The Email Monkey

August 08, 2008

Posted in General.

Three of my favorite bloggers just wrote about a particularly sensitive spot for me: reactive email time.

Yesterday, I tweeted about trying to get down to inbox zero. After two hours, I was down under ten emails, but had run out of time. Some of those emails have been sitting for weeks now, waiting for my response to move them ahead. And the problem I still find is that the emails come in faster than I can respond.

Katya, Beth, and Seth all write about the destructive, depressing, and demoralizing effect of spending your day simply reacting to emails as they come in. Too many days I feel that all I do is play switchboard operator, connecting emails from one person to another. I might only have to answer five-second questions, but those five seconds add up to hours throughout the day. By the end of the day, I can’t figure out what I accomplished and I feel depressed about not getting anything done. Since I track my time, I often end up with deficits…only accounting for five or six hours each day. This is even more frustrating; I know I worked hard all day and am stressed out for some reason, but I can’t even get credit for that because my hours look like I slacked off. If I’m only going to get credit for six hours, I might as well come in late and leave early.

To counteract this effect, I work from home once a week. No phone calls, no walk-ins, no meetings. I use these days to clear my inbox, get my proposals done, and actually do work. In one day, I get a week’s worth of work done. The rest of the week is reacting and meeting.

I need to find a way to flip this on its head: one day for reaction, four days for work.

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