Why I didn’t read your email (yet)

Do you have an abundance of email? How about multiple email accounts? Have you ever tried and failed to embrace “email zero?” Welcome to my world. AND it’s not really as dismal as it sounds. Because I DO have a system.

I have academic email, professional email, personal email, an email account unique to my phone, the original email we set up for the family a couple decades ago … I use these for different purposes. I love the convenience of quick messages, information feeds, and important notices delivered right to my device. Like most of you, I don’t want to be a slave to email.

To be fully present and productive for my day, I do not allow email or email notices to drive my attention. I check email only two times a day. Seriously.

In general, my first scan takes place close to 11 AM, after major project work or local meetings take place. I hit delete frequently (Groupon get-aways!), throw a few into a waiting folder (Your Amazon–or Petco–order has shipped!), and scan trusted information sources for links I want to follow up on (Inside Higher Ed: research on the impact of gender proportions in engineering teams).

I have an “offers” folder for really great sales/coupons that I might want later. (I check these before heading out on errands and delete expired offers from the folder at that time).

I routinely consider if a feed no longer serves me, and happily unsubscribe.

I scan conversation threads from Slack channels and other group feeds, and delete these after reading if there’s no action.

Finally, I have those I need to make more thoughtful decisions or take actions on. Usually, this means I need to note a corresponding action in another system to make sure the plethora of stuff doesn’t fall through any proverbial cracks.

I love David Allen’s “two minute rule” (from Getting Things Done or GTD fame). If it’s a quick response, schedule affirmation, etc., I send off my reply and add any corresponding calendar entries or follow up reminders elsewhere and move on.

If it’s going to take more thought, I plug a reminder in my system for a particular time to take action.

That’s it. I move on to the next important task, and repeat the scan sometime in late afternoon. And it works, with some exceptions.

Two issues surface. 1) the person who sends a message at, say, 4:45 PM (after my second scan). I don’t respond by 5:00 PM, or even by 8:30 AM. They don’t know my system (yet), and feel a personal sense of urgency. When they finally call, fuming, around 10:30 AM or so, and I haven’t even LOOKED, they’re generally mystified that I’m not at all stressed by such things. I believe if an issue is truly important with a time-based urgency, you’ll call me. The email may contain additional detail, and may be a documented back up. Email is not an emergency channel.

2) Some accounts have been around a LONG time. Yes, I’m one of those with thousands and thousands of messages. And I get hundreds a day, hence the system. Only one of my devices has the true image of my email because at some point, the settings were to flow all messages to all devices, but actions (deletions, responses) didn’t synchronize across devices. [Eye Roll] There WILL come a day when this gets fixed and the backlog cleared. Today, I think of all this as distributed archives.

Meanwhile, I don’t allow email to drive my day. Serving clients and partnering with colleagues and supporting my family and giving time to my community … those are my priorities.

Are you a master of your tech? Does this resonate with you? Or would this drive you NUTS? Share your thoughts …

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