When you see this email (run like hell)

I’ve got a friend named Jim.

Jim is a rad guy. Someone I care about deeply.

Jim also loves to travel. And before each one of his epic trips, he puts together a giant list of “must-sees” in the destination city.

But here’s the catch. Jim outsources his research to… his friends.

Now I love Jim. But I hate these emails. They should be banned.

The asymmetric nature of this email is so punitive.

Jim spent 15 seconds writing the message.

And it will take you 15 minutes to respond.

So instead, this email just languishes in your inbox.

We get emails from Jim all the time. From our bosses. Our parents. Our accountants.

With so many Jims running around, how do you respond? (And stay sane.)

The heavy cost of open loops

Let’s look at a few other instances of Jim in the Wild.

There’s the email from your accountant:

And then there’s the contractor you’re working with to update your website.

Now it’s tempting to leave these messages in your Inbox until you complete them. But all these emails from the various Jims are not emails.

They are tasks. Tasks masquerading as email.

A list of $10 tasks which in aggregate will take over 2 hours complete.

But here’s the rub. If you leave them in your inbox, you’ve created an Open Loop. In the productivity classic Getting Things Done, David Allen warns of the dangers of these nagging tasks:

That open loop will take up energy and prevent you from having a totally effective, clear focus on what is important.” 

Emails from Jim are the ultimate Open Loop. They prevent you from focusing. They throw a monkey wrench into your prioritization. And they hang over your head like a bad White Claw hangover.

And then you start resenting Jim.

Thankfully there’s an easy anti-dote for the Email from Jim.

First, de-construct each email into its sub-tasks.

Next, assign the task to the appropriate project list (and be careful about using fake due dates).

Finally, close the Open Loop by hitting archive on the email.

Jim will get his Iceland recs, the Google Analytics log-in and the W-2s.

And you’ll get your peace of mind back.

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