Grunt Work

My mom works at a place where they handle their email system internally. They don’t use any sort of cloud-hosted email. They have their own domain and have email addresses, and the email servers are set up locally at the brick-and-mortar business. 

She just gets hammered with spam, and has for years. 

Something like a 100 spam messages a day. I’m sure some of it is junk-not-spam mail that she could slowly fight. But plenty is honest-to-god spam. And so she deals with it by hand every day. Making very sure she isn’t missing or accidentally deleting customer emails, as she is in sales and email is a huge part of her job. 

I try not to think about it much as there isn’t anything I can do and it doesn’t seem to severely hurt her ability to do her job anyway. I think it’s just the idea of grunt work that bothers me. Hand deleting spam is grunt work, and computers should be doing all grunt work for us. 

It also just surprises me because in the small-tech-business world I live in, you never see this kind of thing.  You see people use G Suite, which is entirely hosted online, easy to admin, gives you email, calendar, storage and a bunch of apps, for 5 bucks a person. Or Microsoft Exchange which starts at just 4 bucks, or 12.50 if you want all the apps. 

It’s not just the price of those that seems like such an obvious win, but the quality. Your employees won’t be hand deleting spam.

Why are signatures so bad?

Message from reader Steven Hambleton:

Despite the power and intelligence available to companies like Microsoft and Google, we still have five instances of our image-laden signature staring back at us when we reply to an email conversation.

Why oh why can’t they detect a duplicate and snip it off? We only need it once!

I’m with Steven on this one.

I like having a signature, as it gives me some kind of warm-fuzzy feeling that every bit of email I write does a tiny bit of marketing for me. Mine is a simple reminder of the big projects I work on. But it makes me an offender of signature-creep:

Hey. Sorry.

Seems like the kind of thing huge tech companies can solve. For the most part, I never see that stuff, thanks to the […] menu I get in Inbox.

But still, I see it often enough it’s silly and obnoxious. Particularly when the signature is massive. Like this kind of thing:

That just came up in an Google Image Search for “massive email signature”.

That would be a cool paid feature for an email client:

We chop off email signatures.

“Provide an opportunity for escape.”

In the article How to Ask a Favor published by the Valet. magazine staff, they say:

  1. Be direct with your request
  2. Give your reason why
  3. Provide an opportunity for escape

Great little framework. If I was to apply it to my publication CSS-Tricks and me reaching out to a potential writer I might say:

Hey person!

Are you interested in writing a guest post for CSS-Tricks? I saw you’ve been working on ________ and it’s extremely cool. 

I’m always looking for great guest posts, and it’s often a win-win-win. You get some publicity and payment, I get content for the site, and our readers will love it.

If you don’t have time or just would rather not for any reason, just ignore me. 

I do like #3. It relaxes the whole thing and it flips something that could be pushy and a turn-off into no big deal.

When to Filter

Email filters seem like a bit of a power-user feature. These are things like “if an email is from this address and contains this text, apply this label and automatically archive it.” It’s pretty cool that we can do that, and I’d wager most clients support some version of that. 

At the moment, I use about a 50/50 split between Gmail and Google Inbox. Gmail has filters. Inbox does not. I don’t miss them though, the bundling in Inbox does good for me. And if I need a filter, I can always pop over to Gmail and create one.

I recently saw this:

That sounds like it saves Julia a lot of grief, which is great. It makes me think though… wouldn’t cutting those emails off at the source be better? Hm. Maybe, maybe not. It boils down to if it’s useful to have those emails in the archive or not. Perhaps it’s useful to be able to search for a person and see when you had meetings with them in the past (or future, I suppose). If that’s not ever useful, then I’d see about getting the calendar you use to stop sending those emails. After all, you wouldn’t fight junk email by setting up a million filters, you unsubscribe from them.

So I suppose… only filter if:

  • You have no control over the source of the email, and need to exert some control after it arrives.
  • You don’t mind getting the email, but you don’t need to see it. It’s useful in search.
  • You like doing fancy workflow things, like automatic labeling or prioritization.

If you’re using filtering to trash stuff, try to cut it off at the head instead.

Crossing the Barriers

Hey Chris, just shooting you a text here to let you know I emailed you about that stuff we talk about on the phone. 

It just doesn’t feel right, does it? I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t mind. Like if it’s a real estate agent whom I’ve told I want to be kept very up to date on everything going on. But usually, it’s pretty far up the obnoxious scale.


