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How I Manage My Email

tcr! · Nov 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm

All my email is hosted through one of the domains I own. I don’t use Gmail, Hotmail or any of the other free web-based emails for email anymore.1 I don’t trust 3rd parties with my sensitive data, I ‘spect I’ve grown senile and paranoid these last few years. As more and more people use the “cloud” the less and less I want to do with it.

Since I don’t use webmail, I need a good desktop app and Postbox is this editor’s current pick. It does everything I want, the search is almost perfect and the keyboard shortcuts are to die for. It does have its quirks but that’s for another time.

Email folder structure - Figure 1

My Inbox is set to fetch email from the server via IMAP.2 I don’t use POP3 because I want my Inbox to be available from any device, at any time. The IMAP folder3 structure is simple. Gmail taught me to search, not sort - see Figure 1.

There isn’t a client folder or a project folder or a vacation folder or a whatever folder. The biggest time sink I’ve found is to file emails based on this or that, rules that aren’t universal. I barely want to think about which folder an email should go into. The whole client/project folder structure breaks down as soon as more than one project/topic is discussed in an email. Then I’d need to think about which folder the email should go into and I don’t like doing that.

I go through my new email first thing in the morning (about 60) and keep up as the day goes by. I don’t ever let email pile up for more than a few hours and maybe for a few days if I’m on vacation or so. Luckily my job permits/requires me to keep my email open all day.

When an email comes in I make a decision after skimming the contents almost immediately:

Q: Is it a forward

A: Yes? I skim or read further depending on the amusement level. Then I delete or archive it to the Current folder with Postbox’s single A keystroke. Simple and fast.

Q: Is it directly to me and needs a reply?

A: Yes? I either respond4 right away or flag it with a ToDo topic.5

Q: Is it to me but doesn’t need a reply?

A: Yes? I either flag it with a topic or archive it immediately.

Q: Is it spam or something I don’t want in my Inbox again?

A: Yes? I flag it as Junk, unsubscribe, whatever so I don’t ever receive similar emails again. This is a critical step - email overload often comes from getting a bunch of crap I don’t want. Many people never do anything about this. Do something.

After marching through the Q/As above, the only emails I have left in my Inbox are the ones that I either need to take action on or am waiting on an action from somebody else. This is how I want my Inbox, this is bliss. I don’t care about “Inbox Zero” because there’ll be more tomorrow as soon as the sun comes up.

Note: the Current or archive folder is somewhat special. It only contains the current year’s archive of email. All email before this year lives in a local account and kept in yearly folders. If you want your email set up like this, grab your nearest geek, they can help.

Email folder structure - Figure 2

This structure helps keep the IMAP sync speedy and the local folders organized. This is more efficient than the client/project method above. See Figure 2.

Each day I try to spend an hour or so acting on and responding to emails that have been flagged ToDo. I set dedicated time in my schedule for this and don’t pay attention to Twitter or Facebook. I think of this like bill paying time, it has to get done. People need answers just like the utility company needs to get paid.

With personal email, I might not respond for a week or two if it’s not urgent. They can wait.

“We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I met you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master.”

I can be quite obsessive with email but the goal is for me to be the master and email the slave, not the other way around. I have no problem finding that one email sent two years ago about such and such. I also delete 3/4 of the FW:s I get before I get two lines deep.

It’s my email, I run it my way.

Of course, the entire Postbox profile is backed up nightly to a separate machine and weekly to a third. Your nearest geek can help with this, too. There will come a time when your computer dies. Be ready.


1 I still have the Gmail and Yahoo accounts but I use them mainly for throw-away stuff and just in case somebody sends something there.

2 The downside is that IMAP can be slow when syncing between my computer and the server for the first time.

3 The “Sent” folder only exists because my phone refuses to put sent emails anywhere else. If you’re writing email software, please let users specify all folder locations.

4 Email sent from me automatically goes back to the Inbox. Both the original and my reply email are then archived to the Current folder.

5 Single keystroke, color-coded topics I use:

1  ToDo  emails I need to act on.

2  Waiting  emails I’m waiting on a reply on.

3  Watching  emails I’m interested in.

The last topic generally has conversations between other people that I’m CC’ed on. If these aren’t critical emails and nothing happens with them after a bit, they get A.


Update:

• I’m running Postbox 3.0.1 on a Mac but the concepts will apply to any email program. However, your mileage will vary with regards to Postbox shortcuts and settings.

• To create topics as mentioned in 5, open Postbox’s Preferences, click “Display” and then the “Topics” button. Add, edit, delete as you like.

