In A World Without eMail, What Would We Do With All of Our Free Time?

I had a bunch of boring titles for this post, but upon a final re-read, I realized I needed something a little sillier so people would be alerted to the fact that my very subtle sense of humor is at play in this post and there’s actually little reason to read it. I apologize to everyone who does not share my sense of humor. Also, I say hi to the two other people in the world who do. Anyway, here is the post that will leave you wondering why you stopped by this blog today:

From when I open my computer at 6 AM until I close it around midnight (or 3 AM tonight since I can’t sleep again), there is never more than seven minutes before the email icon at the bottom of my computer screen starts bouncing around like one of those whac-a-mole games.

Why seven minutes? Well, sometime in college, more than 10 years ago, I hit on seven minutes as the ideal schedule for my email program to check for new mail. Ten minutes was long enough that I might miss something urgent (“everyone’s going to Reisner Hall for dinner at 6” and now it’s… 6:03…) while five minutes didn’t give me enough time to plow through some work before the next email intrusion. I’ve never changed the setting, so here we are.

Like most people I love the ease of email, but most days I hate that bouncing little icon that is oh so helpfully letting me know there’s new mail. You see, the icon is mocking me. He knows I haven’t finished all of the work the last batch of email created, and yet here he is, laughing at me and saying, “Haha, you fool, I have more work for you!”

(Note: The icon actually has no gender and he rarely talks to me, I state this only for effect. If your email program talks to you, or you have concerns about your email program’s gender, please speak with a doctor. Unless your email is on your iPhone and Siri is talking to you, in which case I am jealous because I do not have an iPhone but instead a Samsung knockoff that actually openly mocks me. In that case, please mail me your iPhone. Thank you.)

Email is often a good thing when it comes to getting business done (every single book deal I’ve made with an author, an agent, or a New York sub-rights person in the last 5 years has been via email), but it can also be a bad thing because it seems to create even more work than you ever imagined possible… work that you know would not exist if it wasn’t for email!

When you see you have 100 new messages to respond to on a Monday morning (after spending “just” 2 hours per day over the weekend “keeping up” with your email so you wouldn’t have as much email to deal with on Monday), youfeel like this happy guy to the right.

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this now is because someone asked me how much email I receive at work in a given day. I know, it seems like an odd question to ask a person, but I guess you had to be there.

This was in response to a discussion about how I juggle many hats (figuratively, not literally) at work: overseeing production of the books, eBooks, magazine, and now the comic; dealing with all of our vendors; sending out press releases and working with the media; negotiating contracts for books and sub-rights deals; writing all of the sales copy for the website and newsletters; putting together said website pages and newsletter; coming up with new special offers to keep things interesting; running the costs and potential sales numbers for proposals we’ve been offered; creating a detailed schedule for the next few months that I know fate and the gods will do everything to muck up; helping Mindy with all kinds of customer service related issues; and just about anything else that I can get my hands on because there’s nothing quite like putting way too much work on your plate to keep someone feeling really, really old.

Anyway (again), to answer the question about my emailing habits, here are my email counts for 2011 for my work address only — no personal email addresses, nothing for my own writing, etc. This does not include newsletters and automatic alerts (eBay, Google, etc), which are filtered into their own folders, and it does not include spam, which is deleted automatically.

SENT: 40,064
RECEIVED: 38,488

Again, that’s just work email and it’s only real emails, no junk or mass notices or newsletters. (And yes, those are the real numbers, not some kind of joke. Unless the you consider the fact that I know those numbers to be a joke, probably one on me, right?)

The person I shared these numbers with was absolutely shocked, and I was shocked in return… because it never really occurred to me that many people do not deal with that many emails on a regular basis.

I now have a better grasp on why some people get very upset when their email isn’t answered within an hour or two. (Sometimes they send multiple emails throughout the day asking why the first email wasn’t answered. This does not help the situation.) They probably just don’t have 100+ emails coming and going every day, so to them, it seems like emails should be answered as quickly as a phone call.

Here’s my personal policy: I try to respond to every email within two business days, but sometimes that simply isn’t possible due to any number of factors.

Length of the email can be a big one. If you send me nine dense paragraphs in one email, it’ll be a while before I can READ that much, let alone research whatever questions are raised and compose my reply. The easiest emails for me to answer are pretty short while still including just enough information for me to understand what you need. (Some emails are far too brief and then I have to try to decipher the secret encoded meaning hidden in the handful of confusing words, which also takes time.)

I try to answer every single email to the best of my ability, and I’d like to send you a detailed, thoughtful response about whether the owners of Star Trek would listen to your Cthulhu crossover proposal, but there isn’t always enough time in the day to go into the detail such a query deserves.

By the time I answer you in an appropriate fashion, that little nagging icon at the bottom of my screen is bouncing again, and five more emails have arrived, all of which will create more work.

It’s a wonder that I actually get any real work done.

P.S. I don’t think the owners of Star Trek are into Cthulhu, but you should send them that proposal anyway. You never know, right?

P.P.S. During the writing of this post, in the middle of the night, 23 more emails arrived. I’ve replied to half of them while editing, which is my excuse for any typos, spelling mistakes, and logic gaps that exist in this post that is so incredibly long (and about such a boring topic) that no one is going to read it. Seriously, why are you still reading this? Please do not feel it’s necessary to send me a nine paragraph email about these errors, but if you do, I will try to answer you within two business days.


    • Ha, thank you! And here I am at 3:04 replying to your comment. 🙂 Two more emails to go, and then I’ll call it a night. (The fallacy in my thinking is, of course, believing that answering these two emails will somehow make there be less emails in the morning… somehow it never works out that way!)

  1. Wow, it really is time to call it a night! I left out the part “I read the whole post to ….the end” whew!

  2. Hi right back at ya! 🙂 Great post!

    I manage about 6 different email accounts at work… Every few minutes or so there’s a little “ping” sound that tells me a new email or 20 has arrived. I can’t focus on anything until I check what it was… And when my phone (I’ll join you in the samsung club, although I am quite fond of it) goes off telling me a new email (personal account) has arrived I usually drop everything to check it, hoping that its something good from CD! 🙂

    • Hey, I should mention that MOST people like the type of Samsung phone I have — including both of my brothers-in-law who have never had any problems with theirs. It just so happens that mine was forged by Satan himself in the fires of Hell and it refuses to do anything it is supposed to. 😉 I’ve gone back to the store several times and they’re always like, “How is it doing this? It’s not supposed to do this!” 😉

  3. At work, I’m up to about 350 relevant emails a day. I remember I did a lot more drinking, movie watching, book reading and just living the crap out of life before email! 🙂

  4. Someone chastised me once from my office for replying “Thank you” to an email. Her thought was that “thank You” emails added to her time of opening and reading them, and my time of actually sending them. I personally would rather say “thank you” and get a “thank you” then not, but maybe that’s just me…

  5. Wow, many hats there, and “many other functions” you probably didn’t even list. Well, I’ll just say thank you for trying as hard as you do for the common courtesy of an email answered in your busy day.

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