Aha: Outside email

I’ve recently switched to Gmail from mutt. It’s not perfect, but it’s still faster than my older way of doing things. Now that I’m back from San Diego, I’ve been reflecting on time management and where my time goes. Before I left, I started adding the label “outside” to emails from outside Google. Here’s what the most recent two-thirds of my inbox look like:

My Gmail labels

Yikes. I didn’t realize what a huge fraction of my email is trying to help people from outside Google. How do you try to maintain a balance between getting work done and keeping up with email? I’m going to have to do some deep thinking about how to scale.

P.S. If you’re not at Google and you’re waiting on an email reply from me, please be patient. πŸ™‚

47 Responses to Aha: Outside email (Leave a comment)

  1. Dave

    RE: “How do you try to maintain a balance between getting work done and keeping up with email?”

    Welcome to planet Earth πŸ™‚ I too get many, many email requests for free help each day. I have reduced this greatly by offering a free Q&A forum. It’s unbelievable how many kind people are so willing to share their knowledge with total strangers, many of whom don’t even bother to even say thanks!

  2. I think the answer depends on how you define your role.

    It may be appropriate that you answer queries from outside Google. It also could be that you get so many emails because some other group/person/system doesn’t exist or is not meeting customer expectations. By the way of your blog and presentations, you’re appealing to people who prefer to correspond with someone they know. You then become the “go to” guy by way of connection.

    I recall one suggestion I sent your way because I figured you would act before my other contacts. (I believe I prefaced it that way.) In my example, I was simply hoping you would forward the email on to the appropriate person. I didn’t see anyone who played an ombudsman type role within Google. Perhaps, if previous people had followed through as they said, I would’ve sent that email to them instead.

    I have tried using the help options on the Google site and submitted issues, but the responses have been unsatisfactory. It could also be that people are resorting to email as it’s too difficult to contact people by phone and other means.

    If you’re getting deluged with requests that are outside of your area, then you should offload the emails to someone else. It’s not the best use of your time and talents to answer unrelated items. You might also consider an auto-responder that sets expectations for people about what is your role and other contact options.

    As for prioritizing email, there are some add-ins that work with various email programs such as Outlook. Based on your screen snap, I think we can rule out Outlook πŸ˜‰

  3. I feel your pain. I, sadly, have no solution either. πŸ™

    Welcome back! (I think)

  4. VJ

    Hello Matt,

    At least you have the luxury of having a lot of ‘outside’ emails that if you don’t get to people will understand (hopefully). My dilemma is that 90% of my emails are from actual clients which I have to answer.

    Now, my question is: How does one tell a client that it’s enough already, after having answered the same question the only 10 ways you know how? lol

    P.S. Gmail is great!

  5. I’m pretty sure the first step is to not be the only Google employee that most people feel they have any hope of getting any reply out of.

  6. Ben

    You could setup a forum where you make a semi-regular appearance.

    Convince a couple of other google employees to visit sporadically, and you’ll probably find the better SEO’s made their presence known too.

    There’s probably a short list questions being asked many times, so it could ultimately be treated as a knowledgebase for the people with questions.

  7. Hi Matt, so what’s your email address then? If you let me know, maybe I can help πŸ˜‰

  8. Hey Matt,

    I am trying to wait as patiently as I can πŸ˜‰ Of course, I very eagerly await your response. Heck, I have hit my “Check Mail” button more times in the last 24 hours than I have in the last 24 days! πŸ™‚

    Thanks again for your time.

  9. The most annoying thing is answering a question that is on your web site under FAQ. You feel like saying ‘Take the time to read my site’ but you cannot as you need to remain polite. However, take your time in sending a reply and the sender thinks your being rude or you haven’t answered quick enough so they send you another.

    Go on holiday for a week and when you come back to check your mail Arghh…

  10. Marek

    Good account and good email program helps. Well configured TB! can save a lot of time.

  11. I tend to find that just deleting all the emails in my inbox is a great way to start the week!

  12. Adam

    “I tend to find that just deleting all the emails in my inbox is a great way to start the week!”

