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Plan Three from Planet Three

In Douglas Adams‘ classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HGG), planet Earth is described as “harmless.”

But in the 1970’s, email wasn’t yet the hazard it is now.

Would modern email change his assessment?

I am one month into an inbox zero experiment. Over the course of a couple weeks, I got rid of hundreds of “stuck” email and made it to inbox zero and stayed near there for a week.

One weekend I didn’t read email and on Monday morning I had 200 substantive emails waiting for me. A few of them require great thought and effort; but most of them don’t. For most of it either would require less than a minute or would require talking to someone by phone or zoom to make progress.

The weight of the emails feel oppressive. It is the not knowing what is there.

Even at 3 a minute, that would be more than an hour. Much more if I stop to do anything at all substantive.

Staying at zero-inbox seems likely be hard. What if I went on vacation for a week?

Perhaps I need a way to stop some of this from arriving as email. Is there a way to do so in a less problematic manner. Previously I wrote about Cal Newport explanation of Trello board use. Is there something like that available for my use case here?

As always my first step is count things. The largest single component of the 200 was meeting invites and announcements. Some of these were already on calendar. Some I could handle in one click and other would have taken much more than a minute to answer. Life would be easier if I just said, “no” to all of these others and send them a form letter with a link to the post where I complain about such things. I wonder if I could automate that process. And automatically delete all the emails for appointments that were already on calendar. It would be a start.

Second largest group is followup reminders. The messages that I get when someone has failed to reply when I expected a reply. In some cases they have replied in some other manners. In other cases, I have to decide whether to prompt them again.

By far the greatest number of messages are ones that take little time or thought. But seeing one difficult message and knowing that there are hundreds of messages that require attention makes it hard to remember that there are very few messages that are “that bad.”

A fast pass to handing (delete) the easy ones makes the real task less oppressive and greatly reduces the risk of something that is time sensitive and important getting missed.

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Written by Russell Brand

Russell has started three successful companies, one of which helped agencies of the federal government become very early adopters of open source software, long before that term was coined. His first project saved The American taxpayer 250 million dollars. In his work within federal agency, he was often called, “the arbiter of truth,” facilitating historically hostile groups and factions to effectively work together towards common goals


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