Who Knows Where the Time Goes? Is It Riding the Outlook Express?


I don’t remember the date exactly, but I remember the place.  It was a writer friend’s home office.  A friend who’d been telling me for some time that I was really missing out by avoiding the Internet.  A friend who was enamored with web surfing and getting connected through Genie and the amazing time-saver known as e-mail.  “You’ll hardly ever use the phone anymore,” she said.  I’m not a good phone person.  I don’t call often, but when I do, I don’t know when to quit talking.  And letters?  I mean well.  Really. 

So there I was, one afternoon some odd years ago, getting a lesson in connecting with the outside world through the machine I use to do my work.  In the back of my mind I knew I was entering dangerous territory.  I’m both gregarious and shy.  Weird.  But I knew I had to take the plunge sooner or later, and it was already later.  So I was running through my lesson when I heard the voice for the first time:  “You’ve got mail.”  Sweet seduction.  “Who?  Where?  What does it look like?  What does it say?”

Mind you, I’ve been a published writer for a very long time.  I remember the days, my children, when we writers made sure we had a clear view of the mailbox from the window closest to our desk.  Mail that came in boxes and envelopes with stamps was our connection to New York.  It brought answers to our queries.  It brought manuscripts—some edited, some rejected—and if we were lucky, it brought checks.  “You’ve got mail.”  Words we counted on.

Now all I hear is a pingPing ping ping.  Okay, I need to turn that off, but I figure when I see that fade-in, chances are i can hit the black x.  The truth is, chances are I can’t.  And if I’m in deep write and I don’t permit the ping, I’ll open the mailbox after a day or two, and it’s like opening an overstocked closet.  The stuff just tumbles out.  50, 100, 200 messages, and even after I delete the promos and pleas, I’m in for a long night.

That’s why I was fascinated by an editorial in the 9/29 Strib written by Chris Anderson, who started a site called TED—Ideas Worth Spreading.  That’s a discussion for another day, but check it out—talks on interesting subjects by some pretty interesting speakers.  Like the Steve Jobs commencement address we’ve seen in bits and pieces today.  As usual, I digress.  The Op-Ed piece touted emailcharter.org, which offers a wakeup call to the internet community.  Not only are we inundated with unwelcome e-mail, but we’re unwittingly piling on to friends, colleagues, co-workers—people with whom we want and need to communicate.  And we can do it sooo easily these days.  That’s a good thing, isn’t it? 


It is, but e-mail is gobbling up a lot of my time lately.  Yours too, I suspect.  Anderson points out that e-mail is easier to create than it is to respond to.  Aye, there’s the rub.  Or, ei ei ei, how did I just lose two hours?  Anderson brainstomed with a colleague and came up with “10 Rules To Reverse the E-Mail Spiral” along with a charter he offers as a solution to fix what he calls a community problem.  The guiding principle is to respect recipients’ time.  That’s Rule One.  Two through ten support that big idea. 

For example, how often do you end an e-mail with an open question?  “What are your thoughts on this?”  Now you’re asking someone to take some time coming up with answers.  Most of us want to help out, and being asked for an opinion is kind of flattering.  The person is important to us, and he thinks we have good ideas.  Anderson says we should do the recipient the courtesy of being specific.  Should I do A or B?  Is X okay with you?

If you’re sending information, be succinct and make it clear that there’s no need to respond (NNTR).  Don’t logos or graphic in the body of the e-mail and don’t overdo attachments.  If you’re forwarding, don’t send a long trail of unnecessary threads in the form of previous messages.  There are 10 points to the charter, they’re all food for thought.  E-mail has become such an important part of our lives.  We’ve all learned about some of the pitfalls the hard way, but the E-Mail Charter really hit me where I live today.

How about you?  How do you use e-mail.  What would you change about the system if you could?  What e-mail habits or types bug you?  Do you have any tips for managing e-mail glut? 

One Brave Cowboy

My Sept-Oct release is getting very nice reviews.  Thanks for all the good wishes!


About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in e-mail, time management and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Who Knows Where the Time Goes? Is It Riding the Outlook Express?

  1. Pingback: Good wishes @ BlackBerry Wallpaper

  2. Time waits for no one so if one puts off things, has too much on their plate, sadly things pile up. Nicole

  3. Debra Dixon says:

    OMG! Kathy!

