Further thoughts on input tiers

Note: this was a private exercise I did, but I thought I’d post the results in case it’s of use to anyone else in clarifing their thoughts on how to handle their daily influx.

Previously: Email: Still not perfect. Also related: Don’t React. I noodled on this a bit more, and the following is what I came up with. It isn’t really specific to email, although most of the input mentioned comes to me in the form of email.

  • Time-sensitive: Discussions where time is of the essence.
    • E.g. short-notice discussions of where we’re going to meet for lunch, or how to get connected for a Skype conversation.
    • These are the only types of email I should ever get push notifications for.
    • With rare exceptions, nothing can be auto-categorized as time-sensitive. It’s a status that should only be conferred by my explicitly tagging the conversation as such.
    • Exceptions: Automatically time-sensitive items might include:
      • flight-change notifications. (But I already get app notifications for these)
      • IMs from my wife.
    • High-stress/high mental cost.
    • Should be seen the moment they arrive.
  • Attention Required: Something bad might happen if I don’t see and potentially take action on this.
    • Examples:
      • Replies to emails I sent.
      • An invitation to an event I care about.
      • An email in a group that I’m committed to actively supporting. (E.g. my company, or a conference I’m helping organize)
      • A calendar invite from my wife.
      • A backup-failed notification.
      • A bill that won’t be auto-paid.
      • An upcoming charge I might want to cancel.
      • DMs on Facebook or Twitter
      • Business-related replies/mentions on Twitter
      • Customer support requests.
      • Requests for consulting services.
    • Should be seen once or twice a day.
    • High-stress, but often can be punted directly into a TODO item, or delegated.
  • Correspondence: personal conversations.
    • Technically, these are discretionary. But having these conversations is innately valuable to me, and missing out on them has negative value.
    • Examples:
      • Emails from friends.
      • Replies to my newsletter.
      • Requests for professional advice or referrals.
      • Most Facebook tags and private messages.
    • Should be seen once a day, but can miss a day or two.
    • May require significant time and mental energy to handle. Probably need their own dedicated chunk of the day.
  • Discretionary: May be a personal message, but nothing terrible will happen if I never see/respond.
    • Examples:
      • Non-business replies/mentions on Twitter
      • Replies and mentions on Facebook.
      • Meetup invites
    • Can be seen 2-4 times a week.
  • Informational: Stuff I read only when I feel like it.
    • Examples:
      • Newsletters
      • Posts to technical forums I’m subscribed to
      • Posts to blogs that I follow
      • Promotional Emails
      • Twitter feeds of people I’m following.
      • Facebook feeds of close friends and family.
    • Seen whenever I feel like, which can be never.
  • Deferred: Usually stuff from the “informational” category that I’ve set aside for later.
    • Long blog posts, news articles, conference videos.
    • Right now this mostly goes into Pocket.
    • I need a better way of culling this crap so it doesn’t just accumulate forever.
  • Everything else by definition needs to be eliminated.
    • I’m most of the way there already.
    • Some non-obvious members of this category include:
      • Facebook/Twitter “likes”. Seriously, I do not need to know.
      • Assorted app notifications on my phone.
Some observations that flow out of this:
  • I want, nay, need to be able to open each of these categories separately and intentionally, without cross-pollution. Seeing my Discretionary input should not accidentally expose me to Attention-Required stuff, and vice-versa. Most email clients and other tools are bad at this.
  • I need to work harder on making sure everything that comes in is well categorized as early as possible. This might include:
    • Better mail filters.
    • Delegating more of the front line to someone else for initial categorization.
    • Dealing with Twitter entirely through a customer-service platform? Or something.
    • Putting a categorization field on my contact forms, e.g.:
      • Just saying Hi
      • Request for advice or referral
      • Request for consulting/speaking/teaching
      • Reporting a problem/complaint
  • Interestingly, after all this thought I’m not seeing a business/personal split emerging. It’s really more about frequency and amount of attention required than which realm of my life it comes from.
  • Can GMail notify me only about new messages in conversations tagged  “Time-Sensitive”? Must investigate.
As a meta-note: Writing about stuff like this, then letting it percolate for a couple days, then writing again, etc., seems like a pretty effective way of zeroing in on actionable changes.