I don’t want a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter about the email you sent me. I don’t want a phone call about that same email. I don’t need a email about your phone call. I don’t need a Slack message about your text or for you to stop by in person about your phone call.

All these are crossing the communication-type chasm and feel like a violation of trust. We’ve already communicated in one way. There is already proof that I use that communication type. I’m an adult person who has already communicated with you and if there is some breakdown there, there is a reason for it that can’t be solved by jumping chasms.

The primary reason is that my trust in you drops a ton the second you do it. You don’t come across as a go-getter, you come across as needy and desperate, and that’s not a good look on anybody.

You know how I pick which communications of any type I respond to first? Whatever ones I feel like. The ones I think have the most potential and feel good. Make me feel good, not chased.

Not to mention, confusion:

I don’t answer *all* my email.

Of course not. There are people like Daniel Jacobs out there:

You don’t deserve my time, Daniel Jacobs. You demonstrated no understanding of me or the site you are asking about. That’s a terrible way to reach out to someone. I’m quite sure you are a real person and this tactic gets you enough leads or whatever that you’re doing just fine.

But I’m not going to talk to you Daniel Jacobs. I know just by the smell of this email you are not a good person for me to work with.

Caffeinate your highs, not your lows

The Productivity Cycle by Alex Sexton is a wonderful article that has stuck with me over the years. There is a bunch of it that is about caffeine consumption. Alex cites actual research and provides context, so definitely read the article, but the gist of it is this:

Consuming caffeine in time for it to affect you at the exact peak of your “focus wave” effectively makes the highs higher, and the lows lower. The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer. It’s like the sad state of our socioeconomic classes, except not awful, and for brain power!

Rather than using caffeine to fight off being tired, just be tired. But when you’re bouncing back and going into a high-energy period, that’s when you caffeinate, to make a productive period even more powerful. 

I thought of this as I was considering how I pair energy and tasks. If I’m working on something extraordinarily hard, I’ll consider caffeinating a high. If I need more average hours to knock out a lot of stuff that just takes time, I’d consider caffeinating a low.

Work on what you feel like

I realize not all of us have the freedom to do whatever we feel like doing all day at work. But assuming you have some wiggle room on what you do and when I find letting your mood dictate that is a recipe for a productive day.

I have a variety of things I can be doing that I’d consider productive:

  • Coding
  • Emailing
  • Organizing
  • Designing
  • Writing

And, being a human being, I have a variety of ways I’m feeling. There are infinite ways I might be feeling, but to boil it down to some large practical buckets:

  • Fresh
  • Average
  • Tired
  • Toast

If I was going to pair up those activities for me, it might be something like:

  • Fresh: Writing & Emailing
  • Average: Designing & Coding
  • Tired: Organizing 
  • Toast: Go home

I’m not good at writing (email or otherwise) when I’m not quite fresh. It’s mentally taxing, and the stakes for how well I do it are high. I’d rather capture my most energetic and fresh moods to do writing. 

Once that has worn off, I can settle into regular tasks like designing and coding. Once I’m pretty wiped, I can do low-effort low-stakes tasks like organizing and cleanup. I might knock off the easiest emails that require no written reply. I might organize my todo lists. I might clean up internal documentation and planning documents and calendars. 

Then once I’ve really had it, I gotta just shut the laptop. That used to be harder, but I’ve gotten better at it. I suck at everything when I’m super tired. I imagine most of us do.

When not to email yourself (2 minute rule)

I have a major habit of emailing myself. I don’t consider it a huge problem really, but it is just dumping something at my future-self to deal with without much structure. So I’ve been weaning myself off it. 

I use Things for my to-do lists, which are structured, and have due dates and context. So if the thing I’m emailing myself really belongs there, I put it there. 

But more importantly, there is a good chance the thing I’m emailing myself is a tiny, tiny thing. It’s a reminder to do something else, like “text the landlord about the drawer.” It seems silly thinking about that, because writing myself an email about that takes about just as long as writing the dang text itself.

I forgive myself to some degree, because writing to yourself is very low-stakes. Communicating with another person is higher-stakes. You need to make sure you understand yourself exactly what you are saying and then make sure you say it in a clear way. It’s not every second of the day you’re in that headspace. 

Still. I’m trying to use the Getting Things Done-rooted 2 minute rule. If the thing takes less than 2 minutes to do, just do it. That includes actually writing the email and not dumping it on future-me. So far so good. I prefer keeping those tiny-weenie things off actual to-do lists, lest they become more overwhelming than they really are.