POP Quiz

Are you keeping up with your e-mail? Here's a test. Don't be afraid, this *won't* go on your permanent record.

This is a story question--I know you didn't like those in school, but you can do it! Plus, the answers are at here so you can cheat really easily if you want, and no one will be the wiser-including you, because you'll learn nothing if you don't try this. One tip, always round up to the quarter hour because in the real world, things are bound to take longer--usually twice as long, but we'll just ignore reality as most tests do.

OK, here goes...

Your site is doing well, getting good traffic, and people are e-mailing you like crazy. In fact, on average, you receive one e-mail every seven minutes, 24 hours a day (your site's seen all over the world, remember?)

Not all that's useful e-mail, because the mail that arrives every 16 minutes is spam. Unfortunately, your spam filter only catches half of that. It takes 15 seconds to scan an email and delete it.

You want to answer all your email, but that takes time. At your very fastest, it takes two minutes to answer an e-mail, but to answer it thoroughly and politely (so that people will remember you when it's time to buy your products or services), it takes at least five minutes. So average that out and figure out how long it takes to answer the e-mail you received today. You also follow 1/10th of the links in the e-mails, which takes, on average, five minutes per link.

  • Now, figure out how many new e-mails you've received during this time.
  • And how long it will take to answer these.
  • And how many new ones you'll receive while answering those.
  • Now, calculate what percentage of all the e-mail you've received is spam offering get-rich schemes, home loans, ink jet supplies or x-rated sites? Multiply this by 24 for no particular reason, then ignore this figure.
  • Finally, if you have an average 8-hour work day, how much time do you have left to do real work? And, how many people got off the train in New Rochelle?

If you figured out that it took between 9 hours and 45 minutes, and 10 hours and 15 minutes to answer all your e-mail, you're close, but you left out the 84 you got while answering the last batch, so basically, trying to answer all your e-mail is kind of like trying to pay off a credit card balance with the minimum payment--it's impossible if you also need to get anything else done--like have a job or a life. It's like one of those time travel conundrums from Star Trek.

If you feel overwhelmed (and are still reading, because, after all, this is yet another e-mail!) then you need The Happy Valley Virtual Rest Home's program for the "e-mail obsessed and overwhelmed."

STEP 1: Clear out your Inbox. I recommend moving your messages (I had 336 in my inbox) to a new folder, called "old inbox." Easy enough, and it takes just seconds!

STEP 2: Arrange to have all your e-mail sent through the Happy Valley Virtual Rest Home's special "Mailagator" server, which deletes every message immediately. This means your inbox remains pristinely empty, and you are relieved of all that e-mail stress.

Should people call and wonder why you never responded, you can honestly say you never received the message, and there must be something wrong with your e-mail server. You can then give them the HVVRH phone number, which is guaranteed to always be busy.

STEP 3: There is no step three. See how easy it is?

OK, the HVVRH thing is a joke (don't e-mail me for the URL, it doesn't exist!), but the *problem* of answering e-mail is real (reading e-mail isn't a problem, so please don't stop).

As machines get faster (yet we stay the same speed), and more people from around the world can contact us simultaneously (yet we can still only have one real conversation at a time), our lives start to seem like the "chocolate factory" episode of "I Love Lucy." Things are coming at us faster than we can handle them. Some chocolate is bound hit the floor (or the fan).

That doesn't excuse companies where no one ever answers the e-mail (like my recent experience with Network Solutions trying to fix an incorrect domain name listing for my sister's saddle company--a process that's gone on for two weeks now with no solution, and no real person I can talk to). If you want less e-mail, try to make your site answer people's questions so they don't have to write. They will, anyway, since it's easier than looking, but it can help.

