I see a lot of people complaining on Twitter about the massive amount of email they get and how hard it is to keep up.
If you really have this problem, you have my sympathy. But to be honest, I find it hard to believe that everybody is drowning in email.
The 10 second reply
How long do you spend replying to each email? For short mails, I find that I can reply in as little as 10 seconds:
- 5 seconds to read a few lines of text
- 5 seconds to reply with a single line
I use Gmail, and while the keyboard shortcuts could still be better, they’re just fine for 95% of time you’re reading and writing emails. So no waste of time there, just reading and writing. In peak periods I have literally responded to 5-6 emails per minute so I’m not just making this up.
So how much email did you say you get every day…?
I can’t reply in 5 seconds!
Right, some mails take a lot longer to reply to. But still, very few emails can not be responded to in a few minutes.
Keep your replies brief. If this is not possible, seriously consider if your work is right for you, or if you’re having a tedious discussion over email which could be settled in a 20 minute Skype meeting.
I felt this myself while working at VMware. I did get several hundred mails per day, and just reading through them was obviously time consuming. Some email threads would get extremely long and tangled, and I would spend 30 minutes replying to a single email.
Ultimately, this was part of what led to my decision to move on in my career.
Email receiver personalities
The Average Joe
You’re a regular guy, just like me. You get at most 10-20 mails per day (don’t count all those mailing lists and notifications).
Respond to them immediately or schedule one or two time slots for it per day. Keep your replies as brief as possible without causing confusion that may spur followup questions from the sender.
Come up with some workflow to ensure that you only read each email once. For example, in Gmail you can “Archive” mails to get them out of your inbox while still keeping them available and searchable.
If people constantly hammer you with business propositions and speaker invitations, great! You’re doing good!
And you can afford a Virtual Assistant to take care of your email. If you prefer to reply personally, start each email with a sentence (automatically inserted of course) explaining that you’re very busy so you’ll have to keep your reply brief. People will understand and be grateful that you took the time to reply at all.
You get hundreds of emails per day asking you for all kinds of crap. Additionally, you get lots of relevant business email.
Autoreply or don’t reply at all to the irrelevant stuff. People won’t be surprised and it may even enhance your aura of arrogance
Hire a Virtual Assistant to pick out the mails that are truly relevant to you.
You get tons of email and much of it is important. Hire a staff to deal with it.