• To use the A shortcut, open Postbox’s Preferences, click “Accounts”, expand the email account and choose “Copies & Folders.” Under the “Archive” section, choose your archive folder and any high-lighted email will auto-magically move there.

Archive folder setting

Postbox also lets you move emails by pressing V.

As a note, you cannot change the keyboard shortcut bindings from within Postbox itself.


Update 2:

I’ve gotten a few emails about this post (imagine that) and this piece is more about how I manage the emails themselves. I’ll write a follow up that is more in-depth on how I use all of the neat things you can do with Postbox.

Also, I manage seven fairly active email accounts with it for those wondering.


Elsewhere:

#email

3 comments

edox edox · Nov 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I use Postbox as well and love that thing. Got myself a family lifetime licence. I use Google apps for my hosting as it is easy and I really don't want to worry about running a server or using something on my domain. (plus the price is right. Free.) I use double authentication with Google and so far have had no issues at all.

I am gonna use a couple of these things in my schema for email. I setup all my email accts now with an All Mail/Archive folder and dump stuff in there to keep my inbox clean. I like the single keystroke folders and am gonna implement those now. Thanks for sharing this.

tcr! tcr! · Nov 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Yep, keyboard shortcuts are a must-have for any email client.

edox edox · Nov 16, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Thanks man. I have not started using topics in Postbox yet but am gonna start. Thanks for the great ideas. If I stumbled across any good ones ill let have know.

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.waiting.4.the.call.

tcr! · Nov 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

An army of tiny, toy soldiers with thundering boots, marching in place. A subliminal annoyance of the gallery of many hanging dial clocks with their imperfect unison of ticking ushers into consciousness the postponement of life, waiting for one call to make another, but not making one in fear of missing the first.

Acknowledging in silent, bitter disgust the need/want that stretched from afternoon to evening to newstime, reminiscent of burning eyes wandering from one end of a lonely, waterless canal to the other, the span of naked, barren cement seems so utterly useless.

Soon there could be that eerie notion of 1 a.m. and a ruffled, unable to sleep in bed, a bed with the forsaken feeling of an afterschool boy locked out of home, waiting for mom.

Delusion diminishing, like the opening of the eyelids after a long, ten hour slumber, but without the refreshing sense of a good night’s rest.

Realization of the complete sick stock bought in the need/want. How many half/full days could be stacked side by side waiting for the call, like stale popcorn strung on the Christmas tree by an ever-so-careful daughter and smiled off by a walking-on-by father with his surreal approval in exchange for pacification and for bluntness sake, left alone.

So many channels without enough talent to keep up.

An inner world war, twelve rounds of thrashing about between head and heart, love me or love me not. Give into the known dependency. With a sigh of relief, eagerly reach for the phone, telling myself, half-jokingly, “just makin’ sure the phone’s working.”

Pick up the handset, listening for a dial tone, each agonizing fiber of being secretly praying, begging, desperately pleading it wasn’t working and not the hair-pulling truth that she hadn’t called.

Has it ever been out-of-order, or have they just never called before?

Slowly begin the rapid descent into despising that fucking call.

Emotions shifting gears to liquid hate as they drip from the pores. A fuzzy caterpillar turned to romantic, playful butterfly, turned to nasty, black hornet, stinging the first available non-smoking section.

Completely oblivious to the behavior, but trudging on, like a walk in thick, resistant mud. Vacuums have the right to be terrifying.

Trying to stay in denial. forcefully reaching, but ignorance is slipping, reality shoving its nose in, a tyrant hog ready to feed. Feeling the abdominal, abandonment pains of a bawling infant literally stripped from maternal arms by a cold, hourly social worker.

Introspection.
No more sun or primetime.
No more toys or christmas trees.
No more lifeless canals or ugly wall clocks.
No more clinging of generic plastic wrap in a colorless box to flawed hope.

Just buy the good stuff and quit wasting your time.

The above was written in 1998, before cell phones and internets were a thing for the masses. It’s a descriptive reveal of how I responded when a girl didn’t call me.

It’s slightly exaggerated but only slightly. I may have been processing other heartbreaks at the same time.

Polished a smidge in 2011.

#writtenword

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More MacBook Airs Than You Can Shake a Stick At

tcr! · Nov 15, 2011 at 8:00 am

MacBook Air now 28% of Apple’s notebook shipments

The popularity of Apple’s MacBook Air, which incorporates design elements and features of the iPad (such as instant wake and solid state storage) has sparked speculation that MacBook Pro models would similarly slim down, while slowing sales of the Mac Pro have suggested Apple might eventually abandon large desktop form factors to focus on highly mobile products.

The only thing that keeps me from seriously considering the MacBook Air is the low RAM specs. My 3+ year old MacBook Pro has as much RAM as the latest Air does.

