My annual appraisal, my inbox and me

I’ve just submitted by appraisal for 2008-2009. Based on some great feedback, it says lots of nice nice things about being “a credible expert … working effectively with everyone from producers to channel controllers” and so forth.

The more interesting bits, and what I want to share here, are where I admit failings and suggest fixes. Most importantly, I’ve realised that that I need to prioritise the important stuff:

I need to free up additional time to focus on the more important things. Although I’ve been learning to delegate and escalate, I know that I’ll need to do more of both next year if I want to make a significant impact on the bigger projects

I’ve come to understand that I can’t do everything without going mad and I’m finally ready to admit to myself (and you) that I can’t realistically respond to every email:

I will respond to fewer emails, prioritise more and realise I’ll never reach the very bottom of the pile. I will especially avoid weekend working

For the past few months, I’ve been getting better at managing my inbox using an ‘inbox zero‘ approach, whereby I aim to finish every day with an empty inbox, even if it means a long – and growing – folder full of email to action. It’s better, I’ve found, than suffering from having read and unread email intermingled, or even (and feel free to slap yourself if you do this) marking email as unread in order to be reminded to come back to it later. That way madness lies.

  1. If it needs a response…

    1. respond immediately if it takes less than two minutes
    2. …or file it as an ‘action’ for later.
  2. Delete everything that can be deleted.
  3. Archive everything that is needed for later.

The bits I specifically need to get better at are:

  • Starting the day with those actions rather than the inbox so I spend more time doing the most important thing rather than the most recent thing.
  • Sticking to a routine of processing email at regular intervals (and not at the weekend), rather than constantly checking my inbox as frequently as I can humanly manage. I like what Merlin Mann says about this: “Checking email every 59 seconds is tantamount to washing rice one grain at a time”

Spam for Christmas Eve

A tip: if you manage a domain (example.org, say) don’t set up your email forwarders to forward everything@example.org to your email address. It might seem clever (“oh, this way even if someone typos an address, I’ll still get it”) but If you set things up this way and someone decides to send thousands of spam emails, spoofing the address(es) to be anything@example.org, you’ll get all the bounced email. That will be annoying. Eventually, the people hosting the server which is handling all this bounced spam will probably do something about it, and that will be annoying too.

Today, I have been sent over 7054 emails (and, despite having removed the forwarder, the number is still increasing). Some of these unwanted emails are out of office notifications. There are a lot of those at this time of year. Many are warnings that the destination mailbox is full (of spam, no doubt) or doesn’t exist. Many more are notifications that my spam is not going to be delivered because it’s spam. I didn’t send it, of course, it just appears to the recipient that I did, so of course I get the notifications.

I deserve all of this, for setting up a stupid auto-forwarder that would forward everything to me. I’ve learned. Learn from me.

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