The War on Email

Inbox Heroes: A New Series on Betabeat for Those of Us Who ‘Get a Lot of Email’

gmail screengrab Inbox Heroes: A New Series on Betabeat for Those of Us Who Get a Lot of Email
Email. There is so much of it already, and more is being created all the time. Some folks have even declared email bankruptcy; others have simply refused to use it anymore. For Inbox Heroes, Betabeat is curious about your war stories, productivity tips and moments of extraordinary email. Send us an email to tips et betabeat daught com with “war on email” in the subject line and a paragraph or two (or more!) about how you deal with your influx of electronic letters. Here, I’ll start!

Adrianne Jeffries, Betabeat blogger

The key is Gmail and its extra functionality and extensions. Gmail tells me I am using 5,014 MB of my 7,628 MB. I would estimate I get between 50 and 100 emails a day and most of them are things I actually want to read. I know a lot of people get more than that–this series was inspired by a conversation with ZocDoc COO Oliver Kharraz, who gets between 1,000 and 2,000 emails a day–but they pile up.

Lately my system is to try to do something with every email as it comes in. Just to get it out of the inbox. So I will label it, or respond to it, or trash it or archive it. Emails inevitably pile up anyway, and I try to blaze through those on the weekend in a sort of slash and burn dance of vengeance. I call it “email slaying.”

I have three email addresses connected to my Gmail: my personal email, my Observer email, and my official email, which is the address on my website (I think I might have a Betabeat email too, but no one uses that). Thanks to labels, I can tell right away which inbox is getting what. Actually the official website email address is the most exciting because it gets the least amount of volume and it’s super random. Letter from a not-so-internet-savvy reader! Note from a borderline stalker! Tips from Bitcoiners! Old friends! Of course, it gets plenty of missives from the email press release factory as well.

I have more than 20 labels including: “startup news roundup,” “rumors,” “interesting,” “apps to try,” “email press release factory,” “tasks to do” and “POST THIS.” I have a “working” label for longer pieces I’m working on, and each of those has a nested label beneath “working,” i.e. “working/Ceglia,” “working/Fitocracy,” “working/Bitcoin.” Then when the story is over I delete the label. Awesome. Filters drop some emails directly into their respective labels and the label turns bold when it has an unread email.

Recently, I found a setting in Gmail Labs that adds a button for “send and archive” so that when you reply to an email, it archives the whole conversation instead of keeping it in the inbox. This simple trick has reduced the number of already-dealt with emails just sitting in my inbox, staring at me and stressing me out.

I also use the Gmail plugin Boomerang, which lets you schedule emails to send later or takes an email out of your inbox and returns it to your inbox a few hours later, or a day later, or whatever, or at a specific time. The problem with responding to email is that it tends to generate more email. So sometimes when I’m email slaying, I’ll schedule all my responses to send the next morning. That ensures I won’t get bogged down with replies-to-replies while I’m trying to get to inbox zero.

I’m sure there are more Gmail tricks that would help me, but I have been too lazy to look into it in depth. (Also, Gmail is starting to get bogged down by all the add-ons I’m already using.) I’d love to use Priority Inbox, but I just don’t trust it. I mean, sometimes, Gmail sends real things to spam. Is there anything more terrifying than missing a juicy news tip because it went to spam?

I had two ideas for controlling my email. One idea was to put on an auto-response that would say, “Hi there! I get a lot of email. Please understand that it may take several days for me to respond. While you wait, you can amuse yourself by reading my latest story: < link to one of my recent posts >.” In theory this would result in more people reading my stories and fewer people sending me emails to ask if I got their emails. Or calling me to ask if I got their emails. Maybe I would add a note: “PS — If you are a PR person I have never spoken to before, please do not call me about your email. You must have faith in the strength of your subject line and the mettle of your pitch.”

The other idea was tiered inbox pricing. Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a list of demands when I read my inbox. At a minimum, each email is asking for my attention. Most are asking for a response and some of them are asking for action. With email, it’s very easy to send one-way demands. So I started imagining a system where I could charge $5 to read and respond to your email within 12 hours. For $2, I will read and respond in 48 hours. And so on. However, I felt this was ultimately kind of crappy and borderline unethical.

Send us your stories from the frontlines of the battle against email to tips (at] betabeat.com.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    FIRST!

  2. Bob says:

    One of the best approaches to email overload is batch processing of email, on your computer, by yourself, when you schedule yourself to do it. Then dispatch each one appropriately and be sure it is gone from your Inbox.  Bob www.doemailright.com