    Amen to that brother!

  13. Nikke

    Looks like you’re subscribing to a lot of mailing lists. At least that is what the Β» sign means in my Gmail account.
    And that is what Gmail is best at, as long as there aren’t too many Outlook users breaking the threads on your mailing lists.

  14. One of the things that I would love to see in GMail is an “External Email” function to be able to pull in emails from other POP and IMAP accounts.

  15. Haha, one of those emails is from me πŸ˜€

    Hope you’ve enjoyed San Diego. The key to staying organized with non-business email, is to just leave it there. Seriously. When you’re motivated and interested to see what others have to say: look at the subject matters and see what appeals to you.

    If you don’t respond some of them and it’s important:

    Trust me … people will find a way to get attention when it really matters :rolleyes:

  16. 1) Prioritize. I start off my day going through the incoming email and try to answer each one right then and there, if I can, so I have as little deep think stuff to come back to as possible. Doesn’t help, of course — there’s still plenty you can’t do. But I try to make decisions quickly rather than waiting, if at all possible.

    2) Planes & Trains: A long flight or a trip to London on the train is a great way to deal with my email, because no new stuff is coming in.

    3) Viruses: Email viruses are great, because people stop sending for a bit. It’s a great email holiday!

    4) Organize: If I’m dealing with a project (like getting a conference together), I throw all the email for that into its own folder.

    5) Ignore: Stuff that’s not urgent, I go back to when I can. If the email keeps coming in, a month or two goes by, and it’s definitely not urgent then. Anyone feeling neglected generally sends a follow-up. I try to get to everything, but ultimately you can’t.

    6) Use IM Or The Phone: If I’m having a number of emails going with someone or dealing with something complicated, it eventually dawns on me that there’s this great communication device that we’ve had for over 100 years called the phone. It works pretty well.

  17. set up more folders … lol

    I have 44 outlook folders … wow that actually shocked me …

    all incoming mail has a filter, this is the list ( well part of it )

    1 – New Clients ( until they become big enough to get a sub on 4 )
    2 – Friends ( like You, Danny, Tim, Chris_r, Jen etc )
    3 – Quotes ( when I answer a enquire, the return email go here)
    4 – Clients broken down into subs ( so i can track history etc )
    5 – Todo ( ideas, and shared projects)
    6 – Aff’s broken down into subs ( partners, supplier emails )
    7 – Inbox everything else
    8 – passwords
    9 – purchases
    10 – forum stuff


    And some others πŸ˜‰

  18. Nicky

    Just goes to show how many people on the outside love you and how many on the inside are….well, too occupied πŸ˜€

  19. Tom


    i left you a comment recently on a gmail post (thanks for the reply) about the lack of features on the UK version. I changed my country to the US setting, and bingo, all the new features that people are going crazy about appear! No whats the deal?! Clearly not to do with it taking time to roll the code out across servers.

    Thanks – tom

  20. I have a vast amount of email from clients, sites which i manage and from friends. I used to use hotmail as a spam filter but google’s spam protection is much better. On the topic of time management I know exactly what u mean – might have to work on that as well heh.

  21. Aaron Pratt

    Yeah, I tried to email you once, probably sent it to the wrong email address.

    Can anyone point me to Matts email address so I can spam his inbox?


  22. Tim

    DaveN is too organized. I like the forum idea. After having a forum for my clients I’ve had way less support emails. Many times they help each other out before I even find out about it. Of course there still are the support emails that shouldn’t be in the forum but having the forum dramatically cuts back on my email.

  23. I’ll do it for $1 / email. I’ll ensure everybody gets a nice personalized generic reply that sort of somehow 1/2 assedly relates to, and answers part of their question.

    Just like the real replies you get from other companies..

    / I think i just invented a word.. assedly
    // sorta like “thundercougerfalconbird”
    /// or ghonnaherpesyphillaids
    /// slashes!!!

  24. Getting Things Done, with David Allen, read the book. Use an email client that lets you set up rules to presort email into folders as it comes in, and for heavens sake don’t check it more than once an hour.

