Friday, March 13, 2009

The Three Startup Email Modes

I'm very interested in how people deal with email, and have been watching my own behavior.

Since starting this new company, I've shifted into switching between three disjoint types of behavior:

1. Batch Mode Surrender

I love hearing from readers of this blog, or users, interesting people, potential investors, and the like. Strangely, even though I've been laying low in the past months, the volumes of all of the above have increased to the point where I just can't deal with all of it a timely manner anymore, which I feel really bad about. Because I keep these emails unread in Gmail, there is tremendous pressure I try to answer them. Thus once or twice a week I just surrender and try to process as many of them as possible in batch mode.

2. Constant Vague Anxiety

I spend most of my breathing hours coding, but every once in a while an email appears out of the blue that seems so important that in needs to be dealt with immediately. Sometimes it can be feedback from early users of our product, something work-related (like an exception stacktrace) that I know is holding up other members of the team. They have to be Answered Now, and just knowing that these types of emails will unquestionably keep showing up at random times of the day, I feel the need to check my Gmail about once every 30 minutes. Really, I shouldn't be doing that because it exposes you to emails that should be dealt with in Batch Mode, and creates that vague feeling of anxiety: I can't just LeechBlock my Gmail, but I can't keep it open all the time either.

3. Mobile Panic

When I wake up, or on the way to a meeting, or sitting in a so-so presentation, I pull out my iPhone and check my email. I should know not to do that. The mobile email experience is just so incredibly low fidelity: The emails have no context, priority, or structure. All those emails from (1.) are sitting there unread. It's easy to get overwhelmed and panic. The one thing that I absolutely need to stop doing is reading my email in bed in the morning. I can just feel how the clean fresh state of mind gets wiped and replaced with the noise du jour.

I guess that doing the hard, focused work that a startup requires really makes those email emotions come to light.

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