I doubt if the large desktops will go away. Pro-video editing and server rooms need that big iron. I’m probably wrong though, I generally don’t know what I’m talking about.

#apple

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Rakoff vs SEC and Citigroup, He Wants Justice

tcr! · Nov 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Finally, a Judge Stands up to Wall Street

Rakoff of course is right — the settlement is nuts. If you take Citi’s $160 million profit on the deal into consideration, what we’re talking about then is a $125 million fine for causing $700 million in damages. That, and no admission of wrongdoing.

Just imagine a mugger who steals $70 from some lady’s wallet being sentenced to walk free after paying back twelve bucks. Magritte himself could not devise a more surreal take on criminal justice.

It gets worse. Over the last decade, Citi has repeatedly been caught committing a variety of offenses, and time after time the bank has been dragged into court and slapped with injunctions demanding that they refrain from ever engaging the same practices ever again. Over and over again, they’ve completely blown off the injunctions, with no consequences from the state — which does nothing except issue new (soon-to-be-ignored-again) injunctions.

Read the news and you’ll at least know who not to bank with.

#corporatedollars

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TCR Inbox: 10/Nov/2011

tcr! · Nov 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm

#email #spam

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The McRib, Inside and Out

tcr! · Nov 10, 2011 at 9:06 pm

The McRib and its one pickle

It’s 10+ printed pages but well worth the read.

A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib as Arbitrage

The McRib was, at least in part, born out of the brute force that McDonald’s is capable of exerting on commodities markets. According to this history of the sandwich, Chef Arend created the McRib because McDonald’s simply could not find enough chickens to turn into the McNuggets for which their franchises were clamoring. Chef Arend invented something so popular that his employer could not even find the raw materials to produce it, because it was so popular. […]

When the Time reporter visited the kitchen, Chef Coudreaut was cooking a dish that involved celery root—a fresh-tasting root that chefs love for making purees in the fall and winter. Chef Coudreaut proves to be quite a talented cook, but Time notes that “there is literally not enough celery root grown in the world for it to survive on the menu at McDonald’s-although the company could change that since its menu decisions quickly become global agricultural concerns.”

Yep, McDonald’s can change the world’s agriculture.


Elsewhere:

#foodies

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Nice Flight Path Visual of Asteroid 2005 YU55

tcr! · Nov 10, 2011 at 6:06 am

Asteroid planning gap leaves Earth ‘a sitting duck’

“Unlike the dinosaurs, we have the means to prevent catastrophic impacts,” says the B612 Foundation, which also advocates finding and tracking asteroids to learn about potential threats to the Earth decades in advance, and testing technology to deflect asteroids

The article is somewhat doomsday but the visual is good. I recommend sharks with lasers.

#cosmos

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Firefox 8 - A Few Thoughts

tcr! · Nov 9, 2011 at 6:11 am

Firefox 8 is faster. Menu items are snappier and it starts cold in fraction of the time as 7.

With that said, I stopped relying on Firefox for the main browsing experience after version 5 simply because of broken extensions and I was/am unsure of where they’re headed in the name of the user.

As an example:

“All your menu items are now found in a single button for easy access”

Condensing a handful of menus into one is easier to use and navigate! .. Or is it?

Working in the web field, I still use Firefox regularly and let it continue on with its rapid release cycle. However with each release, one of the extensions that I rely on breaks. Each release cripples Firefox in such a way that its importance to me fumbles down a rung. Chrome extensions have NEVER broke for me. I have my own issues with Google but that’s another story.

On the one hand the rapid release cycle makes perfect sense: get updated software to users faster. Update in the background so as not to annoy said users. Make version numbers obsolete; you’re running the latest or you’re not.

On the other foot, it annoys me to no end. I don’t want software to auto-update, it’s creepy, it breaks shit all the time - shit I need to do my work. The major version number bumps seem only to be a browser-arms race with Chrome.

It’s just a number. If you’re innovative you won’t care what others are doing. Could a few of these major releases simply been point releases? There was nothing in 6 that indicated a major step forward to me. My wife is still using it only because an extension she uses frequently won’t work beyond that release.

Maybe I’m just sentimental and miss the days when a new version meant shiny new toys to play with. These days, I cringe when Firefox wants to update. Rapidly developed software tends to introduce more bugs if only because the developers are sloppily rushing to meet the roadmap. Note: this is a general statement based on my own experience and not directed at the Firefox developers in particular.

Sure, Firefox is free and I don’t have to use it. So I don’t. I don’t “Spread Firefox” any more either.

