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How I'm batching email these days

Everyone agrees that “living in your Inbox” is bad and a very reactive way to live your life.

The popularly advocated solution to this nowadays is to batch your email into a finite amount (and ideally eventually reducing to one a day) of sessions that are pre-scheduled throughout your day. Any time that is not inside these windows you are not allowed to process email at all. You would ideally also remove all notifications that might attempt to pull you in. This might worry you, feeling that you might miss out on something, and so you might start with a large amount of these: perhaps the first 15 minutes of every hour. The recommendation is that you’d eventually start reducing the discrete sessions as your particular job and email load allows.

This approach is batching by time. You are really handling ”x minutes’ worth” of emails and thus these sessions can vary quite a bit depending on how many emails you received in the period.

Because I have Autism and really need structure and predictability in my life, this openendedness can make me anxious. I feel like I need to get to the email as soon as I can with the reasoning that a shorter amount of time for the batch minimizes the amount of emails I could possibly have. Instead of being “free” to focus I have a background thread in my mind of “Is it time to check email yet? The longer I wait the worse it can be.”

To combat this, the way I’m batching email checking now is to batch by amount instead of time. It works like this:

  • I have setup my email client to check all of my various email accounts (except my @google.com address for security reasons) and I can see the total inbox count in the notification bubble for the app. While generally this would cause anxiety for people, for me it’s kind of a relief because when I think about email I can just check this number without actually opening my email and gauge the situation.
  • I’ve defined a number (currently 25) that serves as my threshold.
  • Simply: if the inbox count is below this number I am not allowed to do anything with email. If it is above this number I am allowed to power through them.
  • Periodically I consider increasing the number: it was originally at 20.

I like this system (currently) for a few reasons:

  • It makes email sessions a little more predictable because although not every email requires the same amount of time to deal with I do feel like the time it takes to process x emails is more consistent than the time it takes to process ”x minutes’ worth of emails”.
  • It has the same benefit of the time batch approach in that it reduces the amount of sessions you spend on email because I can’t check email until the threshold is hit. When I increase the threshold it has a similar effect of reducing the amount of sessions per day.
  • Efforts to reduce the amount of email I get have a correlation with how many sessions I spend dealing with email. In the time-based batch system you would still be checking your email the same amount of times even if you had less email; though you would probably manually decrease your sessions eventually. With my system this adjustment happens automatically. For example, if I unsubscribe to a newsletter, doing so reduces my incoming email which means it takes longer for my inbox to hit my threshold.
Published 9 Mar 2018

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