Articles Posted in Productivity

face-in-the-chips-small.jpgThere are solutions to the frustration of managing email. The fundamental answer is a shift in behaviors and expectations. David Allen’s Getting Things Done has helped change the conversation from a technology focus to a behavioral focus. Technology is part of the solution – but only if we use it differently. I have not needed a vertical scroll bar on my email for 3 months, something I would not have believed possible a year ago. The technology didn’t change – I did.

The scale of the problem has grown so rapidly that cultural norms and behaviors have not had time to adapt. As a result feelings of guilt and frustration are widespread as people watch their inbox grow faster than they can clear it. Anger at spammers is epidemic (I hope there is a special place in hell for them involving all the devices they are trying to sell us). These are not healthy emotions.

Some have taken to declaring email bankruptcy, throwing up their hands and cleaning the slate. As usual Scott Adams is brilliant on the subject of email as a weapon. But the best description of the problem I’ve seen was recently posted at 43 Folders.

pebbles-small.jpg “Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What ‘pile’? It’s just a f#@$ing pebble!”

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Taming email is primarily a behavioral problem. If people can be brief, direct, and considerate things will improve.

I’ve shared this list of ideas with groups I’ve managed for the past 10 years. It hasn’t solved the problem – but it has helped. Sharing this list sets expectations clearly and helps people change their behavior.

This is not an exhaustive list; please feel free to ad your own peeves and ideas for reducing clutter in the in-box. Also – feel free to call me on my lapses.

Here are the rules – more detail is below the fold.


* Be brief – really
* Attachments, use sparingly

* Include clues in the subject field
* Make the “To” field mean something
* Be up front with requests

* FYI should really be NTK (Need to Know not Nice to Know)

* The Round Trip Rule
* Reply All is a Dangerous Weapon – Don’t Shoot Yourself
* When it’s urgent…
* Don’t Take It Personally
* When upset – use your toes not your fingers’
* Don’t argue with a jerk in public – most people can’t tell the difference
* How to nag
* Jokes – The Laugh Out Loud Rule
* Minor issues

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