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How do you deal with responding to long, scary emails from friends? Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I have this problem - I like talking to friends but I'm not so good at long distance friendships. I often find myself waiting for the right mental space to respond to friend's emails, by which time the moment has long passed. I find myself with reams and reams of flagged, starred or marked as unread emails that I always mean to get around to but make myself avoid.

Putting this into Omnifocus is a laborious and neverending task. I'd have an inbox full of "Respond to David", "Respond to Sarah", etc ad infinitum. Then I'd have to remake the actions again whenever they responded. Either that or I could say 'respond to all outstanding messages' - an impossibly ambitious task no matter how much free time there is.

I came up with a system to help me with this. I can take weeks and months to respond to emails so why not accept that rather than fight it? I now have a task in OF that is simply "Reply to one major outstanding message" that repeats 1 day after completion. I'm just trying this out for the first time recently, and so far it's worked quite well - OF never overwhelms me nor leaves me alone. I'm going to experiment with having it repeat more than once a day or perhaps change the task to "Reply to 2 major outstanding messages", but I think this might help me finally get back to those neglected people. I'm thinking as well of having a task that repeats, say, every 5 days to tell me to message someone I haven't spoken to in a while. This might seem oddly mechanistic but it makes OF get one step closer to being the holistic productivity solution it wants to be.

Any thoughts on this? Does anyone else have this problem?
Reply to your friends once a week, say, every Friday. That saves you the hassle to remember each individual one.
In the GTD spirit I find it helps me to have a project for each major friend and then one task "reply to email(s)" for each.

Then, when I read the emails from that person, I will put a short sentence or a few keywords for each thing I want to reply to, in bullet form in the action's notes. Sometimes I will copy-paste the paragraph. Similarly, if I think "oh, I should tell this to John", I will add anither bullet.

I also sometimes use a group of actions if it feels like a better way.

This way, i can file the emails away and it is clear what I have to write about, making it less of a "big amorphous blob" and much less scary. I even sometimes expand my short notes to an actual full paragraph without noticing it.

Then I use my periodic review to flag one email task at a time and rotate or go based on circumstances or inspiration.

I hope this helps!

Sounds like a reasonable approach. That said, if the message requiring a response doesn't have issues in it that are time sensitive (e.g., it's more like a personal letter from the old days where somebody is saying hi and updating you on the events in their life), you might consider viewing their message as two tasks:

(a) a short GTD less than two minutes do it now e-mail back thanking them for their message and letting them know that you hope to get back to them with a longer reply when you have the time/cognitive space to do that; and

(b) the longer message you write at a later time.

I think most people understand when somebody is busy/overwhelmed, etc. But they also appreciate at least getting a timely message back, even if it's just acknowledging receipt of their message.

That gesture alone says a lot, and I think helps to maintain connections with people across boundaries and time.

Remember, communications with friends don't always need to be perfect. If you hold yourself to that standard all the time, you just won't respond at all. Then, your relationships will suffer far more than if you had just made a point to send back a quick response.
Good point about the short reply. Also sometimes just saying "we're in the middle of X" is enough to keep in sync so you don't have to go back through everything that happened.

Also I wanted to share another tip, if it is possible (bandwidth, etc.) I now do more and more "video emails" where I record myself with my ipod then put the video on some FTP server or other file sharing system. It is much more natural to talk and ramble a little, and you can nuance what you say more easily with your facial expression and gestures (as we all know emails can come across in a different way that we intended!). It feels much easier often that writing an email and people usually find it more interesting to watch as well, especially if you live far away and don't see each other so often.

Also, I try to keep my emails about 1 topic with some people, where we talk about so many things that it can be overwhelming. This way, "idea in --> idea out" when it is short ("have you listen to this album? it's great!" is sometimes all I have to say about a topic and then it doesn't clutter my mind or inbox or OF).

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