I knelt before the statue of the white wizard, the relic Magical Zero Stone glinting in front of it, radiating pure oblivion. In the cracks and recesses of the stone was a cold and beautiful emptiness, and yet a wholeness, a completeness. An end of all things past, and beginning all things anew.
My sorrow and agony lifted from my shoulders. Inspiration began to melt the hardness of my heart, and I knew what I had to do.
"Okay, Commander Marshall," I reassured myself, "Time to gird up your loins, take your holy shield of email template, and fill your quiver with Google Keyboard Shortcuts. There will be rampant destruction, and then were will be peace."
In my life, I've written a lot of people who do interesting things. You'd be amazed at how often they reply - I've had conversations with top businessmen, economists, investors and financiers, researchers, and all sorts of other interesting and fascinating people.
But how often is "how often"? Well, it's not all that often actually. Something like 5-20 out of 100 emails you send to someone very busy and in-demand, and maybe 30-40 out of 100 to people who aren't extremely busy.
Most people don't reply. It kind of sucks. I always thought that was lame, and I took pride in replying to all my email.
I'd lose some to my strict spam filters and maybe something would slip through the cracks, but I probably had around a 98% reply rate. I constantly encouraged anyone and everyone to drop me a line if I can assist with anything, and I always replied.
I met a lot of great people that way and hopefully did a bit of good here and there. But I just lost the battle to keep my reply rate up - I answer quite a bit of email each day. Despite that, lately I've had more email in the inbox at the end of the day than I started.
I still think it's lame when people who aren't insanely busy don't reply, and I thought it's good for people who spend some of their life energy writing in to me to get a reply.
But it's basically physically impossible for me to reply - my bandwidth is maxed out. Besides the email, I've taken on more work lately than I've ever done before. Two days ago, I worked 17 hours nonstop throughout the day. I mixed in some email during idling moments.
I went home, slept four hours, got up for a phonecall. Guy was running late. I said fuck it, canceled, pushed back my only other morning engagement, slept more. Woke up. Realized this probably isn't sustainable, but regardless, there's no way I'm ever catching up with the inbox. It's a dozens-of-hours sort of thing, and I don't have dozens-of-hours coming up... like... ever on the horizon. And if I did, I wouldn't spend them answering email.
But it's still lame to not reply. So I did this:
*Turned on Google keyboard shortcuts
*Went and learned the keyboard shortcuts
*Particularly, noted "r" for reply, "tab-then-enter" for send, and "]" for archive-and-move-to-next-message.
*Wrote a template explaining bankruptcy
*Quickly cycled through my mail giving each one a 3 second scan to make sure it's not a bill that needs to be paid or something I'm otherwise super-duty-bound to do
*Cycled r / command+v / tab / enter / ]
*Which did "reply, paste, send, archive, next message" in just a few clicks
Here's the template I wrote -
Declaring Email Bankruptcy -
Hey there, I apologize but my inbox got overwhelming. I take pride in that I answered near 100% of my emails and always encouraged people to write to me. But I've gotten more coming in than I have going out; my box fills up more each day.
So today, I give in. I give up. I lose. I'm sorry. I didn't reply to this message.
There's a good chance it was important, actionable, cool, or interesting. If so, ping me again - even right away - and I'll do what I can. I can't promise I'll answer since my volume has gotten crazy, but I'll try. Do reach out again. Apologies for the inconvenience, I anticipated this would happen someday but didn't think it would yet. I'll hire an assistant at some point which will help.
My best regards, and do please continue to converse if I can assist. I'm going to build a better process right now so this doesn't need to happen too often.
In general, I do have some advice for people writing to someone busy -
*Keep it really short
*Write a really descriptive subject line
*Spend half the time you spend writing your email on the first sentence, make it really engaging
*Make it very clear what you want from the email
*Bold any important request you have
*Only make one request per email
*After all that, make it shorter again
All of that helps the chances of getting a reply. But even then, I'm sure I just waxed a lot of amazingly interesting people's email. Ah, I wish I had 74 hours each day. Life is beautiful, but I'd be happy if I had more of it.
Consider using the Google Labs "Multiple Inboxes". I use three, one for my actual Inbox, one for follow up (i.e. email I can't reply to immediately), and one for important messages (like saved passwords or account numbers). Hmmmm....maybe this is a good post idea?
I have considered paying a secretary to filter my email and respond to standard requests using an ever-refined playbook for this reason. Assistants scale whereas I alone do not.
People asking for your advice must realize that is why you run the blog.
Btw, read a great quote recently: “Email is our personal to-do list that anybody adds to – whether they know us or not."
You might reconsider your commitment to let just anyone claim your time.
Check out this post by Mark Suster: http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2011/09/28/why-email-may-be-draining-your-companys-productivity/
It's 2:57PM local time in Saigon. I have some tea, some fruit, and I am in a comfortable spot. I will not leave this room until my inbox is empty.
I always keep it pretty low, but I got ~20,000 visitors over the last few weeks. Even answering more than half the email I was getting each day, my inbox is now built up to a staggering 73 messages, many of which require 5-10 minutes or more to process. (If they average 5 minutes each, I'll be here for the next six hours.)
I keep meaning to do this, but slagging it off. Hence, I make a public commitment. Burning the boats, as it were.
My general plan -
1. I have some Google Alerts built up - some of them got pretty long with links. I try to reach out to people to say thanks and hi and see who is linking here, so I've let these stack up. The first thing I'll do is copy them all down into another document, and then I can contact later or not.
Successful people may be a bit delusional. It's coming out that Steve Jobs felt he was in some ways special and I think this is something you find on a personal - or professional - way in many successful people. One such person is Tim Ferriss, author of the book The Four Hour Work Week. Without getting into too much of what he says in the book I decided to try his suggested "Media Fast" where I check email only twice a day, allow myself one hour of leisure reading and one hour of television each day, read no newspapers, blogs, tweets or allow any undo web surfing. Here are my thoughts on how it went.
Monday 4PM - I'm beginning my media fast and it seems like it won't be too much of a problem, my inbox is down to four emails that I can deal with later. Shutting my laptop makes me feel free and allows me to get dinner ready.
Monday 7PM - My old iPhone has binged three times, I feel like Pavlov's dog looking for a treat. I wonder when the iPhone email ding will occupy the same space as AOL's you've got mail.
Monday 11PM - I spent two hours working on some projects instead of reading a book I had gotten from the library and feel better for it. I really enjoy reading non-fiction but I won't remember even the best written stuff if I don't talk about it. Which often doesn't happen.
Tuesday 6AM - Normally I crack open my laptop for some news and "undo web surfing". Instead I write in my journal and get ready for the day with a nice breakfast. By doing this I'm more prepared for my kids when they get up.