Insomnia-Fueled E-Mail Management Musings

I just saw Khoi Vinh’s post on managing e-mail and since I can’t sleep, I figured I’d tell you how I manage e-mail. I use OS X’s Mail.app for work mail and Thunderbird for my personal stuff (I like keeping them separate). I don’t get a ton of personal e-mail, but I get between one hundred and three hundred e-mails a day for work (during the week, 50-70 on weekends) between projects, internal listservs and CSS Working Group stuff. That number’s been as high as four hundred during the AIM Pages crunch last year, I was getting more than five hundred a day.
I’ve managed that load for more than five years, and have found a couple things that keep me sane.
# I have a smart folder called Unread Messages that has only messages I haven’t read in it. Instead of peering at threads and a thousands-message long inbox, it contains only the stuff I haven’t read. I have another smart folder that has messages received in the last 36 hours. I almost never go into the Inbox view, because there’s just too much stuff there.
# Respond right away. If you can’t respond in a couple minutes, open the message in a new window and get to it after you’ve filtered the rest.
# Do your e-mail first thing. I spend the first half-hour of the day filtering e-mail and respond, and then get to work. I’ll check back every hour or so and filter again, depending on what I’m working on. If I’m coding and in the zone, then I might only check at the end of the day, but if I’m in meetings, it’s more often.
That’s pretty much it. My work day is an exercise in interruption management. Between e-mails and IMs from co-workers, I deal with hundreds of interruptions a day. It’s funny, but when I really have to get something done and don’t log in to AIM or open my e-mail, I miss the interruptions. I don’t know what to do with myself.
Sad, isn’t it?

One thought on “Insomnia-Fueled E-Mail Management Musings”

  1. Hey, if you want to see a great documentary on Insomnia, check out Wide Awake on HBO. Not sure if it’s still running, but it was awesome!! My wife finally understands, in a small degree, why I wander the house at 2am.
    If only I had his creativity to focus my lack of sleep on…

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