    Boy, have you hit a nerve with me. Just last night I made a change in my proceedures. It was 9:47 p.m. I was still answering email so that I wouldn’t be overloaded the next day. I opened an email from an unknown agent, representing an unknown/unpublished/.first book client who had already been told two weeks ago that I had forwarded the submission (not my genre) to another editor and they would be in touch ” if they were interested. ” She wanted to know the status of the submission. Seriously? Seriously??

    I know that I communicated to her two weeks ago and told her that because she included the email in her string of emails at the bottom of last night’s email.

    So, I’ve decided that I am done being nice. I’d like to be, but I can’t. Time I spend with clueless people, is time away from our authors and their concerns.

    I’ve always had good “outgoing” email habits. And I’m good in the community. I tell folks: Do not forward me anything, even on the non-business email. I do not have time to read it. I don’t forward things. I don’t ask for “thoughts” and advice usually unless I have given someone something to think about. (i.e. “Here is X. I believe Y. I recommend Z. Your thoughts?)

    Today is going to be an interesting email day. (g)

  4. Cindy Gerard says:

    Such a timely post, Kathy. I struggle with e-mail glut myself. I’ve told my friends long ago – please don’t forward me jokes, junk, opinion poles, chain letters – you get the drift – because I’m only going to delete them unopened. Pretty much, they respect that, and pretty much, I’m a woman of my word. I delete those things unopened. am I missing out on a good laugh? Maybe but I simply don’t have the time. My e-mail is reserved for family and close friends and business related correspondence. It’s an important tool for me and I do get impatient when people clog it up with nonsense.
    But, having said that, I do appreciate the ‘thought’ when someone wants to brighten my day and just seeing their return address is enough to make me smile.
    I also try to return the same favor. I rarely forward jokes and when I do, it’s because I KNOW it will strike a cord with that individual.
    What I wish would change? spammers. Lord save me from those creeps.

  5. lois greiman says:

    Acccckkkk!! Why oh why oh why do people think I need good luck chain letters. Really? Good luck…in chain mail format? How about a good waste of time…which, by the by, I can manage on my own. I gotta get back to planning a wedding.

  6. Kathleen O'Donnell says:

    I do a quick run through my emails answering the ones I want to and then delte the rest.

  7. michelehauf says:

    I’m with Cindy, do not send me jokes, emails filled with pics and ‘inspirational’ gifs. Aggh! Hate that stuff. Clogs up the inbox.

  8. Helen Brenna says:

    I’ve gotten absolutely ruthless when it comes to deleting emails. It’s become more than just about wasting time for me. Lately, it’s more about not wanting to waste the mental energy in having to make any senseless decisions. To delete or not to delete. I don’t even want to have to answer that question.

  9. kylie brant says:

    Like Helen, I’m ruthless with email. I am on several list servs so it’s not unusual to get 300+ emails a day. I probably open fewer than ten. All personal responses get a reply. I’m very fast on email. It doesn’t take that much time unless I’m looking for a reason to procrastinate, LOL. But I absolutely delete forwards, jokes, chain letters, etc. without opening them. And if I don’t want to hear from an addy again, they get blacklisted all further email from them goes to the spam file. I’ve got four email accounts to juggle so I gave up nice a long time ago!

    Deb…I’d resend the email I’d already sent the agent with a terse ‘See below’ so she can reread the first message. Maybe she’ll get the hint!

  10. Kylie, I hear you on the procrastination problem. When I’m avoiding somehting, my mind works in mysterious ways. Any contact from the outside world is like ice cream in the freezer.

  11. I’ve stopped feeling the slightest inclination to “send this to 10 friends including me and if I don’t get it back from you I’ll know I’m not one of them.” I figure my friends know who they are. My little sister might pout, but that’s only because some sibling doubts never seem to go away.

  12. From where the sun now stands I will send no more irresistible animal pictures.

  13. Cindy Gerard says:

    LOL Kathy. I’m still a sucker for irresistible animals. I mean – um, well, just look at the avatar of my own cat :o) You can send those any time:o)

  14. Stephenia says:

    I think having a separate email for work and personal helps. I check the work email in the morning, and usually close the program out a few times during the day so I don’t get all the “breaking news” as it pings in the inbox. That can be distracting. Then I check it again at lunch and before I go home. We don’t get lots of spam at work, but there are some work emails that aren’t that meaningful and I just skim/delete them.

    I don’t read any junk mail or “forwards” I have told those close to me not to send them because I don’t read them and if they ask later I tell them I deleted it without reading it, which I do!

    I subscribe to a few online newsletters and a few clothing store emails (because they send great coupons), but if they get out of hand I just unsubscribe or delete without reading.

    What I like reading the most is notes from friends!

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