A few weeks ago MG said he was quitting email.
Oh, how do I feel his pain! Just last night I answered 100+ emails and I only made a small dent in my inbound. This morning I have more than 100 new ones. I simply can NOT keep up. I even hired +Kat Armstrong to try to help and together we can’t keep up. This is NOT scalable, although I have found a few productivity tricks which I’ll share with you a little later.
That said, MG Siegler is wrong. Quitting email won’t solve the problem. All that will do is push all that email into other places in his life. PR people will quickly learn that he isn’t answering email and will start calling him, or stalking him out at parties, or worse, stalking his friends and asking them to push messages along to him. How do I know this? Because that’s already started. Companies have asked me to help them get on Techcrunch. Um, no. :-)
And that’s the worst of the behaviour changes that will happen. Already I’m seeing people private messaging me in Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other places. These are HORRID places to interact with people. Here’s why:
1. With email I can work with a team. I can forward email. CC them. BCC them. I can reply all and add them. Etc etc. Doing that on Twitter or Facebook is impossible.
2. I can organise. With email I can filter or drag-and-drop email into folders or apply tags or flags. With Twitter DMs or Facebook messages? No way.
3. I can run algorithms. I have hundreds of filters that I’ve hand written in Gmail to get crappy email out of my view. More on that in a second. I also can use Google’s own algorithms to make things cleaner for me.
4. I can format email. Ever try to do bold or italic or put a photo into Facebook or Twitter messages? Yeah, right.
5. I don’t have limitations on length. Sometimes things need length. If you are arguing out a complex business idea you need more than 140 or 500 characters. Email handles it.
6. I can sort social media messages. I can’t see my oldest Twitter or Facebook messages. I can see my oldest Gmail messages with a click of the button.
7. I can’t search on social media messages. I use search in Gmail all the time to find all emails on a topic, or from a person, or about a company. I can’t do that in Twitter or Facebook.
So, what do I do to try to solve the problem?
First, I encourage everyone to pitch me on email. Have everything come into one place. Spreading out behaviour around the web isn’t the right way to solve this problem, it’ll just make it worse for MG.
Second, I bias my answers for places that have scale. If someone asks me a question in email that I can answer in a scalable way, like in public, then I do it. For instance, this morning I told someone that I answered their question over on Quora. Why did I answer it there? Because that way that answer has scale. Other people can see the answer. I can reuse that answer easily (by searching for it on Google again). If doing the answer in public saves me one email down the line, it’s worth it. The real way to get to inbox zero is to have no one who wants to ask you anything because all the answers are already on Google!
Third, I filter ruthlessly.
Fourth, I don’t answer people back anymore if I don’t have a good answer. Why not? Answering them back just causes them to SEND YOU MORE EMAIL!
Fifth, I have an out of message reply that I’ll paste below that lets you know what I’m looking for.
So, how do I filter?
1. I start with marking spam as spam. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Over the past two years this has reduced my inbound spam by HUGE amount. I rarely get spam now. Why? I’ve trained the system what spam is and that has helped everyone get less spam (Gmail’s system uses all of us together to reduce spam that gets through that filter).
2. I turned on Priority Inbox and started training it. Yes, it’s a pain to train it. It took me a few months, but now messages from my boss and wife are automatically marked important, which helps me see those.
3. I turned on an experimental feature from Google called Smart Labels: http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2011/03/gmail-smart-labels.html This puts notifications into a folder called that, bulk messages into its own folder, etc etc. THIS IS HUGE help in getting your inbox down to important messages.
4. I spent the last year writing many hundreds of filters that get rid of anything lame in my inbox. EVERY DAY THESE FILTERS CLEAN HUNDREDS OF EMAILS OUT OF MY INBOX. I can’t say enough about this. It is hard work. When you see something come into your inbox that is some sort of commercial email that isn’t spam, but isn’t really all that important I write a rule to filter it, and all future emails from that business to a folder. I do that for PR people who send me lame pitches. For newsletters from Calacanis and Om. For notifications (it’s often easier to write a rule to get rid of notifications than to go to the host thing you signed up for and figure out how to turn them off). And for tons of other emails. This is the single most productive thing I’ve done IN THE PAST 10 YEARS!
5. I archive. Every once in a while I grab all email that’s older than a week (if it’s older than a week and I haven’t answered it, chances are I will NEVER answer it, sorry) and drag those over to my MacBookPro’s email client (Apple’s Mail). I get them out of Gmail. Why? For one, they are clutter. For two, they make me feel bad to be in my email client all the time. For three, they make everything slower on Gmail (MG hit that problem). I also back up all sent email and then I MAKE SURE I DELETE EVERYTHING THERE. That also helps me work with Kat, since we have a fairly clean inbox to start with every month.
6. I no longer feel bad that I can’t answer every email. I used to. I read every email, but there is NO PHYSICAL WAY I CAN ANSWER ALL EMAIL ANYMORE. I just don’t feel bad about this. I’m sorry about it, but I get more email than I can possibly answer in a day and that’s if I spent every minute of every day on nothing but email. So, when you are sending me email you should know that while I read it all, there’s no way I’m answering it all. My average is about 10% and that’s on a good day. On worst day I get to 0%.
Hope that helps you build an email system that doesn’t overwhelm you and if it doesn’t, it still won’t help you to just say “I’m no longer using email.”
What do you think? How do you deal with email overload?
By the way, here’s my out of message response that everyone gets every time they send me email:
I’m now getting emails at a level that I can’t respond to everyone. This is an automatic response to an email you sent to [email protected].
I will make a best attempt to get back to you, especially if you are sharing world-changing technology with me. I do read every email, but I only can reply to about 10%, sorry.
If you are desperate please call me on my cell phone at +1-425-205-1921 (if I’m available I will pick up, if not, keep calling back until you get me).
To PR people, if you want me to cover your product you’ve got to give me more than one day warning. I do videos and I’m already scheduling out October.
I don’t do press-release rewrites like other tech bloggers. It’s best to get in touch with me at LEAST A MONTH before you launch (right now my calendar is totally booked until mid-October). To see a successful pitch, see how Flipboard pitched me (it is my favourite startup of 2010): http://www.google.com/buzz/scobleizer/EsMhJvooEWv/Its-interesting-because-I-get-dozens-of-pitches (Flipboard showed me what they were doing THREE MONTHS before they shipped!)
I specifically am looking for world-changing technology and startups, if you have one, please be persistent. I am often out shooting and miss cool stuff once in a while.
If you are looking for my calendar, or other items, visit https://profiles.google.com/scobleizer which has links to all of my blogs, social media accounts, and calendars so you can see if I’m open or not.
Another way to get through to me is to talk with my producer, Rocky Barbanica. You can reach him at [email protected] and now I have help with my email and editorial choices thanks to Kat Armstrong. Contact her at [email protected]
Thanks and sorry if I don’t get back to you.