The Rule of Ten

Caveat: Totally off topic (sort of). For some reason, I grow uneasy if I have more than ten emails unanswered in my inbox. I'll stay at my computer late, I'll forego creature comforts, if it means I can get the message queue down to ten or less before I sleep….

Caveat: Totally off topic (sort of).

For some reason, I grow uneasy if I have more than ten emails unanswered in my inbox. I’ll stay at my computer late, I’ll forego creature comforts, if it means I can get the message queue down to ten or less before I sleep.

Lately this has become difficult, as the number of fun and/or important time requests, or reads/groks/responds, or emails that force other actions have risen to the point where my inbox often demands more of me than I can reasonably give.

A quick spin through my inbox reveals: A great paper to read from a colleague; I can’t respond to him till I read it, so it stays in my queue. There’s an appointment to book when I next go to New York, and a Very Important Person who’s emailed me wondering if we’re on. But I can’t confirm till I get an email from someone else, so…it stays in the queue. A voicemail from another New Yorker (I get vmail as email, thanks to VOIP), which I can’t delete till I call them back, and it’s too late to call, so the email stays in the queue. There’s an invitation to a breakfast panel, but I am attempting to limit my time now, as it’s All About the Book. Still, the person asking is great, and I would very much like to be in the company of smart people, it always proves fun and worth the time. I can’t make up my mind, so … the email stays in the queue. There are three comments from smart Searchbloggers, each with valid and interesting points which merit followup, but they require that I think, and think judiciously, and it’s late, and my kids are home so… their email stays in the queue. And so on. I’m down to 15, but I can’t seem to kill the last five….

Am I insane? Does anyone else manage their life this way? More to the point… does anyone have a better way?

PS – This is post #999 of Searchblog. Cool!

12 thoughts on “The Rule of Ten”

  1. I do, or rather David Allen does.

    I used to have a very similar email style to what you’ve describe above, but totally switched to the approach describe in Allen’s “Getting Things Done.” The gist of his approach is maintaining a few queues (@Todo, @Review, @Waiting). For each thing that will take longer than 2 minutes, you file the message according.

    Great system if you get a lot of email and helps you tackle it in order of importance as opposed to first-read.

    Great book over all. I highly recommend it.

  2. I’ve got a pretty similar style, although my self-denial mode doesn’t kick in until about 20+ pending e-mails. A lot of times I’ll just leave e-mails in my inbox as meeting reminders that don’t really need a response but want to keep on my short term event horizon. I have this hope that I’ll actually hit 0 pending e-mails at least once before the end of the calendar year.

    It’s a heck of a lot easier than maintining a TODO list in some other application. Besides, to add to the list you just send e-mail to yourself ;-

  3. To deal with this I have tried many methods, the only one that has worked for me is using the Opera M2 mail client.

    As mails come in that I cannot immediately respond to, I right-click LABEL them into a category filter (to do, call back, important, etc…). This is a very rapid operation that I can do immediately after scanning the message in the preview window.

    Then instead of dealing with a list that is ordered by time of receipt in my inbox, I can deal with things BY CATEGORY using the incredible filtering technology – kind of like an Outlook 2003 search folder but better – Opera M2 filters support regex!

    The alternative solution is to recognize that you are a “victim of e-mail tyranny” see here for six steps towards improving your life:

    BTW you filtered my nickname which includes the word rhymes-with-prude and starts with “N”. I am disappointed. In any case to contact me please replace the X with a U.

  4. Similar to Bill’s post, with the further description that I keep separate Task folders in Outlook (right now I just have Work and Personal but have had greater granularity in the past), and when I create a new task I drag the email item to the body of the task item, which removes it from my inbox. At the start of each day I then print out my Task lists and prioritize them for that day and sometimes hand-write new ones that come up, which then get transcribed to Outlook at the end of the day.

    Its a decent system, but unfortunately I don’t always follow it every day…

  5. “does anyone have a better way?”

    The best 3 days I have had in weeks were days I did not turn the computer on. One day I took the kids to the Aquarium in Monterey and the other two I headed up into the Sierra foothills to look at land for sale.

  6. Yes,I struggle with how to file active items in email–and get uneasy after about 40.
    My clumsy solution is to save the emails as text files in a take action folder, just to get them out of the mail queue.

  7. GTD has a great PDF of the optimum workflow that I pasted to my wall. 50 items in inbox max. As an aside there is no good task manager for OSX so I fired up MovableType 3.11 and created categories and sub categories in a ToDo blog. Now I just have to tweak the templates to keep “hot” items at the top and a few new fields for “status”, links to external files, etc. Perhaps someone will write a killer plug-in to improve upon this idea.

  8. Just use Opera for Mac and you can use its custom filters + labels!! You can put a single e-mail into several custom filters (for projects) and use the label (category) to set its status 😉

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