The Immovable Email and the Moment of Clarity

I’m sure most of us have had that experience of an email sitting in your inbox for ages. Not one that you just didn’t see or got buried under hundreds of others, but one that’s right there staring you in the face. It kinda needs your attention. Or at least you think it does. After all, you haven’t trashed it or archived it yet. But for some reason you just can’t deal with it right now.

I’d love to know what the reason is. Do you have an email like that right now? What is it?

I get these all the time. A common one for me is that someone has sent in an article draft, and the draft is right on the edge of bad and mediocre. If it’s bad, that’s an easy email. Some pleasant version of Sorry, this isn’t good enough. If it’s mediocre, those take work, but I can muscle through them usually. It’s those on the line between mediocre and bad that are hard, because my mood plays such a big role. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to deal with something with fairly low potential, but I know that sometimes I am in the mood to try to pull someone up as best I can. So they emails sit, until the scale falls more firmly one way or another.

Sometimes the immovable email is from a friend. A loving little nugget tucked away amidst business stuff. The same frame of mind that answers business emails doesn’t feel right for friends, so it sits and sits.

Whatever the immovable email is, there tends to be a moment of clarity that handles it. Something sparks, and the email isn’t hard anymore. For me, it’s not just getting started writing it. Sometimes I try to trick myself into that, but it doesn’t work. Then the draft just sits and sits.

The moment of clarity usually comes from somewhere else. A long weekend when I didn’t think about it at all. Perhaps I snoozed it for a week and the answer came easier then. Or something related and serendipitous happened and the answer became clear.

Is this a common experience or something in my weird head? Have you ever had an email moment of clarity that helped to clear the stragglers in the ol’ inbox?

The Hot New Channel for Reaching Real People: Email

That’s the headline on this Wall Street Journal piece by Christopher Mims. There was a call-to-action that said I could read the article if I signed in. So I created an account. But then the call-to-action told me I had to subscribe. I’m not anti-subscribing-to-newspapers, but I wasn’t feeling this little bait and switch so I didn’t pull the trigger.

Solid first two paragraphs though:

Kids think it’s fussy and archaic, but for brands, creators and businesses of every kind the emerging medium of choice to reach audiences is the only guaranteed-delivery option the internet has left: email.

Consumer email services have been around for almost three decades, but to hear email’s most ardent fans talk about it now, it’s an undiscovered country too long neglected by those who could benefit from it the most. In the #deletefacebook era, it’s become a way to fight back against the algorithms that try to dictate what…

141,355

Lot of work to do there.

It makes me wonder though. How much of that is just pure noise. Like 329 emails of notifications from some to-do app that a team shares where every single time someone clicks a little like button it generates an email.

I’m sure some people get literally thousands of personal emails a day, but I think most people under severe email load get buried from not managing notification settings, not unsubscribing from stuff, and generally avoiding even looking in there let alone engaging with that inbox.

Everlasting Email

Definitely. Email is almost like too-big-to-fail. Not that chat isn’t just as (possibly more) important for intimate team communication. But more importantly, email is good.

The Effectiveness of Email Obfuscation

Speaking of email address obfuscation (I mentioned I never do it and it causes me zero problems), I was pointed to some interesting research by Silvan Mühlemann. It’s only up on Web Archive here, as apparently the original site is gone. 

In 2006, Silvan put up a page on the internet, linked to it, and put nine different email addresses on it, all obfuscated in different ways. 

Here’s the code for posterity:

<p><a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20180422184621/mailto:silvan1@tilllate.com">silvan1@tilllate.com</a></p>

<p><a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20180422184621/mailto:silvan2ATtilllateDOTcom">silvan2 AT tilllate DOT com</a></p>

<p><a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20180422184621/mailto:silvan3@tilllate.com">silvan3</a></p>

<p><a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20180422184621/mailto:%73%69%6c%76%61%6e%34%40%74%69%6c%6c%6c%61%74%65%2e%63%6f%6d">silvan4</a></p>

silvan5<!-- -->@<!--- @ -->till<!-- -->late.<!--- . -->com</p>

<p>
<script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript">
<!--
	var string1 = "silvan6";
	var string2 = "@";
	var string3 = "tilllate.com";
	var string4 = string1 + string2 + string3;
	document.write("<a href=" + "mail" + "to:" + string1 +
		string2 + string3 + ">" + string4 + "</a>");
//-->
</script>
</p>

<style type="text/css">
p.email:after { content: "silvan6\40tilllate.com"; }
</style>
<p class="email">email me: </p>

<style type="text/css">
span.codedirection { unicode-bidi:bidi-override; direction: rtl; }
</style>

<p><span class="codedirection">moc.etalllit@7navlis</span></p>

<style type="text/css">
p span.displaynone { display:none; }
</style>

<p>silvan8@<span class="displaynone">null</span>tilllate.com</p>

Only three of which actually worked. 

And all three of those seem pretty awful:

  1. Mailto link won’t work and quite awkward for accessibility
  2. Mailto link won’t work
  3. document.write is bad for performance. Relying upon JavaScript base content isn’t a great idea. Hard to maintain.

I absolutely love the actual research. It confirms to me it’s just not a game I wanna play. 

