I Want Slower Email

As a venture capitalist, I normally have a voracious appetite for “better and faster,” but I am coming to the conclusion that in some cases I want slower email.

Huh?

I want slower email, because I need to protect myself and others from me:  “Mr. Zero In-box Guy.”  It’s sad, but true that I can’t sleep unless I’ve gotten through all (or the vast majority) of my tasks. I, also, answer every email that I get, but for spam.  And I try to answer quickly.  I don’t think Brad or I would admit it, but I think that he and I have an unspoken contest to see who can reply to emails faster.

So let’s be generous and say I suffer from ECD – Email Compulsive Disorder.  It can be impressive to some, but also can annoy the Hell out of others, including myself.

Over the past 6-9 months, I’ve begun using the delay-send feature in Outlook.  It’s had a huge positive impact on me.  I’d encourage everyone (who is ECD like me) to try it.  You’ll be glad that you did.

The big picture is that use of delay-sending slows down the velocity of conversations. If you are ECD, then the velocities of all your email communications are equivalent, regardless of the parties involved, or the importance of the conversation.  End result for me?  Equivalent levels of stress related to emails across all spectrums of my communications because I’m constantly driving toward inbox zero.

So now, let’s introduce manual outbound delay.  For instance, instead of immediately responding to someone, I put an artificial lag on the send (and it can be 2 hours or a week or whatever) and I don’t immediately get a third email back.  Maybe my friend from law school is feeling “chatty” and I don’t have the time to interact.  I can hit delay send which one, slows down velocity, but two, satisfies my ECD by having the email out of my inbox.

It works great for weekends, too.  I get an email on Friday afternoon.  If I reply back, I’ll probably get something back Saturday, which means that I’ll spend more time on the weekend than I’d like doing email.  If it’s not urgent, why not delay send until Monday morning?

It makes my co-workers happy.  Let’s assume I have a partner named Brad Feld.  Hypothetically, he is on vacation in Detroit and he is trying to stay off grid to enjoy all that Detroit has to offer.  I have something that I want to ask him / forward him.  I can either one: send right away while he’s on vacation; or two: I can delay send until he is back.  Now you can say “Jason, if Brad is offline, what’s the difference?” but as a fellow ECD sufferer, he’s been known to cheat and I don’t want to feed his affliction.

And when I slip while I’m on vacation and check email (I have a hard time disconnecting), at least I can save me from myself a bit by delaying the response until after my return and slowing down the velocity.

So give it a shot.  See how it works.  You know there are frustrations with folks and situations that you feel the pace of conversation far outweighs the appropriateness.  This is my way to solve that and it’s having a real positive effect.

(Note to AT&T.  Me wanting slower email does not make your service performance a “feature.”)

*** After I posted this, Alex at Baydin reminded me about Boomerang – an Outlook plugin that makes emails in one’s inbox go away and come back later.  Another way for inbox zero with less velocity ***

  • Hey Jason, I actually know Alex and think his Boomerang Outlook plugin is great. For all the other people who don't use Outlook, I built a service called FollowUp.cc which makes it really easy to set reminders to follow up on emails you send, or ones you want to get out of your inbox and deal with later (helping achieve Inbox Zero).

    People love that the reminders are threaded too, and you can snooze and archive the reminder in one click. Thanks,

    Chris

  • Couldn't agree more. In fact more than just the ability to use a scheduled send, I also want the ability to "close" my inbox and bounce emails back to the sender to say that "I am not accepting emails right now, please resend your message later if it is important." In a way I want to be able to specify the "working hours" for my inbox! 🙂

    It's funny how people can use email to add work on to your to do list, and you have no control over it at all (other than ignoring/not responding, which like you I also consider to be rude and respond to every email as long as it is not spam).

    IMHO there is a lot of room for improvement in email — GMail made a big dent when it came out, but it has stagnated since. Though the problem with startups innovating on email is that email so much a part of each person's workflow and is so mission critical that the adoption rate of any new technological advances on email is low.

  • I totally agree.  I can’t be rude and not answer, but the amount of power that others have over my workflow only increases over time.  People ask me “if I have a boss” being a partner at a VC firm and I say, besides my investors, it’s my email inbox. 

    I love the idea of working hours.

  • I love the option to delay sent messages. I've been able to do that with my tweets for the different companies I work for but not for personal email. Thanks Jason for pointing out this feature. Definitely going to use this during vacation time (can't stay off the grid either!)

    Chathri Munasinghe
    Host of techxsw
    http://www.techxsw.com

  • I love the option to delay sent messages. I've been able to do that with my tweets for the different companies I work for but not for personal email. Thanks Jason for pointing out this feature. Definitely going to use this during vacation time (can't stay off the grid either!)

    Chathri Munasinghe
    Host of techxsw
    http://www.techxsw.com

  • I used to have this ECD affliction, but I discovered I could control my disorder by limiting it to certain mailboxes. I used to work for a company that did everything via email, the daily volume was obscene, no human could process it all. You could tell the folks that were trying because they would always reply days later about something that was resolved because they couldn't clear their backlog. So, as a matter of survival I created a "direct" mailbox and sorted everything I was explicitly in the To: or Cc: header into it, everyone was on about a hundred email lists. Then I had a mailbox for communication within my team. Those 2 I kept at inbox zero, the rest I got good at sorting per regular meeting (check before it occurred) and other. I'd check other once a day or so and its where I looked when someone said "did you see that email…" and I had no clue. Another self defense mechanism, as a matter of practice my vacation message always had this disclaimer "If this is important please resend after I return. Due to the volume of mail waiting for me, I may not get to it in a timely manner". Anyways, not every email is equal, you have to focus your energy on the important stuff first, filtering always saved me from being consumed by ECD. That said, I really appreciate that both you and your partners always answer your emails…

    • And we try to answer our comments, too.  J

      I guess that I worry that people are careless about where they put my name in the email header / address field and get scared that I’ll miss something.

  • Why not delay on the front end, too, by widening the sweep Outlook does for new mail? It's pretty simple to change the settings, but I've create a video if you're having trouble:

    You can also make the delay send automatic by following this video:

    For me, one who suffers from the same obsession, I do a combination: operate on a 75-minute weep, use a default delay send of 2 minutes on all messages (more to grab mistakes from the outbox than to slow things down), and (get ready for this one) removing the send/receive button from the toolbar.

    Happy inboxing…

  • Jason Lachance

    I remember one of the most productive days I've ever had in the office was when the email server went down for the day…

  • Interesting.  Removing the send / receive button – bold!  As for sweep, there are some emails that I want immediately, so I don’t think that I could do that, but thanks for the idea. 

  • 90% of my email replies are ~5 words or less, its made a big difference

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