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Email: Getting a Grip

Close-up of mole

So the most awesome thing happened at GHC, I asked a question at a panel and afterwards a girl came up to me and said “I think I’ve been reading your blog”. Seriously. Made. My. Day. Then I was skimming my RSS feed and I found a comment on this post:

For the record, a friend from a company called Palantir asked me to send you a note as recently picked up a signed copy of a book I wrote. I was happy to do so. Unfortunately, it’s taken ~ 30 minutes to figure out the best way to contact you (without following you on Twitter/LinkedIn/Etc) is to post to the blog… on this particular entry… which was, relatively, a lot of work.

I get that email is often a flood of uselessness, but it is a means to make a quick connection with little overhead.

In unrelated news, come have lunch at Palantir — some of the brightest folks you’ll meet.

And then it occurred to me that the girl mentioned above had said she’d thought about emailing me, but hadn’t because I don’t read it. And people are still asking me for things – I had an email recently that said something along the lines of “I want you to do this thing, for free, unless I can find someone better”. So I’m still getting the email I don’t want. And the email I would want people aren’t sending me because they’re nice and see that I hate it. Meanwhile, I’ve clearly irritated this guy who’s written this awesome book that I’m really excited to read. And – I’m talking big game about how women in CS need role models and then deliberately making myself unavailable – seems a little hypocritical!

Hmm. Time for a rethink.

Here’s the thing – I am a miserable failure at email. And I don’t like failing at things, so I’ve opted for ignoring it instead. So I need a strategy. When I realized writing a resume didn’t work to my strengths, I hired someone to write it and they did an awesome job. So perhaps I can hire someone to integrate my inboxes and come up with a system to manage it, or get a remote PA.

However, that seems a bit melodramatic and the reality is that I need to get better at dealing with process rather than avoiding it. So here’s my plan!

  • First, clearly the usability of my website is not what it should be and I’m annoyed that Dreamweaver broke my twitter widget. So I’m going to move everything over to WordPress.
  • Second, I’m going to migrate all my email addresses to gmail and add filtering and this priority inbox malarky.
  • Third, I’m going to reveal my email address. It’s catehuston and I use gmail. So if you’ve been thinking about emailing me but haven’t… go for it. It’s not my preferred medium – I left IBM with 33 unread and my attitude to it is not going to change overnight. But I’m really going to try and rethink this and try and suck less.

How do you deal with email? Or other stuff that you hate and avoid? I need your wisdom!

6 replies on “Email: Getting a Grip”

Gmail has pretty much everything to make your life easier..I would suggest you forward all your emails to gmail and filter them as they come..I now have like 30 filters and they filter out most of the unwanted stuff..You can also assign labels in filters so that you can redirect the mails to respective folders..Definitely there will be some overhead before you setup all this..It needs a bit of patience to go through all the mails and sort them out πŸ™‚

Hi Cate,

About emails, I personally deal with them by filtering quite heavily: Only personally addressed mails reach me directly and they are filtered regarding work topics, etc…. The rest is filtered regarding work criteria, urgency, and so on. I read my mail before lunch and reply to those that require an answer the same day after lunch. Then, I do it again in the evening and look also at the rest of the mails received (those that are not personally addressed, notably) during this second reading. I try to do that before leaving office. Mails that require an action from my side are tagged “TODO”, and urgencies are tagged “Next action” (ref. GTD).

You can implement that type of filters with GMail; that’s not the best filtering service ever, but it has some basic options that allow what I describe above, if you’re interested.



So, what is your way to deal with emails, now that you’re enriched with all those positive stories and experiences :-D?
Any clue of your next actions? Heading to GMail and its priority mailbox and filters?

Yeah I think so, although first I’m being more aware of the kind of email that comes in and thinking about what filters I want. I’m also unsubscribing from everything that arrives that shouldn’t – it’s so much easier to delete that sometimes I don’t and the next month it just comes around again!

I actually use multiple inboxes as filter – so my university mail is pretty much exclusively junk, and then I have two other addresses that I use. One of them gets more alerts from services and the other I use to communicate with humans. I also need to have a system that works really well on my iPhone!

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