  25. Nikke, those two ‘>^gt;’ symbols actually mean all those emails are addressed to me. πŸ™

    Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. Ryan, $1/email would be a bargain for me, but it would take some training to answer these questions. πŸ™‚

  26. Matt, a bit off-topic, but any news on Big Daddy and when it may propgate to other datacentres? It will solve a lot of my problems, apart from my excess weight.


  27. Well Matt, if you ever need an assistant…. you know how to get ahold of me.

    I DO have the CS degree, and currently work as a software engineer..

  28. Kirby

    Like daven, I’m a huge fan of folders and filters. The key with folders is in defining them as narrowly as possible or using subfolders. Instead of scanning a ton of emails, I scan folders and can see at a glance what folders have new mail. Some folders always require immediate attention (the Larry/Sergey folder) while others rate a “I’ll get to it when I get to it”.

  29. Julie

    You do your work first, then handle outside emails. And don’t feel obligated to answer everyone…

  30. Russell

    Assign a ER (Email Rank) to each email with 10, 9, and 8s being the most important and getting personal attention promptly, then scale down with form letters with ER0 being sent from: YOULOWLIFESPAMMER……..@matt…com Subject: Is never in the index good for you

  31. You reply to all those? :-p

  32. Pascal

    Mutt does allow you to type ‘D.’ with no reload using some
    modern syscalls (they said “read2.0” and “write2.0”)
    and even has a wonderful feature for when your mailbox is
    at least empty :

    No new mail! There’s always links if you’re looking for something to read.

    Wondering how one can switch to webmail after that πŸ˜‰

  33. You must be popular πŸ™‚

  34. Daryl

    Hey Matt! You’re gonna absolutely love Gmail.

    I have a few nice suggestions for Gmail you will find you’ll probably want as well. Since you can now create different email accounts (email@yourowndomain.com, email2@work.com, email3@yourisp.com, and etc.), I forward all my email from work, personal email, and my various websites to Gmail and answer all of my email from there as well using the various email accounts I have set up through my one gmail account.

    The problem is that Gmail only allows for 1 signature. It would be great if we could assign a signature to each email account we set up.

    The other problem is the where the signature appears. When I reply to a message, the signature appears below my reply AND the previous message(s) in the email because I am assuming Gmail sets it up to appear below anything else in your message. In practical use however, people would prefer their signature to appear directly below their own reply.

    My suggestion is to use an β€˜insert signature” button that you can click on that is connected to whichever email address you have selected in the β€œfrom” field that inserts your stored signatures where you cursor is. That way you can use whatever signature applies to the email account you selected and you can insert it in the appropriate place.

    Expounding on that idea you could provide a drop down with standard replies that small business people or webiste owners could even set up and use for standard replies to frequently asked questions in much the same way I am proposing the stored signatures be handled.

    Now there’s a highly useful feature that is relatively easy to implement and no one else is doing. πŸ™‚

  35. Dave

    RE: “Getting Things Done, with David Allen…”

    He’s a funny guy! Must be hard to use email with his half finger πŸ™‚

  36. Josh

    Russell, I like your idea. Instead of Matt assigning it an email rank though, his client should assign the rank automatically based on the number of times the addressee is mentioned in others people’s emails and other very super secret requirements πŸ˜‰

  37. Kelly Jones

    Matt, you need to delegate. The fact that everyone is emailing you (and it would be tons more if we knew your address) means that everyone wants better communication from Google. Go through and figure out the most popular topics and then set up a mini-department to handle it. You’re too important at Google to be handling these issues alone. It’s very likely that what Google needs is a support forum where a group of individuals can answer these questions once and then allow everyone else to search for the answers.

    Your creating this blog was a beginning in better communicating with webmasters. However, this is your personal blog. You need to move the support back under the Google umbrella where it belongs.

    Like Moses, you can’t handle all the problems yourself — delegate!


  38. Matt,

    The question is, does all that email get in the way of you doing your job?

