Jacob Baytelman

Building software since 1998. Standing with Ukraine. Staying in Ukraine.

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Email Is And Will Be My Main Tool

For decades email has been my main productivity tool and all these years I have been really enjoying new related services and trying hard to stream all other communication tools to my one and only inbox. Actually 2, one for work and the other one for everything private, I like the way the newest Gmail App handles multiple accounts and inboxes and shows all in one single list. Gmail + docs in the Drive + Chat + Meet make the best combination at least for me. Despite all privacy issues. After all, we choose who we trust - Google or Telegram, Microsoft or Facebook - although we are deprived of a true choice whether to trust a big data corporation or to keep our own mail or chat server, the latter will be hosted on a cloud in any case. Here is how I work with email and why I encourage you to do the same:

1. I set up Slack, Breezy and other tools to send email notifications, ideally including all the needed meaningful context, and I am grateful to their developers for the "reply from the email" feature. The same works for notes in Google docs and sheets, I am happy to be able to reply from inside my mailbox or mail app without redirecting to the doc itself.

2. I check email approximately every 30 minutes, after each conference call and spend digging through the new messages about half an hour as the first thing in the morning and about one hour at the end of the day aiming to have all unread messages reviewed. The time is not wasted because email is my main tool, everything is here.

3. The notification for incoming emails are off, otherwise they disturb me during meetings. On the other hand push notifications or red badges on app icons are my call to actions. I always react to them, so I keep only the important ones activated: for calls, SMSs, Whatsapp (Whatsapp is my tool for international voice calls these days more than Skype). Notifications for Slack, Viber, Telegram are off. Facebook and Linkedin are never apps for me, I go there via the browser only.

4. Email is my only todo list, all nota-bene for myself are actually emails to myself (worth checking with your IT engineers, in the past they often configured email redirects in such a way that sending to your own address resulted in a message to all employees :)

5. I keep in the inbox only the tasks for my and my team’s focus now. An unread message means “get back to it as soon as you can”. Read ones mean “expect updates”. Once a task has been done the related email thread(s) will go to the archive immediately. Long conversations and real time discussions belong in chats.

6. Links to shared documents in Google Drive are very much appreciated and should prevail over attached files. Attachments are for external addressees.

7. I use labels to distinguish between work streams or projects. Labels live in symbiosis with filters and thrive with automated notifications from all kinds of monitors, watchdogs, logging and reporting tools. I configure filters to mark such messages as read and to archive them immediately. When I need details I can search for them, it takes less time than going to AWS, GCS or Azure consoles to check each service’s status, archiving reduces clutter in the inbox.

8. When I need to take notes during a meeting, I do it as a new email. Firstly, I enjoy autosaving. Secondly, I can quickly forward my notes to my team at the very end of the meeting, which saves my time too.

9. Emails have a natural built-in backup feature originating from the previous century (which means proved by time): a copy exists at the addressee’s side. At any moment in time I can reach out to my colleagues or reports and ask them to find it in their inboxes. Especially useful when I am AFK, traveling or simply busy with something else. It helps to refrain from micromanagement and at the same time leaves me enough transparency should I ever need to take a deeper dive.

10. Last but not least, email cannot be owned by any corporation because it is a protocol, a standard. At any moment I can move my emails to wherever I want. Technically quite viable Would be even complete going off the grid, setting up my very private piece of hardware and an isolated network for running emails inside such a paranoid sterile sandbox. Gmail provides storage and all those bells and whistles but Gmail also provides flexibility to use your own domain. So if tomorrow I am no longer satisfied with them due to whatever reason in a matter of hours if not minutes I can switch to a different email provider. I can forward all my email messages and chats to my new inbox. Calendar events, documents, contacts are also transferable. Now tell me how you would move away from Slack or Whatsapp or Telegram. Of course you can extract your data but the whole problem is that you need a new tool to feed your data into. Email is a standard and there are hundreds or thousands of email clients built to adhere to this standard and to give you a freedom of choice.

J.Baytelman December, 2022