Email overload is a burden that affects digital workers of all stripes, not just bloggers. However, bloggers are especially susceptible, especially as their site grows and more people wish to get in touch with them.
Not only does the public nature of blogging act as an open invitation for this problem but many seem to be caught off guard by it, having grown comfortable with the relatively low volume of mail that newness and obscurity brings with it.
To make matters worse, thanks to social media, IM and other communication methods, there’s actually less time to spend on email than ever before as our private communications are divided up among more channels than ever.
But, as almost any cubicle dweller can tell you, email isn’t going anywhere as a method of communication and it is best to learn how to deal with it now because it won’t get any easier the more popular that you get.
In short, this one could be a growing problem and one that does more harm to your blogging than good.
For most bloggers, when they start out their email load is not all that impressive. They probably get a few alerts and newsletters but very little “real” mail. When only a few people visit your site per day, you likely aren’t seeing much mail beyond your ordinary personal volume.
But as a site becomes more popular and people grow more aware of it, something happens and the amount of email a site attracts begins to ramp up, slowly at first. Where a blogger, at one point, might be used to only spending a few minutes per day on their email, that amount begins to grow until an hour or more has to be dedicated to reading and responding to email.
As this grows, email response time can begin to severely cut into the time spent blogging and doing the things one has to do in order to maintain their site. Basically, answering the people who come to your site can overpower work on the reasons they came there in the first place, hurting your site and slowing its continued growth.
How to Avoid It
There’s no real magic to avoiding email overload and it’s been a frequent target of the Getting Things Done (GTD) crowd for years. However, the GTD system for email is not a bad way at all for tackling large volumes of email. All one has to do is delete (or archive) mail they don’t need, do anything that can be done quickly (usually 1-2 minutes) and then either delegate someone else or move everything else to a task list.
But while the idea is a good place to start, you likely still have a large volume of mail to deal with and a lot to respond to. Even applying this system perfectly, you can still find yourself spending a great deal of time on your email.
As such, here are a few quick tips for further reducing the amount of time your email takes out of your day, without hurting the quality of your responses.
- Use Stock Letters: Gmail has a great stock letter system known as Canned Responses (available in Labs) that you can use to craft letters default letters to send out. This saves you a great deal of typing by letting you not retype portions of letters you seem to be sending out over and over again. However, this doesn’t mean that you send the same letter out over and over, rather, that you use the stock letter as a starting point and modify it for each specific case.
- Filter, Filter, Filter: As big of a step forward as Gmail’s Priority Inbox can be, it is important to keep filtering your email and keep garbage, such as newsletters you don’t read or alerts you don’t need out of your inbox. This lets you focus on the important mail and better target what you actually have to work on.
- Don’t Respond to Everything: If an email doesn’t need a response, don’t respond. It’s that simple. Many of us feel the need to reply to everything we get, regardless of whether one is expected or even practical. If there is no reason to respond, don’t and if you feel you must, keep it extremely short.
- Consider Three.sentenc.es: Speaking of short responses, focusing of keeping your replies brief may be the biggest time saver of all. Considering using the Three.sentenc.es system for email replies, where all answers are under three sentences, regardless of who the letter is from or subject. May not be practical in all cases, but remember, long-winded replies are as much a chore to read as they are to write. Keep it short(er) and both you and the person you’re replying to will be happier.
- DIscourage Email: If your email volume is too high, work to actively discourage it by mentioning how much email you get, say that you can’t promise to respond to everything and then offer alternative methods for reaching you that are better for you. For example, you may be able to use Twitter for most conversations and then move those that need more than 140 characters to email. This speeds up response time and keeps your inbox relatively clean.
While none of these are magic bullets for curing email overload, they can help lessen the burden. However, there always comes a point where the amount of email coming in is simply overpowering and there is no hope for ever reading or answering all of it, at least not with just one person.
However, most bloggers won’t reach that point and for those of us without the curse of incredible popularity, email management is more about finding the right techniques for staying on top of email and being willing to get the work done rather than burying our heads and hoping it goes away.
With email becoming such an incredible timesink for many workers, bloggers and otherwise, it’s no wonder that the term email bankruptcy entered our lexicon several years ago as a means of starting over when we just get too far behind.
While I haven’t reached the point of email bankruptcy yet, after a two-week email hiatus for haunted house work and conferences, I certainly came to the brink. I’ve been able to pull through, but only by using the techniques above, most importantly giving shorter replies than I would have liked in some cases.
If you take time to think about and streamline your email efforts, you can probably dig yourself out of almost any email hole. Very few of us get such a high volume, at least not in our persona/blogging accounts, that we need to consider starting anew.
Still, this doesn’t mean we all couldn’t benefit from a little improvement in how we approach email. After all, every minute spent responding to a letter in our inbox is a minute we aren’t writing, researching or otherwise creating new content for our sites.
In short, as important as email is, it’s time away from what we love to do and what is most important. That alone makes it worth finding ways to minimize the impact of email on our daily lives.