Email isn’t so bad

I quite like email. I say that because I’ve seen lots of things around recently saying that email is broken and needs reinvention. Of course it’s not perfect but with a bit of thought and help from a few other tools, it’s still the best of an imperfect bunch.

I use Mac Mail on two computers (one desktop, one laptop) and on my iPhone. I do have it on my iPad but very rarely use that for mail (or work for that matter). Display wise I’ve minimised everything I can so that as much of the real estate as possible is just the message and key commands. This is also my main reason for not using the web client for Gmail, I don’t want any distractions in my mail. I also have all my mail accounts (I use three) arrive into the same client.

My underlying email accounts are all Google Apps mail accounts using IMAP to sync which can mean that it’s a bit slow to crank up but also means it’s all backed up on a Google server somewhere and I get Google junk mail filtering which is pretty damn good these days. The only exception is mail about used cars which I get because somebody keeps selling my email address instead of that of my namesake in New Jersey.

One thing that made email much more bearable for me was unsubscribing from pretty much all newsletters or mailing lists. If I receive a message that has an unsubscribe link at the bottom, my default is to click it. I’ve switched my ‘finding out about stuff’ to Google Reader which I check once a day. I’ve turned off all Facebook email notifications except those for messages. It’s the same for Twitter and LinkedIn.

My aim is basically to keep my inboxes as empty as I can while only spending a limited amount of time ‘dealing’ with email. I try not to check email until 10am, which is usually when I deal with most of it. If I have an early meeting I probably will check it before I start the journey as people do quite often tell you they’re going to be late via email I’ve found. I’ve also found that sending short emails is a good way to get other people to do the same. Three sentences is often all you need in order to be polite, respond to a question and ask one back if needs be.

As soon as I’ve dealt with an email, I archive it. I don’t bother with tags or folders or anything. Search on Mac Mail is pretty good — I can’t think of an example when I couldn’t find what I was looking for by searching for the person’s name or a keyword. If something needs real work then I add that task to my todo list. It’s the same with most emails that I write pro-actively — they usually start on my todo list and then get ticked off when they’re sent. On average I get about 50 messages a day and I send about 25 messages a day so I know I’m not an extreme case.  It means that usually I reply to email with 24 hours.

I guess my non-hatred of email comes with one other caveat:Â I don’t work in a large organisation and so don’t have the mass of email that mirrors bureaucracy I’ve seen some people have to deal with.

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