I probably receive 50 emails a day, not counting spam. Give it a week, and I could easily end up with 200 unread emails in my inbox. When that happens, it feels about the same as if I hadn’t brushed my teeth in a week. It is not only annoying, it lowers my self-esteem. When my inbox is out of control, I feel that I am no longer in charge of my life.
One of the most important talk you can watch about managing your email is Inbox Zero by Merlin Mann. This talk is sheer genius. However, in practice, it has limitations. Like many others, I have developed a few “advanced” email management techniques based on a few key observations.
Even with spam filters, most email is junk.
I skip most emails. When emails are long, I will often read only the first few lines.
Email has become time sensitive.
It is silly but if you don’t reply within the 24 hours, people get nervous. They assume that you have not gotten their email. They feel ignored or rejected. Yet I sometimes need to work undisturbed for many hours. Maybe I am in meetings, maybe I am working with a student, maybe I need to crank out code. Hence, if the email requires more time that I have, I write back that I will get back to it later. I never use automated responders as I think that they are spam. I actually write a personalized (but short) answer.
Email can reproduce.
There is a relationship between how many emails you send and how many you receive. The more you use email to communicate with others, the more others will use email to communicate with you. I think it is best to send few emails, to few people and to keep them short.
Credit: Thanks to Philippe Beaudoin for rising this issue on Google+.