The Various Intensities of Saying No (and letting people know you can’t prioritize their thing)

Say someone emails you and your answer needs to be no. There are different intensities of that. 

Say it’s a good friend of yours.

Being honest with your friends is usually easy.

You’re going to hate me, because I have to say no on this one. I looooveeee the idea and I’m so glad you’re doing it and please keep me in the loop on it if you have time. It’s just with everything I have going on, I might go bananas taking on anything else. 💙s, Chris.


Yours will probably be much more personal, explaining how your mother-in-law is staying with you because she broke her hip or whatever.

Say it’s someone who’s done a pretty good job of writing that email…

… and you don’t dislike the idea, but the answer is still no. That’s the thing that got me thinking an inspired this:

Probably ends up like:

Hey! Thanks for reaching out about this. I think it’s a great idea and you should totally do it. As for my part, I’m afraid that I can’t prioritize it right now. Best of luck and feel free to let me know how it goes.


What I like about it is that it feels:

  1. Most honest
  2. Slightly stronger than my typical “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time” response

I’m literally telling you that I’m not willing to prioritize your thing. Theoretically I “have time”. I could make an extra cup of coffee at night and stay up an hour later and do it probably. But I don’t want to. I’m not willing to prioritize that over the sleep or other side project or whatever else. 

If you really do wish you could do the thing but can’t, feel free to say that. I’m sure you can say that honestly and not feel like your lying. For example:

Jason Fried has a story where he really liked a kid who wanted to intern form him, but it turns out he just didn’t have the attention:

I recently realized that if I’m too busy to take something on, I shouldn’t say “I don’t have the time”. In fact, I often do have the time. It’s not that hard to squeeze in some extra time for someone.


What I don’t have – and what I can’t squeeze in – is more attention. Attention is a far more limited resource than time. So what I should say is “I don’t have the attention”.

You don’t have to say yes to everything, even when you like them.

Say you just don’t like the idea

I’d probably go with a very similar, but shorter response:

Hey! I’m sorry but I can’t prioritize this right now. Best of luck!

It’s not your job or mine to give people a bunch of feedback on why you’re not into the idea. That’s work, and the goal here is shooing away this email, not having it take up time.

Turns out Dan Mall had the same exact idea a few years ago:

Recently, I’ve tried to stop saying, “I don’t have time.” It insinuates that I’m a helpless victim to the all-powerful stream of hours that mightily passes me by. It’s easy to adopt an “Oh well” attitude to what you’re giving up. It authorizes my apathy.


Instead, I’ve replaced it with the phrase, “That’s not a priority.” Suddenly, I’ve taken control of my own decisions. I’ve taken responsibility for what I do and don’t do. I’ve added clarity, condemnation, and encouragement, all in 4 short words.


“Watching another episode is not a priority.”
“Taking my wife on a date is not a priority.”
“Writing a blog post is not a priority.”
“Building that side project is not a priority.”

Say they are rude

By-eeeeee. You get nothing. If they are extraordinarily rude or even dangerous, I’d say use your best instincts there on what to do. I’ve had circumstances where I felt it was a good idea to forward it along to their employer being like “look at your boy here, not a good look.”

You don’t have to give a reason at all

It sure seems culturally necessary to say why you can’t do a thing. We just had a 1st birthday party for my daughter Ruby, and not a single e-decline for our invite didn’t include an elaborate reason why they couldn’t attend. I get it. It feels abrupt and a bit rude to just click a “no” radio button and close a tab. 

But with an unsolicited email… an elaborate reason seems unnecessary. You probably won’t get one from me. 

Here’s the best one in history:

Brad Frost tells me there is good advice in this book

I’ll have to pick it up.

Email Address Encoder

I had the creator of Email Address Encoder shoot me an email looking for a testimonial I think. I imagine it does a decent job. It probably RegEx’s for emails it finds on your WordPress site anywhere it finds one in the content then does some weird obfuscation shit in which to:

protects your email addresses from email-harvesting robots.

I’m sure it does a perfectly fine job of that. But I had to tell the fellow:

I’m just weird in that I’ve publicly listed my email address anywhere and everywhere without any obfuscation for like 15 years and it’s never once been a problem. With that experience, it’s hard for me to endorse personally doing any kind of obfuscation.

🤷‍♂️

Adiós

Adiós is to help you deal with email less: 

Adiós brings your emails into your inbox just 3 times a day, so you can get sh*t done.

I’m not entirely sure how it works, but it appears to be a Gmail-only thing that you just have to authorize and it does it’s thing. They promise to not look at the content of your email ever. The setup processes looks quick, easy, and configurable. 

This is curious to me as it doesn’t really help deal with email overload. It seems to be more about email addiction. If you find yourself poking around in your email too often, this could help. But if that’s the case, I wonder if delayed-then-bulk delivery is really a solution? Especially since surely it’s easy enough to turn off. The present some interesting light data though (no sources):

The average person checks email 74 times a day! That’s astronomical, given that most emails really aren’t that time-critical.


And it’s not just the time you spend reading and responding to mail – it’s also the time and mental-energy you expend context-switching.


Being interrupted during a focused task and then trying to context-switch back to focus on it again can take 20+ minutes before your mind is fully back in the zone again being productive.

In any case, it’s free and easy, so perhaps it will appeal to you.