For many, many years my relationship with email could be described by this scheme:
I have a number of public email addresses, with messages forwarded to a single “central” mailbox. For all these years I’ve had this central mailbox always open. If someone sent me an email to any of my addresses I would get it immediately. And I don’t mean it would go to my mailbox immediately. I mean I would read it almost immediately. That became especially true when in several recent years I’ve had this central inbox configured to sync to my phone.
It was pretty common that I would wake up in the middle of the night for some random reason, look at the clock on my phone, notice that there’s an email waiting, read it and loose sleep for the rest of the night. During the day, when I was working on some project, I would see that I have new email, switch out of my mental work state, read the email and switch back to my work state. This sounds instantaneous but it’s not. And in many cases the email would consume me and I’d start doing things related to that email, abandoning what I was doing before for longer periods.
The most ridiculous thing is that I thought this was normal for a proud geek like me. It took me reading Timothy Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Workweek” book to realize that there was something wrong with this scheme.
Timothy Ferriss’s Solution
The idea is that most of emails you get are not urgent and can easily wait for a few hours without anyone even blinking. And if there’s something really really urgent, they’ll call. Obviously this is not always true. If your work is answering emails, this won’t work. But we are not talking about edge cases. This definitely works for me. So I switched to checking email twice a day (around 11am and 4pm). Which can be represented by this scheme:
You’ve probably noticed that there’s no smile on the face. This approach didn’t cause any problems where one might expect them. In almost a month I’ve been practicing this, I haven’t got any real complaints from anyone noticing that I reply a few hours later than before.
Problem is that in addition to “problematic” email, I get some “happy” email (notifications of licenses for my products sold, messages from nice people, etc.). Reality is that I’m absolutely not worried that I’ll get a bug report 2 hours later than before, but I have a psychic itch for happiness. What if I made an extra $1000 and don’t know about it yet. I don’t want to delay happiness for later. I don’t mind happiness interrupting whatever it is I’m doing.
Enter my solution…
Email of Happiness
What I decided to do is create another “secret” (non-public) mailbox. This email address is not to be exposed to anyone (even your loved ones, best friends, VIP clients, etc.). In other words email should get into it through only one source – my central mailbox. In the central mailbox I setup rules to forward “happy” email to this new address and have that new mailbox “always on” while still checking my “central” mailbox twice a day:
I figure that if I ever need to have an important email exchange with someone which doesn’t fall in “happy” category, I can setup a temporary forwarding rule for this conversation and remove it when I’m done.
I’m currently in the process of setting this up and it turns out a little more challenging than I expected. The challenge is not to expose your “happy” address to anyone for as long as possible (via replies, appointments, chats, etc.) and this proves a little difficult using different systems (webmail, phone, etc.) but I think I’ll figure it out and update this post once I do.