Inaccurate Design

Email isn't the Problem

Monday, 25 May 2015

Some people say that email is ‘inefficient and broken’.

One common theme is that people say every time an email comes in, they need to attend to it instantly, or it just sits in a perpetual state of ‘unread but I need to attend to it’. Amongst other things, many people recommend that email is the next ‘big thing’ that you can do in a successful startup. (Sidenote: There is a distinct lack of desktop email clients, and in my experience the only webmail worth using is Gmail (although I have ‘Try Outlook.com’ on my list of things to do)).

But email doesn’t need a new ‘workflow’, or a new paradigm. People need to realise email for what it is - a communication medium. How you deal with it will dictate how useful it is to you. I find that for my workflow, which is optimised around a plain jane textfile called ‘things-to-do.txt’, the best way to tackle email is:

  1. Turn off automatic email retrieval, or set it to a longer interval (not shorter than 30 minutes). This will prevent email from disrupting you every time a notification pops up.

  2. At a decided interval (I try about every 2 hours or so), check for new email.

  3. If you have new email, there are a few options.

    • If no action is required, delete or archive the email
    • If action is required, and that action will take less than 5-10 minutes, action it immediately. Once actioned, archive the email
    • if action is required, and that action will take longer than 10 minutes, it goes on my TODO list. It is archived immediately.
  4. Once all your remaining actions are on the TODO list, you can re-prioritise them as normal.

  5. Done!

You can tweak the above to work better for your workflow (for example, the threshold for ‘do it immediately’ or ‘put it on the list’ tasks, or the time between checking your emails). The most important thing is not to let emails sit in your inbox, otherwise it will turn into a defacto TODO list.