike email from your life. I find most adult life fantasies are about a simpler life. You visit some small town on vacation and imagine yourself living there, taking in the views, having a late lunch, and practicing your breathing.

A life without email is like that. Your life has become so simple that emails just don’t matter that much. If you can pull that off, hey, hat tip, you’re living a simpler life.

Some of us have work colleges. Ignoring them is just irresponsible and unacceptable. Accountants that need answers to close books. Conferences that need to stay in touch for their world to run smoothly. People reporting bugs that need attention and their time respected.

That’s OK though. Like the title of this site: email is good. It’s how things get done. You don’t have to let it ruin your zone OR let it take over you life.

Your email is what others think you should work on.

I use all three as well. Calendar is the winner for me in what takes top priority. Whatever is on there happens. Email is the winner for taking up time. I spend a lot of time there communicating and planning. Todo lists, for me, are a bit sloppy. They are just things I don’t want to forget about and I want items on the list to bug me until they are done.

What is missing for me, at the moment, is a more forced priority system.

Slow then Fast

You ever wait weeks for a response to an email, then it comes and you respond right away, then they respond right away again? Then you respond right away again, then you respond right away again?

I’m sure you have. Email isn’t a top-to-bottom stack. We respond to emails in a totally random order based on what is loaded into our brains at the moment. Some emails are just hard to answer because they require a bunch of secondary work first. Sometimes you need to brute force them. But once you have, the floodgates open and responding to the next one is easy.

What’s OK to email me about, and what is not.

Have you ever tried creating a rules page like this? It’s only relevant to situations where you’re putting your email address in a public place and welcoming perfect strangers to email you.

I notice Rachel Andrew has a page that redirects people to different places before giving out her email.

On the contact form on CSS-Tricks, I make note that we can’t do direct one-on-one technical support.

That makes me feel better at the form-letter response I give emails that come in asking for that.

Maybe that’s the least these kind of warnings and pages can do. If they don’t actually reduce load, they reduce guilt of not responding to emails that didn’t bother to read it or for sending a canned response.

Anyone out there have a rules page of sorts about being emailed?

Brute Force Emailing

No, not the kind where you just email someone over and over and over until you get a response. I can’t recommend against that strongly enough.

I mean forcing yourself to answer an email no matter how much work it is.

That’s the thing with emails, it’s often not just typing out a response and hitting send. That’s hard enough, some days. An email might be a bunch of work you need to do first, then a response.

For example, I might need to open up a calendar and do a little scheduling first, so the response email can include a proposed date and time for a thing. But before I do that I need to Slack some people to see if that date and time works for them before I propose it. And along with this calendaring, there needs to be a document. I need to create that document first and make sure it’s shared correctly and has all the right language and numbers in it.

I should probably make a template for that document too, because this isn’t the last time it’s going to happen and I want to make sure I do it right this time and all future times. I should probably update some old documents with this more well-considered language also.

And ultimately what I’m proposing in this email I need to write requires some more global business consideration on my part. What is it I’m doing here? Am I just trying to shoo this email away? Or is this an opportunity to grow something I’m trying to grow? Should I take this email as an opportunity to see if they’ll bite on something big and new?

I know that got a little abstract there, but it’s all related to an email inbox. I might have an email sitting there that represents much more than an unread email. It’s sitting there because there is a bunch of work to do first, and maybe even strategizing before that work begins.

Those emails can pile up. What if the email on top of that is entirely different, but also represents a bunch of work and strategy. Stress can start to settle in here.

I often find myself cleaning out emails around these in order to feel good about the inbox numbers in general, but I’m just skirting the real work that needs to be done.

So sometimes I’ll go into brute force mode. I’ll tell myself: I’m going to answer this email at the bottom of this inbox no matter what. I’ll do whatever work I need to do to get it done. My only job is to handle this one email well.

Ultimately, it won’t bring that inbox number down very far when you’re done right away, but if you’re anything like me, the burden it lifts is so great, you’ll find yourself trucking through other emails with renewed vigor and that really will make a difference.