Email apps

mailboxui

There’s been a surge in iOS apps that attempt to “fix” the way we work with email and they have me thinking, “Look what we’ve done to ourselves.”

In 2013 we’re so inundated with email that a lucrative cottage industry has been constructed around dealing with it. I can remember being excited to receive my very first email messages in 1992. Now I dread that damn “ping!”. It sucks, and we’ve done it to ourselves.

Merlin Mann recently had a lot to say on this topic. My favorite bit is the following:

“Put to best use, Inbox Zero is merely a philosophical practice of learning to be parsimonious about which and how many inputs we allow into into our lives—and, then, to responsibly but mindfully tend to those inputs in a way that is never allowed to hinder our personal commitment to doing the work that really matters to us.

Once you’ve dedicated yourself to making the things you love, every inbox can and should become a well-monitored servant rather than a merciless master.”

Sweet Mary in Heaven, yes. I check mail 3-4 times during the day. Once 5:00 PM hits, I don’t look at it. Not once. Look, I’m going to die someday. I don’t want my epitaph to read “He was REALLY good at email.” There are so many things that are more important. Like, everything.

In the meantime, good luck to all the developers and thinkers who are tying to figure out how to loose the email chain. You’ve got your work cut out for you.

Using Apple’s VIP Mail on the iPhone

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Apple introduced VIP Mail with iOS 6 and Mountain Lion. It’s super handy and I use it all the time. Setup is so ridiculously easy it’s honestly hardly worth writing up:

  1. Launch Mail on your iPhone
  2. Navigate to your list of mailboxes
  3. Tap the blue triangle next to the one called “VIP”
  4. The VIP List window appears. To add a contact to the list, tap Add VIP…
  5. Make your selection. That’s it.

You can also create VIP-specific alerts by tapping VIP Alerts in step three above. iCloud users will notice that your VIP list syncs to your Mac running Mountain Lion automatically. Now, when a message arrives from one of your target contacts, it appears in the VIP mailbox, and gets a star when listed in the unified mailbox.

It’s very handy and I use it all the time. Check it out if you haven’t.

Thanks for reading. You’ll find more tech-y “how-to’s” here.

Why use an @icloud email address?

Last week, Apple announced that iCloud customers could begin using an “@icloud” email address. I wondered why someone would use @icloud vs. @me or even @mac.com. I put the question to Twitter and got a few good answers. Here’s what you had to say.

Nathan Chase found that his @me address was too short to sign up for certain services.

Matt Hayhurst had a great observation. @mac and @icloud are clearly Apple-branded addresses, while @me could be anything.

Joshua Miller notes that it’s helped people understand exactly what iCloud is. “I don’t know how many times I have the conversation, ‘What is iCloud?’ This finally tells folks it’s an email service+.”

All good observations, but I think Matt hit on something. Giving someone an @icloud or @mac email address says, “I’m an Apple customer.” @me doesn’t.

UpdateDevir Kahan at The Geek’s Companion adds this:

“Most people don’t even know that Apple ever offered @me.com accounts. They think it’s just a really cool email address. Plus, even if you don’t opt to switch to it entirely, you will still get any emails sent to your automatically-generated-by-Apple @icloud.com address. They’ll just show up in you @me.com inbox without you having to do anything. Stick with @me.com and you get the best of both worlds.”

 

“Thanks”

The thank-you email is unnecessary.

Let’s say I send you a medium-length message requesting information. You reply with a medium-length message of your own, supplying what I asked for. We both know my inquiry was satisfied with your response.

There’s no need for me to write back with nothing more than, “Thanks.” People are inundated with email all day long. Slogging through “thanks” over and over again only adds to the time we spend shackled to the “check/reply/check” machine. You know I’m grateful for what you’ve done. I express that gratitude by failing to sap another few seconds from your life with a unnecessary email.

Your email client is not a filing cabinet

Today I visited someone with over 1,800 messages in her email inbox. They weren’t unread. The messages were being stored there. It took her 12 minutes to find the message she wanted to show me.

Twelve minutes.

When an email message arrives:

  1. Decide what it is (needs action, is reference material, is trash)
  2. Act accordingly (WRITE DOWN the action, move to cold storage, throw away)
  3. Delete the original message

Re-read item number three, please. The above is a condensed version of this. Again, Entourage is not a filing cabinet. Leaving your messages in email is like leaving your groceries in the paper bags from Stop & Shop.

Sync Yahoo! contacts with your iPad

I had a question about this during the class that I’m teaching (Intro to the iPad) and I thought I’d share the answer. It’s easy to sync your Yahoo! mail contacts with an iPad. Here’s how.

  1. Connect your iPad to your computer and launch iTunes
  2. Click the iPad icon on the left-hand side
  3. Click the Info tab
  4. Click Sync Address Book Contacts
  5. Click Sync Yahoo! Address Book Contacts
  6. A new window appears. Enter your Yahoo! username and password, then click OK
  7. Click Apply in the lower right-hand corner of iTunes

Enjoy!

Mail rules [updated]

Google’s announcement of the new Priority Inbox feature has got people talking about the procedures they use to filter, sort and otherwise act upon their incoming email. I get several hundred email messages per day across several accounts, gigs and points of reference.

I don’t use a single rule. I have one inbox. I treat them all the same way.

When an email message arrives, I ask myself the following:

  1. What is it? Meaning, is it actionable, reference material or junk?
  2. If it’s actionable, I then consider: Can it be completed in 2 minutes or less? If so, I do it RIGHT THEN. If no, it’s either A.) assigned to an open project, a new project or a single-action task as is appropriate; B.) assigned to a context like “@computer”;  C.) delegated to the appropriate person. If delegated, I make a note of the task, person and date of delegation on a @waiting list for later follow-up. In all cases, it’s processed appropriately to Omnifocus and then deleted. 1
  3. If it’s not actionable, it’s either reference material (stored in Simplenote and then deleted), junk (deleted) or a date-specific item that either will happen in the future (added to calendar and then deleted) or could happen in the future (added to Someday/Maybe list and then deleted).

This process is basically David Allen’s GTD methodology applied to email, and takes about an hour per day. Plus, it’s super simple. No rules. No color coding. No custom inboxes. No scripting. Just observe, decide and act. That’s it.

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Update: Brief follow-up and clarification.

  1. Every email message is deleted after it’s been processed. Your email client is not a filing cabinet. I’ve stood patiently by people’s desks while they scroll through hundreds of messages to find a single bit of information far too often. If it was appropriately stored and tagged in a reference system, life would be much easier.