about email

I’ve been “doing email” for well over 30 years now. My first email address predates the “@”-form email addresses and goes back to the days when we all published our email addresses as a delivery-path from UUnet! Consequently I have a fair number of “cranky old-timer” habits, as well as a couple of fairly new GTD-style tricks that some people find difficult to work with initially.

This is an attempt to explain how I deal with my email queue, and (sometimes) why.

When Will Mike Reply?

I check my email roughly twice each day. First around lunchtime, and second at perhaps 16h00 or 16h30 or so in the afternoon (or just before I turn my attention to frivolous matters). These are not hard-and-fast times. Sometimes I forget altogether.

Some days I don’t check it at all. This includes days that I’m on the road, doing my best to deliver value to a client. At those times, not only is connectivity iffy, but it’s a distraction from being focused on the client’s stuff. After all, they’re hopefully paying me for the time!

So: If you email me and I don’t reply immediately, consider these two things. If you emailed me early (or late) in the day, I may not see your email for at least another half-day. On those occasions where I am attending to client business, I may not see your email for a week or more!

I know that this does not accord well with those of you who have the misfortune to live in the corporate world with its always-on, notification-noises and check-email-every-15-minutes breathlessness. I’m sorry. Your problem, not mine.

If I were to check my email as often as you do, I’d get nothing done.

Sometimes I Sits and Thinks; Sometimes I Just Sits

Then, too, sometimes I just need to think about your email for a while.

Good, productive and honest consulting and teaching practice – like good software design – seldom occurs as the First Thought. I might just need time to delve deeper into problems, challenges, and questions posed by your email before I’m ready to respond.

It takes time for ego to quiet so that we can kick it out of the way and produce an honest and egoless reaction.

Return Receipts and Delivery of Email

It is a mystery to me why the concept of “Return Receipts” ever got included in the RFCs that define email exchanges, since…

The protocols that define the sending, transmission and reception of email state clearly that the email infrastructure is inherently unreliable. There is no a guarantee that your email will ever get delivered, or that you will receive any notification should your email not be delivered.

People get misled by the fact that, in the modern Internet, email really is pretty reliable. They have come to believe that, because it’s reliable most of the time it must be always reliable. Not so! And, indeed, in this age of spam-filters, server-blacklists and botnets, email communication is – oddly enough – becoming less reliable. There’s a fair chance that your email will be taken – by some piece of the email processing machinery – for spam, and dealt with accordingly. Especially if the contents are in HTML.

As a deliberate recognition of this fallibility, my email client is configured to always refuse requests for receipt confirmation.

If you need to be sure of communicating with me, use the phone!

And btw, SMS is also not reliable. Particularly where I live.