And the big question: why do I write about Firefox if it bugs me so much? Because I care and have used it for a long time, probably longer than you.

PS. Why is removing the status bar wrong? Because I need to move my mouse to the top of the window to move the window. You’ve now taken functionality away from me. Monitors are bigger than ever yet everyone seems to think that stripping the UI is a good thing.

#firefox

5 comments

edox edox · Nov 9, 2011 at 10:16 am

I totally agree about the status bar. Minimized UI (specially when minimized and taking away a useful tool) has it's place and most of the time I agree with what was minimized or removed but with browsers there are a few things you should just leave alone.

I am in the same boat. I quit using FF as a default with exception of once in a while using it for Firebug and of course testing. I am using Chrome for my default but that has it's limitations too. (Like always causing VS2010 to error out when I go into debugging mode for example) And like you I get anxious when a new release happens cause I know something will break. I have quit installing it on my in-laws computer or trying to get others to use it.

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tcr! tcr! · Nov 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Yep, yep..

I completely agree with their mission but part of me feels like they're being wreckless with their flagship.

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Lucy · Nov 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Are your add-ons actually breaking, or are they not marked as compatible? You can install the add-on compatibility reporter which lets you run all your add-ons and report if they actually work with the new version or not. The add-ons team is making progress so that add-ons no longer have to be manually bumped up a version. It's much smoother than it used to be and it will get even better.

In terms of the status bar, there is the add-on bar but it doesn't let you grab the window with it. When the unified menu button went in there was a lot of talk of leaving some space in so that you could grab the window by the chrome somewhere. Have you tried filing a bug to request that the add-on bar also work this way? I haven't checked extensions myself, but maybe there's already one that restores the status bar the way you like it?

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tcr! tcr! · Nov 15, 2011 at 8:06 am

Re: add-ons. I'm not sure if they're broken or marked as incompatible. All I know for sure is that after Firefox upgraded, they didn't work. Installing an add-on to check if my other add-ons aren't compatible sounds like work I don't want to do.

Re: status bar. On the Mac the add-ons bar will let me move the window around which is a godsend. Removing the fixed status bar is nutty. The inline, floating status bar never shows the full link of what I'm about to click on - talk about "what's best for the users." Plus the distraction level went through the roof. On a page of search results the floating status bar is always popping in and out like some kind of crazed peek-a-boo. I've gotten to where I don't even pay attention to it anymore.

Granted Chrome's lack of status bar is just as bad. I think the underlying issue with this is that taking features away from users for no good reason is a bug in my opinion.

I don't file bugs simply because I have other things in life that are more pressing and after reading several Bugzilla reports, I suspect that Mozilla's "my way or the highway" stance would trump whatever 2 cents I had to throw in.

I appreciate your comment for sure though and am glad that you took the time to offer options for me, even more so because all I'm doing is complaining.

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Lucy · Nov 15, 2011 at 10:45 am

Well you are sincerely voicing your concerns, and they are concerns that Mozilla is thinking about.

The add-on compatibility reporter doesn't affect the addons that are still working. You test the ones that were disabled to see if they're compatible with the current version (all the ones I use still work) and then you can report that. In the past Mozilla has relied on add-on developers to test and update their add-ons for compatibility with new versions. Obviously with this rapid release process that's just not fair to anyone and it's also a lot less necessary as new versions have smaller changes. You can read more here http://t.co/0Uqc8vky

As for "my way or the highway" the problem is that a lot of discussion happens off bugzilla and so the bugs that get attention are things that had already been considered and decided on. I can promise you that it's not the overall attitude. The "awesome bar" is a great example. You have no idea how many people argued against it and wanted to switch back to the old version because they were used to it. All in all it's just a better feature. However the devs did listen to the number of people who didn't want their bookmarks, or certain bookmarks, showing up in the results, and they did implement ways to hide certain things, or only turn up certain things.

Good luck, and I seriously seriously suggest you test out the compatibility reporter. You can always uninstall it.

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TCR Inbox: 08/Nov/2011

tcr! · Nov 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm

#email #spam

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You’re a Product, Not a Customer

tcr! · Nov 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Whatever made you think it was your data anyway?

This is an important corollary to the law “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not a customer; you’re the product being sold”. Everyone ought to understand that any data you store on a “free” internet service isn’t yours as ownership has hitherto been understood; it’s what you’re giving to the company as disguised payment for the service it’s offering. If the company lets you access that data from one day to the next, that’s awfully nice of them; if they stop doing so, what the hell did you expect? It was “free”. Whatever made you think it was your data anyway?

Good reminder about the tradeoffs when using free services.

I’m sleeping better now that I don’t use free services for any data I care about.

#nutsandbolts

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