Professional Grade Access with Gmail

I’ve become quite a fan of Gmail this year and here’s why. With relatively little effort and with reasonably inexpensive equipment, anyone can have access to their email from just about anywhere, get world class spam filtering, and enjoy better search capabilities than most corporate email systems.

I’m still tethered to a work email system (Lotus Notes of all things), but for the rest of my life I find Gmail an amazing addition to the kit. Polling multiple POP3 accounts, filtering mountains of e-mail into manageable piles, and giving me access to my messages anywhere I go means I get out of my office more and more.

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If Your Inbox Could Talk

Merlin’s right on the money here with commentary on the recent WSJ article covering what your inbox says about you.

I like whacky pop psychology conjecture as much as the next guy, but I’ve learned not to draw too many conclusions…

I especially enjoy the proposed connection between our inbox and parental guidance. I wonder which part of parenting had the effect:

Mom and dad:

  • were neat freaks so I am too?
  • were neat freaks so I rebelled and I’m not?
  • never paid attention to me so I wait anxiously for every arrival?
  • doted on me constantly so I ignore others (email)?

Email management is more about who’s sending you email and how it fits into your life than it will ever be about family values and upbringing.

For example, my inbox says the following:

  • Too many strangers know my email address
  • Too many spammers guess my email address
  • I enter my email address at too many websites
  • Email isn’t my primary method of communication (phone)
  • Email isn’t an urgent method of communication (regardless of what others think)

When an Urgent Message Isn’t

The pace of electronic communication has outpaced social and workplace practices in many areas. While waiting for new “norms” to develop, we should fall back to that age old practice of setting expectations often and honestly. You may be surprised to discover how many other “humans” you work with trying to accomplish the same thing.

Along this general line, Kayleen Schaefer at WSJ Online shares a reader question and response at today.

I’m feeling anxious. It is difficult to keep up with all of the text messaging, BlackBerry, emails, cellphones, etc. There is never enough time to answer everything!

The article is packed with good practical advice. In addition I’ll suggest the following:

  • Understand the Message in the Medium – No, I’m not referring to the physic friend’s network but to “how” the communication comes to you. E-mails are usually asynchronous, imply the sender doesn’t need to talk to you at that instant and may be willing to wait for a response. Phone and instant messengers are much more ‘connection oriented’ and often tell you someone needs to hear back right away.
  • Know your industry – Face facts. There are some industries and jobs where being available at unusual hours is required. Medical services, I/T operations, and countless others require an on-call readiness in case an emergency arises. Others are so crowded with eager (young?) resources you may have to be “on” all the time to keep your place on the ladder. If this is where you are and want to be, then be there and commit to it. If this isn’t where you want to be, look for alternatives.
  • >Know your own priorities – Regardless of what the world may tell us through examples of uber-achieving business celebrities and everyday colleagues, how much time you put in at the virtual office is ultimately up to you. Start with simple things. If it’s 2 a.m. in Boston, it’s 2 a.m. in Boston and that’s when people sleep. Trust that you are far more useful to your customers, colleagues, and employer when you can balance your life effectively and give focused time to work and life when it’s appropriate.

Communication and feedback to stakeholders can’t be over-emphasized in my view. The majority of people you’ll run into are far more concerned with their schedule and priorities than yours. Not that they don’t care, but the only way they’ll know there’s even a hint of a problem is if you discuss it and work out a mutually acceptable solution.