The mail pile and the most important of them

Again on my mail story!

I hate going to vacations for a simple reason. After coming back I need to read whole pile of mails in my Inbox. The pile rises at rate 2,000 per week or more.

Even on typically busy nights, number of new, not aut0matically filtered mails exceed 300 in the Inbox. [Nice way of saying “Good Morning, Bhushit!”]

The first question is, where should I start?

The earlier algorithm  I pointed out is terribly misfit in such conditions.

How do I know which mail thread may need my attention the most?

I believe I have an answer. I hope someone in mail client community implements this way of calculation: (weights may change)

  1. Mail threads directly addressed to me – 3 points, me in BCC – 2 points, me in CC – 1 points, me in the list – 0.5 points
  2. Mail threads in which my reports are also marked in To, CC or BCC – 1 point, mails in which only I am the recipient – 2 points, mails in which I am a part of a bigger organization group – 5 points
  3. Mail threads with ‘!’ mark – 5 points, mails without ‘!’ mark, mails with down priority – 0.5 points, mails with no priority – 1 point
  4. How many mail threads were responded in the thread – count is the score

Now count the score of each mail thread and sort threads by that score.

I am sure this will help most important threads to float on the top.


2 comments on “The mail pile and the most important of them

  1. Yash says:

    Nice ideas, Bhushit. I am not a manager and I don’t pay too much attention to this problem. I just do the old-school style reading of the emails.

    I, however, have thought about a metaphysical problem that has some similarity.

    The human brain at each moment reads many “e-messages”. Here e part refers to the neurologically transmitted electrons and messages are the semantic, meaning saturated, cost function generated, roller coaster shaped honey or poison filled bulbs.

    Some of these bulbs are bubbles. If the mind focuses on those, they pop and provide nothing but waste of time at the best or destruction at the worst.

    Only a few are the gold mines.

    Your Outlook e-mail sorting problem is a subset of this larger problem; the real world e-mails eventually become the mental e-messages that appear on the human cognition’s daily plate. Superficially they “look” different (oh, these are from Microsoft’s Outlook window), but they are fundamentally no different from the day to day messages that people received before Outlook.

    Visionaries, leaders, scientists and sportsmen (good ones) know how to separate the clutter from the gold mines.

    Call me old-school type, but I don’t think that a computer hosted mathematical algorithm will ever be able to solve this problem the way the human mind does. Such algorithm will be defined only at the moment of Kurzweil’s dream of Singularity, which to me seems like a day-dream.

    • bhushit says:

      Dr. Vasavada (because my other readers confuse you as some other Yash :-),
      You are probably right in going through mails in strict reverse-chronological order. I bet your work demands “deeper” solution than “wider” attention.

      I don’t know about number of context you switch in an hour. On a busy day, I switch context at least 60 times in an hour. A typical 15 minute span of attention goes through so many discussions in my mind:

      “some team member is sick, some product has a blocker bug, some program manager doesn’t understand my subordinate manager’s pain, some ego-tussle has broken out in senior engineer level, the candidate we selected last week has decided to drop the plan to join, customs demands new set of papers for lab equipment and a project is delayed because shipment department didn’t do their job properly again, a tool vendor wants to see you, IT asks whether it is OK to shutdown power – and what its impact would be for half a dozen testing projects – and yes, the team wants to go out and I need budget!”

      My friends in the same business as me squeeze every feature of Outlook to death. Still, there is no quick way of making sure all items are paid attention at least once.

      Algorithms like these need not be perfect. At least if they club related items in some sensible (yet tunable) manner, it is worth the money.

      As a matter of fact, there could be an algorithm bank! There could be a “most replies” sorting, “longest time span of discussion” sorting, “maximum number of different people replied” sorting, “term detection” bunching, moving a thread of discussion to a folder from mail content view, up/down traversal from mail content view using various sorting criteria – at least more than what we have since so many years.

      Yes, seemingly solved problems like e-mails and internal combustion engines have a lot of scope of improvement 🙂


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