Wednesday, January 30, 2008

handling crushing email loads

One unanticipated benefit of leaving Linden has been the elimination of nearly all of my email load. As the primary connector at Linden -- plus the most broadly aware of where the various technical pieces were at any given moment -- I tended to have around 200 emails a day that got past my various filters, of which 50 to 100 required at least some kind of answer. So, how to manage that kind of flow without spending all my time reading email?

Through lots of experiments and conversations with Ian Wilkes, Mark Ferlatte, Mark Lentczner, and others, I came to a solution that worked for me. It might not work for you. However, many people I've told about it ended up copying it, so I thought I'd share.

Mail configuration:

  1. All mailing lists and generated email filtered into folders
  2. All mail that escapes these filters copied into an archive folder, but original left unread in Inbox
  3. Ensure default client display shows sender and full subject line
How I read email:
  1. Block select all new mail
  2. De-select email where subject line/sender are insufficient to know that email need not be read
  3. Delete all email still selected, noting that it is still in the archive folder and can be read or searched later
  4. Read remaining new mail, responding to any emails that are either routing requests ("Who is the best dev to ask about bug foo?") or quick responses ("Can we meet to talk about how manage person bar?"), deleting email after response, again noting it is still in the archive
  5. Leave email that requires more time unread, respond when possible
For me, the big time savings were not having to copy email to the bulk folder by hand, since even keyboard shortcuts for copying email tended to be more work than just deleting it, as well as the bulk select method of initial triage. Now that I'm using Gmail all the time, this system works quite well, although my email load is still small enough that I've gotten lazy about not keeping my Inbox empty. This also works well with the manually configured IMAP Gmail on iPhone, since I can delete off the iPhone without actually deleting. Note that this is not the behavior you get if you use the Gmail automated setup on iPhone, you need to follow the manual IMAP directions.


Ken said...

That is beautiful, Cory. One of those solutions that seems elegant and obvious once you read it, but I hadn't floundered into. Thank you VERY much; I do DBA work for my day job, and deal with a lot of the same issues. My inbox has been a lost cause for years now, and we're stuck w/ MS Exchange, so even the search tools suck.

Only Google Desktop Search has saved me so far, but the "send a copy to archive immediately, and then start deleting" model I can see will really, really help out.

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