Friday, March 6, 2015

Taming Your E-Mail Dragon

Over on Uncharted Waters, I wrote a post about out of control E-mail titled "Is Your Killer App Killing You?" If that may be a bit too much hyperbole, there is no question that E-mail can be exhausting, demoralizing, and just really hard to manage.

One area that I think is really needed, and would make E-mail much more effective, is some way to extend messages to automatically start new processes. Some of this can be done at a fairly simple level. Most of the time, though, what ends up happening is that I get an email, or a string of emails, I copy the relevant details, and then I paste them somewhere else (calendar, a wiki, some document, Slack, a blog post, etc.). What is missing, and what I think would be extremely helpful, would be to have ways to register key applications with your email provider, whoever it may be, and then have key commands or right click options that would let you take that message, choose what you want to do with it, and then move to that next action.

Some examples... if you get a message and someone writes that they'd like to get together at 3:00 p.m., having the ability to right there schedule an appointment and lock the details of the message in place seems like it would be simple (note the choice of words, I said it seems it would be simple, I'm not saying it would be easy ;) ). If a message includes a dollar amount, it would be awesome to be able to right click or key command so that I could record the transaction in my financial software or create an invoice (either would be legitimate choices, I'd think).

Another option that I didn't mention in the original piece, but that I have found to be somewhat helpful, is to utilize tools that will allow you to aggregate messages that you can review later. For me, there are three levels of email detail that I find myself dealing with.

1. E-mail I genuinely could not care any less about, but doesn't rise to the level of outright SPAM.

I am unsentimental. Lots of stuff from sites I use regularly comes to my inbox and I genuinely do not want to see it. My general habit is to delete it without even opening it. If you find yourself doing this over and over again, just unsubscribe and be done with it. If the site in question doesn't give you a clear option for that, then make rules that will delete those messages so you don't have to. So far, I've yet to find myself saying "aww, man, I really wish I'd seen that offer that I missed, even though I deleted the previous two hundred that landed in my inbox. Cut them loose and free your mind. It's easy :).

2. Emails with a personal connection that matter enough for me to review and consider them, but I may well not actually do anything with them. Still much of the time, I probably will.

These are the messages I let drop into my inbox, usually to be subject to various filter rules and to get sorted into the buckets I want to deal with, but I want to see them and not let them sit around.

3. That stuff that falls between #1 and #2.

For these messages, I am currently using an app called It's a pretty basic tool in that it creates a folder in my IMAP (called Unroll.Me), and any email that I have decided to "roll up" and look at later goes into this app, and this folder. There's some other features that the app offers, such as Unsubscribing (if the API of the service is set up to do that), include in the roll up, or leave in your Inbox. Each day, I get a message that tells me what has landed in my roll up, and I can review each of them at that point in time.

I will note that this is not a perfect solution. The Unsubscribe works quite well, and the push to Inbox also has no problems. It's the Roll up step that requires a slight change in thinking. If you have hundreds of messages each day landing into the roll up, IMO, you're doing it wrong. The problem with having the roll up collect too many messages is that it becomes easy to put off, or deal with another day, which causes the back log to grow ever larger, and in this case, out of sight definitely means out of mind. To get the best benefit, I'd suggest a daily read and a weekly manage, where you can decide which items should be unsubscribed, which should remain in the roll up, and which should just go straight to your inbox.

In any event, I know that E-mail can suck the joy out of a person, and frankly, that's just no way to live. If you find yourself buried in E-mail, check out the Uncharted Waters article, give a try, or better yet, sound off below with what you use to manage the beast that is out of control email. As I said in the original Uncharted Waters post, I am genuinely interested in ways to tame this monster, so let me know what you do.
Post a Comment