Most of us just moan about the effects of information overload, but Nathan Zeldes has been analyzing and treating its causes for over a quarter century.  At Intel, Zeldes pioneered initiatives and tools like No Email Friday, Quiet Time, and the Email Effectiveness Coach. Today, the founder and president of the Information Overload Research Group spends his time speaking, consulting, and collaborating on information overload solutions with companies like Ceragon Networks, Applied Materials, and BP. Given his extensive experience working with email at a corporate level, I was eager to hear how Nathan manages it on an individual one. His answers are as follows:

  • What email service do 
  you use?
  • I use Google Apps for Your Domain, which means that I have my email address 
on my own domain but the mail gets in and out through a GMail server. I then
 pull the mail to my laptop’s Outlook application via POP3. The advantage is
  that I have my own address (more professional!) but still benefit from GMail’s 
 excellent spam filtering, retain the use of Outlook (an old habit), have local 
 storage of all my mail  (can do email “when I’m on a plane”), and have an 
online copy of it accessible from anywhere and providing backup on the GMail servers.
  • What mobile device(s) do you have?
  • A Samsung Galaxy S2 Android smartphone, and a Thinkpad T400 laptop.
  • Do you use any third party email apps or tools?  
  • I use – very happily – X1 Search, to index and search my mail and everything else on my laptop. Highly recommended!
  • How many unread emails are in your inbox right now?
  • 24.
  • Rough estimation–how many emails did you receive yesterday?
  • 35 (exact count, not an estimate).
  • Was that typical for the middle of the week?
  • Pretty much. My daily average for the last 7 days was 40 messages a day (exact, not an estimate).
  • How many did you respond to?
  • If by respond you mean sent out, I show 9 sent messages that   went out during yesterday.
    • Was that typical? 
    • Looks so… my daily average of sent emails over for the last 7 days was 8.7 messages a day (exact, not an estimate).
  • When do you first check your email?
  • At 8AM when I start work, to see if I have anything that needs immediate response. I leave the rest of the mail for the afternoon.
  • When do you last check email? 
  • In the evening, when I finish working, just to see if there’s anything interesting..
  • Do you check constantly throughout the day, or do you have dedicated times where you’ll check? 
  • I check only for urgent stuff at 8AM and again when I start my main mail processing session of the day after lunch, when I try to clear my Inbox if I can. I glance at new mail at the end of the workday, but usually leave processing it for the next day.
  • If someone really wants to get in contact with you, how do they do it? 
  • My cellphone is always with me and I make the number known on my site and in my sig.
  • Do you have a current email management philosophy or guidelines?
  • I sure do. I avoid checking email all through the day,  and I have Outlook set NOT to auto-synch to the server, so I need to pull the mail in manually and consciously with the Send/Receive command. I also  have all incoming mail alerts turned off on both laptop and smartphone. I sync the mail at 8AM, when I only check for urgent stuff that may have come in during my night; again after lunch when I do my main mail processing slot for the day; and I take a glance in the evening just in case. In that after-lunch slot I go over the Inbox in chronological order and try to “Inbox Zero” as far as I can, by deleting, responding, archiving or moving non-urgent messages to do later into a few folders I have for that purpose, which I look at less frequently. I also use a trick called “the 5 weeks folder” that I invented years ago (tip #4 for individuals). And I make a point of sorting my inbox chronologically (newest message at the bottom, not at the top, so I have a strong incentive to 
keep it under one screenful…)
  • Do you like email as a communication tool? How would you improve it?
  • Overall I do like it, because being in a remote corner of the planet I depend on it to bridge time zone gaps (see my guest post for Mesmo Consultancy). There are many possible improvements we could try – for instance, email with expiration dates – but I think the real benefit would be not in improving the email protocol but rather in improving the behaviors that causes email to be abused so much in the enterprise, and this is about culture and psychology, not about the protocol. As to improving the software we use to read and write email – don’t get me started… or just look at the solutions categories on my blog!