In a nutshell, I have two issues with e-mail:
- More than any other medium in the world, the time commitment difference between sender and receiver is huge. For instance, if you call me on the phone and we chat for 10 minutes, that’s 10 minutes of your time and 10 minutes of my time. If you write me a handwritten letter and I write you one back, that’s maybe 30 minutes of your time and 30 minutes of my time. If we exchange text messages, that’s 10 seconds from you and 10 seconds from me. But with email, often times the sender will ask two or three open-ended one sentence questions which elicit multi-paragraph answers. In these cases, the sender spends one minute and the receiver is asked, implicitly, to spend maybe an hour.
- When faced with an inbox of 100-400 messages, I usually find myself replying to the messages which are quickest to reply to, rather than which are most important to reply to. The end result is a continual paring down of my inbox until I have 50 really important messages to reply to which are then too old to take care of.
In thinking about how to reduce this problem for me personally, I came up with a technology solution which, while cool, would require way too much buy-in from OS makers, mail application providers, and individuals. Essentially, whenever you send me an e-mail, I’d like to be able to instantly pop up a Toast or Growl message on your desktop for a few seconds with a status message of my choice. Something like “Current response time estimate: 7 days” or something more personable. I don’t like auto-responder e-mails because I’m not trying to clog up your inbox, but the ability to send you a quick, fleeting status message would be excellent. Perhaps even when you just hover over my name in the
To: field before you even send the mail.
Annnnnnnyways… that solution is a bit too hi-fi and it doesn’t really solve the core problem, so instead I’m enacting a new policy today which seems potentially much more effective:
Every e-mail I send to anyone, regardless of subject or recipient, will be five sentences or less. Like a cinquain. Ideally, it would be a 160 character count like an SMS message, but since that would require an actual e-mail plug-in (viz. “work”), we’ll go with the much-easier-to-count concept of sentences instead.
In order to politely explain the systematic brevity with a similar amount of brevity, I will link to a new site I just set up called five.sentenc.es in my signature line. By ensuring that all e-mails I send out take the same amount of time to send (viz. “not a lot”), I am evening the playing field between emails and attending to many more of them in the end.
→ Read the rest of this entry