Home Work

Home Work

A weekly advice podcast for people who work from home, whether freelancer or telecommuter. We address listener-submitted questions, comments and concerns about all aspects of working from home. You can submit your questions here.

Hosted by Dave Caolo and Harry Marks.

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198: Season 2: Episode 5 - Email Priority with David Sparks

February 29, 2016 at 7:00AM • 40 minutes • Wiki Entry

Dave flies solo as he welcomes David Sparks onto the show. David discusses his philosophy and techniques for managing the glut of email he faces every day.

This week's episode was sponsored by FreshBooks. To get FreshBooks free for 30 days, go to FreshBooks.com/homework and enter 'Home Work' in the “How did you hear about us?" section.

This week's episode is also sponsored by Squarespace. Be sure to use offer code HOMEWORK to get 10% off your subscription!

Show Notes & Links Presented by CacheFly

I (Dave) first met this week's guest, David Sparks, at Macworld Expo many years ago. I mentioned some trouble I was having with Omnifocus when David offered to help. We found a quiet, sunny spot in San Francisco's Moscone Center where David explained exactly what I needed to know.

It's David's ability to clearly and concisely explain himself that has made his website, podcast and books so popular. When he's not writing for MacSparky, he's writing or updating his "Field Guide" series of books. The Email Field Guide is perfect for anyone looking to tame that beast.

In addition to all this writing, David co-hosts Mac Power Users with Katie Floyd for RelayFM. It's a fantastic show that frequently deep dives into topics of productivity, work, hardware/software and workflows. Which is why I asked David to join us this week. In the process, David shares some of the best email advice I've ever heard.

Highlights and Takeaways

Visiting WWDC as a non-developer. I haven't done it yet, but many have. Here's Casey Liss's take on doing just that.

2'05" David answers the first question we ask every guest: when did you start working from home? His answer: "I've been working at home for a long time but I stopped working for 'the man' about a year ago." Here's David's post looking back at a year of independence.

3'10": What do you do as you work from home? Like many others, David "is a man of many hats" and has several projects going. That's a very fun way to do things, I must say.

Email workflows

8'10" The Email Problem: "The more you feed the beast, the more the beast eats you."

E.B. White on Letters of Note. E.B. White wrote Charlotte's Web. He also received countless letters from 3rd graders...and responded -- by hand -- to every one. When asked why he never wrote a sequel to Charolette, he replied that he was so busy responding to letters, he never had the time.

Or, as Merlin Mann once told David (catch our conversation with Merlin in episode 197), "Do you want to be the guy who responds to every email or do you want to be the guy who gets the other work done?"

13'59": What is the work you're most proud of?

17'50": Two vectors of email: volume and priority

If volume is high enough, you have to realize that either you can't deal with it all, or you have to deal with it very summarily. In that case, you need to think about filters. You can have someone else or something else filter email for you.

SaneBox is a filtering service that both Daves use. It looks at your email as it comes in and filters it based on your behavior, settings you make and internal algorithms. When David wakes up in the morning, all that's in his inbox is what he wants to see. Instead of 200 emails sitting there, he'll find eight or nine.

Once your filter system is established, you can decided to look into low-priority folders once a week. Or simply hit Command-A, Delete.

Priority: If you have a boss who says, "I sent you an email and I expect an answer in 10 minutes," s/he is crippling you. Turning down the priority is something you may have to train other people to learn.

Email is not a phone call, it's a letter. We don't run out to the mailbox in front of our house every five minutes.

26'55" I know that if I'm in an inbox that's full of email, I feel stress because I can see them. Everyone is saying, "Paying attention to me!" It can be emotional baggage when I see it just sitting there waiting for me. Capturing emails into an external task manager can help with this. Deferring can help with this.

31'05" Think: Is email the proper venue for this communication? There is a way to do email better:

  1. Phrase a question that can be answered quickly
  2. Put a main question right in the subject line

How to write an email the right way:

  1. Add the attachment FIRST
  2. Write the body
  3. Write the subject line
  4. LAST add the addressee in

People have gotten into trouble, lost their clients or lost their jobs when an errant key combination sends a message that's not ready to be sent. By not entering the recipient's address until you're ready to send, you can avoid that entirely. This is my favorite advice ever.

35'50" The Ding

Email applications all have notifications now. If your email app checks every five minutes, and you work eight hour days, here's the math:

1,008 interruptions per week 4,320 interruptions per month 52,560 interruptions per year.