    Myself I have a bit of ADD so I find I get distracted easily. Instant Messages, Email, etc. interrupts my work flow. I used to always want to respond instantly. But then I loose my focus and have a hard time getting back to work.

    A friend told me he actually turns off his instant messenger and his email and only turns them on during set periods of the day. That way they don’t interfere with all his work.

    If you can maintain a routine like that, and it doesn’t interfere with your work, you should be cool, right?

    Of course if you start not replying right away, and or not replying at all… maybe you’ll be the worst SEO blog of 2006? πŸ˜‰ Of course the alternative is you do so much email that you don’t get any work done, and you suddenly become a Xoogler.

    – Ben Fitts

  39. I don’t use filters as they always fail me, and my email
    addresses have all been public for over 10 years, hence
    I get (literally) 4,000 spam emails a day. I’ve found that
    spammers are kinda like lemmings. So, I sort my inbox
    by subject line, and literally hundreds and hundreds of the spams with identical subject lines all fall into nice neat piles. 300 for viagra,
    400 for cialis, 200 for make money fast, 1000, for URGENT: press release, etc., etc. I can actaully get through 4,000+ messages
    in less than 10 minutes doing it this way, wheras before, with filters,
    I always ended up deleting something I shouldn’t have.

  40. Kelly Jones wrote:
    “Matt, you need to delegate. [–] It’s very likely that what Google needs is a support forum where a group of individuals can answer these questions once and then allow everyone else to search for the answers.”

    Yep. Matt doesn’t have the obligation to answer every question.

    Google does have support groups such as http://groups.google.com/group/google.public.support.general and also answers to many FAQs in http://www.google.com/support , http://www.google.com/help/faq.html , http://www.google.com/webmasters/faq.html , etc. Some FAQs can be found for example from Google’s Site Map at http://www.google.com/sitemap.html

    As a hobby I sometimes hang around in Google’s support groups answering questions for free, and when I see the same question I have seen many times, I just give the URL for one of Google’s FAQs.

  41. Matt, you sound like a great guy, your Blog is really funny, and helpful in a practical and useful way. Enough creeping already.

    You can follow my exploits at http://talktogoogle.blogspot.com
    as I try to make contact with someone sensible at Google.

    I did manage to speak to a real person there, but she thought it would liven up her afternoon if she put me on permanent hold.

    In all seriousness, it should not be so difficult to make contact with Google, either by email or phone. It is almost impossible. That must have something to do with the number of people contacting you for help.

  42. Drew H

    Heya Matt.

    Can’t really make any further suggestions regarding your email management. I’ve read a couple of your interviews with some organizational strategies, and am planning to implement some of them.

    The real point for this comment is to find out if you’re the Matt Cutts I think you are. Only one would understand the meaning behind this question: Do you cut out the tops of your shoes?

  43. I personally doesn’t have your email, never contacted you, reading your blog for first time. and I say:
    Good dude, you looks like a very nice person.

    I would, eventually, want to read something about what you think about life, principles, not the whole technical/technology stuff. Something out of the regular.

    I’m pretty sure you, working at google, are human also and can get depressed or in bad-humor,… where’s the other side of this great guy?

    Greetings and nice to meet ya,
    Bart Calixto

  44. I would just like to know how to contact ANYBODY at Google. I have been noticing some strange search and alert results and have filled out the online form. I received an automated reply that told me to “reply to this email” but when I did, I received an automated reply that told me to use the same online form I filled out before. I’m being sent in circles and I have no idea what to do. This is the only place that I know where I can be a little hopefull that a Google employee might actually read a communications.

  45. Matt, I really wanted to ask you about the google maps rankings, how does google decide which companies are listed on the forst page?

    I appreciate this will take a while for you to answer and I am very grateful for any time you can spare me.


  46. Dave

    Hi Matt,

    Over a year ago I made a comment here http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-many-links-per-page/#comment-860467 that links to writeahead.co.nz. I have been told that this is spammy. Would it be possible for you to remove my comment? I have no involvement with any form of spam and frown upon those who do.