And if you run a small business--then all you can do is all you can do. So remember, there are people at the other end of all that e-mail, be patient, or if at first you don't get an answer, e-mail, e-mail again. (Please don't feel obligated to reply to this email however ;-).

dwh sig 

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I complain about e-mail, but I love it. Still, one more way it can be a problem is when clients and co-workers e-mail you with changes for the web site you're in charge of. People can do an amazingly bad job communicating what they want and need. They forget to tell you the page, and say things like, "Change 'go' to proceed," which is nearly impossible if you don't know what page it's on.

But I've found a great new way to collaborate on web sites. http://www.equill.com lets you literally draw on the screen, add "sticky notes" to text on web pages, even add and strikeout text (if you use IE 5.5)--right on the web page. Your notes are private--the only people who see them are the people you invite to see them.

So imagine you're working on a site and someone you're working with from across town or across the globe wants a change. Instead of sending you a cryptic e-mail, they draw their notes on the page, make text changes, and then send you the marked up page.

You see it just as they saw it. You don't have to guess what page they're talking about, or figure out their incomprehensible comments--you just look at the screen and see what they've marked up. There's no automatic way to take this markup and have it make changes to your web site, but even doing it manually is easy compared with trying to get complex instructions from plain text.

It's easy. And it's free (for now). Large corporate customers can license the software for their servers, or have eQuill run it for them. You and I and other small business people have eQuill run it for us--which they're happy to do for free, until they figure out how much we're willing to pay (this is the "new" web, remember, and companies can't give things away forever and stay in business).

Hopefully they'll come up with a rate that costs less than it costs to host your site, ($10 would be ideal). But in the mean time, take advantage of the free service--you will find it extremely useful (I know I have).  http://www.equill.com

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Unfortunately, I've reached that point where the reality of time means I can't answer all my e-mail. I don't like that I can't, but unless I clone myself (as my friend Chris Meeks suggests, apparently unaware which that it's soon to be illegal in the US, as if that'll stop it from happening in Mexico and Canada) there aren't enough hours in the day. So I'll share what I try to do to make sure I answer the important ones.

First--I respond immediately to messages about work and family. I use my e-mail program's "filters" (also called "Rules") to automatically sort messages from people I work with (or are related to), into their own folders. That way they stand out, rather than getting lost in hundreds of new inbox messages (though, to be honest, sometimes this still happens).

Filters search each message for text (like who it's from or the subject line), then automatically move it to the e-mail folder of your choice. In Outlook Express, you'll find filters under Tools/Message Rules/Mail. In Eudora, look under Special/Make Filter. I use Calypso ( http://www.calypsoemail.com ) where filters are right above the folders on the left (create one filter, then multiple rules). As far as I can know, AOL doesn't have filters like this.

It can take a little while to get the hang of them, but they're so valuable it's worth the time to learn. You can also use filters to help eliminate SPAM (just make sure you filter on the subject line, and remove any random letters or numbers that Spam programs add to the end to try to beat your filters).

Next I answer reader letters that seem urgent. I really do like and want to help people, and do so whenever I can. But people ask me a lot of stuff, including some things I'm not sure why they thought I'd have the answer for, like where to buy castanets (really). Or, they ask such vague questions that answers would have to be very long and complex. When they ask "How do I build a web site?" I answer: go to http://www.efuse.com . When you do e-mail someone a question, be short and specific.

If you get the same questions over and over, see if your e-mail program has a boilerplate or template feature that will drop in pre-written messages. I use those when they're appropriate and really answer a question, but I wouldn't use them just create a reply that wasn't helpful (like so many businesses do).

If the message doesn't seem vital, I let it slide down the inbox and get covered by the landslide of constantly incoming mail. If it's important, I assume people will write to me again.

Finally--despite the deluge, it's still important to *read* all your e-mail--even if you don't have time to answer it and even when it's from people you don't know. E-mail is still a great way to learn things, meet people, and find new clients.

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One more thing...

Today is National Napping Day (in the US). Napping is an excellent antidote to e-mail. I suggest you nap today while you have a really good excuse. (And you can read my FuseLetter on napping.)

dwh sig

Editor, www.eFuse.com



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