This is what happens when you reply to spam email

For three years, writer and comedian James Veitch answered spam email.

“All I’m doing is wasting their time. I think any time they’re spending with me,  is time they’re not spending scamming vulnerable adults of out their savings.”

In a hilarious TED Talk, he details his thread with one spammer who contacted him about a business deal. Into the second week, James got the spammer to start replying in ridiculous code revolving around candy.

Advises Veitch, if you’re going to reply to spammers do it from an anonymous email to avoid a barrage of even more SPAM.

Working against attention residue

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Going to work to answer emails won’t make you a better emailer, just as another five minutes on Twitter won’t improve your social networking game. Email, Twitter, and incoming messages drain our cognitive fitness.

Continuous partial attention fragments our mind and impedes deep thought, which is at the core of doing meaningful work.

How are we alive if all we do is process tasks?

Digital knowledge work seems to be typing into little boxes all day. We confuse distraction with busyness.

If we are the CEO of us, perhaps we need better focus engines to keep our eyes on the donut and not the donut hole.

Listen to You 2.0: The Value Of ‘Deep Work’ In An Age Of Distraction

gif via The Daily Dot

Save the worry for later

Instapaper your worries. That is, save them for later. By the time you come back to them, they’ll only be important if they’re still on your mind.

Anxiety is a trigger, one that works to benefit you. You’ll continue to think about the exam if you do nothing about it. Studying builds up your confidence and reduces your nervousness. Nevertheless, some worries are like inbox zero are excessive. Overthinking can often lead to overdoing, which falsely prioritizes unimportant things like answering every email.

Save the worry for later
Allay the fear by doing something about it (image from Thin Slices of Anxiety)

The longer you wait to tackle apprehension, the more anxious you’ll get. In fact, the feeling of procrastination is often worse than doing the actual work. Everything fades away once you get started, paving the way for a clearer future ahead.

Let’s be honest 

There’s a reality between what people say and what they do.

Examples:

  • People keep predicting the death of email but its keeps getting bigger and more important because it’s the one feed where we can control. Everything else (i.e. social media) operates on linear abundance or algorithmic infinity.
  • Tech pundits continue to predict the death of Facebook as teens shift to ephemeral sharing apps like Snapchat. But Generation Z still uses the social network; not because it’s ‘cool,’ but because like email it’s just part of their everyday lives.

The story we tell ourselves is actually different than how we act.

Deep work

Who would’ve thought that your future success rests on the ability to disconnect from the internet and do deep work. If you want to get good at anything, you’ll need to practice for hours with deliberate focus. In an interview with James Altucher, professor, and author Cal Newport suggests that you need three to four hours of intense training each day, whether that be writing, playing the guitar, or shooting hoops.

Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You argues that skills trump passion, that the reward for putting in the work is the attention your deserve. If you can be consistent, it’s shouldn’t take the 10,000 hours of practice to master something.

It’s hard to delay gratification in a world that teaches you to do everything now. Action is more noticeable than inaction. You go to work to spend more time answering email and slack conversations than tackling a project with long-term benefits. You’re graded based on your ability to manage velocity. It’s no wonder people burn out.

The web is a gift and a curse, a tool for connectedness that can often lead to drowning in a pool of dopamine. Who would’ve thought your success would be determined by your ability to single-task and the only way to get your mind back would be to appreciate doing nothing.

The Myth of Inbox Zero

Keep on checking…. (Image via Samuel Zeller)

“God, I’m so proud of keeping my inbox to zero,” said no one ever.

Inbox Zero is a futile game. It’s a fun myth created by life hackers to illustrate stellar productivity. But the internet never ends and no one has ever achieved anything great by having an empty inbox. In fact, a plethora of email is more likely to be a sign of busyness, as is a messy desk.

A lot of people like email because it offers more control than the incessant social media feeds. It also avoids the regrettable FOMO that comes with checking Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, startups like Slack are trying to merge email with instant messaging and social. to make communication more efficient. But try as they will to reinvent email, it’ll still be there in its simplest form like our snail mail.

Email is a punching bag – you can hit it as hard as you want but the dimple is temporary. Bills, newsletters, and spam always reform to force you to mark them ‘read.’

You can’t defeat email – the best you can do is to contain it.

Snail Mail

I’m in deep trouble. My brother sent me a Mother’s Day card to pass along to my mom weeks ago. I never got it, only because I haven’t checked my mailbox in weeks.

In fact, I never check my mailbox unless there’s an Amazon shipment on the way. Do you? I’ve digitized everything from bills (love autopay) to magazines. I don’t expect mail. I refuse to have extra paper taking up space on my kitchen counter.

Coincidentally, I’m also slowing down on checking my email too. Instead of checking it like text messages 10 times/day, I’ll check it max three times. Email is becoming the new snail mail, as is Facebook. Modernizing old systems just reproduces old habits.

So I hope my brother’s card is still there so I can pass it along to my Mom. He’d be wise though to send me one more text or Snapchat to remind me.

Ten email commandments

I’ve set up my smartphone so that I can check my favourite blogs – I use Feedly with the GReader app – and I quickly fire off a tweeted recommendation if I see something I like. The side effect: I can tweet a lot without firing up Twitter, which means I am less likely to become distracted. In short, the phone is set up so that I can produce social media but not consume them. I can use apps such as Readability to catch up on longer articles I bookmarked earlier, and am a voracious listener to podcasts. But I couldn’t check Twitter on my phone if I wanted to – and I don’t want to, because smartphones are all about habit, and this is one I’ve prevented myself from acquiring.

I’ve been experimenting with some new mobile habits as well, like not checking my feeds in the morning until I’ve blogged. I still think checking the Twitter stream is important, otherwise you’re just publishing links to things that may be out of context of the conversation.

Success Through Less

When we get nervous we tend to throw out everything and see what sticks.

This often leads to unnecessary tweets, excess Instagrams, and surfeit emails. It only works when you’re new and you’ve yet to establish a permanent audience.

But then you need to slow down production and evaluate where you see the best results. People will unfollow you if your work is jumbled and if you proclaim mastery in areas where you’re actually mediocre.

People demand the best content. Once you establish a niche, keep serving them the content that they want instead of trying to appeal to all audiences.

Constrict if and when you can.

Email Malaise

Email makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something but you’re really not. It’s a game that never ends, a painful image of line by line Unreads in bold.

Gmail does the best job at assisting email management. I like the new tab feature that categories email by type. It’s also easy to create filters in Gmail so you receive less spam.

But email is email despite design and functionality improvements. The Mailbox app intends to revolutionize email with it’s added to do list feature. But I want to spend less time in the maw of email, not more.

Email behavior only worsens with Smartphones as people email-text each other. I’m guilty of this as I got rid of text messaging not only to save $20/month but also because people are just as fast to respond via email.

Email is in a weird communications spot between instant messaging via apps like Snapchat, general text messages or iMessages, messages sent via social networks, and well, calling someone the old fashion way. You have to use the platform you think your recipient is most likely to respond quickest or slowest, depending on your level of urgency.

Email is generally the slowest way to guarantee a response since most people find it unmanageable.

Email is unmanageable for the most part. It’s almost as bad as opening up junk snail mail. Unfortunately, email is the mainstay of digital communication, kind of like Facebook is the hub of social networking. Corporations also live on email since there’s no other viable widely adoptable alternative.

Maybe we should just turn off email time to time and get some work done. This may anger other people waiting for a response but at least you’ll have attempted to achieve something meaningful outside the dreadful inbox.