Skip to main content

Email habits, productivity tips and using GMail like a pro

I tweeted this morning about an article which proposes to help your productivity by urging you not to empty your mailbox or at least not be fussy about emptying it every day.

Does the advice mean that you should procrastinate or as some one sarcastically put on my Facebook wall - "[Don't bother with replying to an email the moment you get it] If they are important enough they will be resent and sent again ...." :-) Such conclusions drawn from the article above only make the message weak.

Organizing the Inbox and emptying it are two different issues. Those who don't use Inbox as a todo list might have other ways of managing to-do. The article above is meant for those who rather than organize emails and prioritize them according to their importance, choose to use the 'arrival time' of an email as a default prioritization order. Those for whom acting on each mail means reading or replying it or deleting i.e. ignoring it. And also accompanied by the syndrome that an email replied and deleted (or archived) is 'ball out of my court' and I need not visit it again until there is a response from the other side.

This strategy of email management is appropriate for someone doing a back-office customer service job where each email acts like a ticket which you need to close. [Such professions are incidentally those which are getting replaced by AI or analytics based bots or programs]. However, in most professions today email is a means of a. collaboration b. information for personal welfare & growth [ex. newsletters] c. intimation of process statuses. Apart from 'c', none of the other two can afford to be consumed on a 'act as it comes' basis because both collaborative work and personal development need thought and focussed attention. And attention should be scheduled when the mind is in a state to do it than done impromptu.

However, there are troves of articles online junking email as an appropriate medium to get these two jobs done. There has been concerted effort to move away from email for both collaboration and personal development. Newsletters have moved to blogs and interactive portals - some are even attempting to convert them into MooC like interfaces. Collaboration itself is evolving with Office Online and Google Docs competing for features and several other special purpose collaboration platforms like Jira and Slack emerging (Slack even offers ways to intimate).

But in spite of this, email continues to serve as an all purpose channel for collaboration and personal development and I guess, like the cockroach, it will survive the current wave of change and stay relevant even decades later as a general purpose communication or messaging platform. So what options do you have as a user - do you continue to live with schedule as they come strategy on email?

Until GMail and filters arrived on the scene - 12 years ago - you had no choice, but it is no longer so. With GMail, we can sort our mail automatically for 75-80% mails properly in folders for later reading and clearing when we have time. This way the time spent in sorting mails, which is what most people do while 'emptying' their inbox, will be saved. I have a very real benchmark of this from my KPMG days. My official mailbox on Outlook which did not have this feature usually took 4 hours per week to keep organized, and yet many times I couldn't find mails when needed because I had made mistakes in sorting them manually.

Using a combination of a well defined labels hierarchy and filters which automatically move mails to these labels, most collaboration and personal development emails can be automatically sorted into proper labels to be attended to at a pre-scheduled time than actioned as they arrive. You are only left with a. intimation mails b. mails from new sources for which filtering has not been set up.

I personally have 140 filters set on my personal GMail mailbox and 20 main and 62 sub-labels (nested under the 20 main ones) - these exclude system labels like inbox, spam and trash. Some of these labels are now graveyard archives, like labels to keep all mails for old projects done in college or early days of my career, but almost 80-90% of these labels are in active use.

I am sure you have heard of Yesterbox technique by Zappos Founder Tony Hsieh; my daily mail habits try to replicate that technique as much as I can apart from using my mailbox as a treasure trove to mine useful data when needed. For ex, I subscribe to some newsletters by graphic design websites which I neither read when they come (they get archived), nor on a periodic basis. But often when I am stuck on some UI issue or a PowerPoint design issue I try to go through those articles for inspiration to come out of that mindblock. Many times while searching or something else, these newsletters pop-up and give you the right direction.

As an endnote though, I think the advice in the article is good for those who can't leverage labels / filters or who's nature of work do not permit them to maintain an organized mailbox.
.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Experienced vs. Freshers – an MBA perspective

Shubham and me compiled and created an article during our first year of MBA. It was never published, nevertheless MBA aspirants will find it very useful. Publishing it online for the same purpose. However, Shubham and myself claim a copyright on the text .... and of course very many thanks to all our freinds whose views have helped us compile the article. Experienced vs. Freshers – an MBA perspective By Nikhil Kulkarni, KPMG Shubham Choudhury, Infosys PGDIM- X, NITIE, Mumbai Ashita Mittal was placed during her final year in engineering college with a leading software firm. But she never wanted to be another brick in the wall. She wanted to differentiate herself from other graduates who start their career at the lowest rung of organizational hierarchy. MBA was a natural choice for her. On the other side is Shailesh Dhawla, who worked as a software engineer with a leading software consultancy firm for 3 years. He started his job with some ends in mind, like working with a known c

How will travel industry transform post-Covid

Unlike philosophers, journalists and teenagers, the world of entrepreneurship does not permit the luxury of gazing into a crystal ball to predict the future. An entrepreneur’s world is instead made of MVPs (Minimum Viable Product), A/B Tests, launching products, features or services and gauging / measuring their reception in the market to arrive at verifiable truths which can drive the business forward. Which is why I have never written about my musings or hypothesis about travel industry – we usually either seek customer feedback or launch an MVPised version and gather market feedback. However, with Covid-19 travel bans across the globe, the industry is currently stuck – while a lot of industry reports and journalistic conjectures are out, there’s no definitive answer to the way forward. Besides there is no way to test your hypothesis since even the traveller does not know what they will do when skies open. So, I decided to don my blogger hat and take the luxury of crystal gazing

Ekla Chalo re

Watched "Bose- The forgotten Hero" on Saturday. Gem of a movie and probably the best of Shyam Benegal. Subhash Chandra Bose has always been an inspiring character in the history for the youth. This post however is not about the movie, its about the lead song 'Tanha Rahee' which is based on the poem 'Ekla Chalo Re' by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. I had pasted the English translation of this poem on my blog earlier. http://the-complete-man.blogspot.com/2004/12/tsunami-times_30.html However, yesterday I found the original bengali text of the poem and found that the meaning in the above translation was not exact. So I have endeavourer (with the help of Shubham ) to re-translate it into English and Hindi by myself. Here is the output of my work: Bengali Jodi Tor Dak Soone Keu Na Asse Tobe Ekla Chalo re Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalore Jodi Keu Katha Na Kai Ore Ore O Abhaga Jodi Sabai Thake Mukh Firae Sabai Kare Bhay Tabe Paran Khule O Tui Mukh Fute Tor Maner