Q: Too often I find myself buried in email, unable to respond to everything that's coming in. Is there a simple way to let my contacts know how clogged my inbox is at any given moment so that they're not expecting an immediate reply?
A: If you too often find yourself trying -- desperately -- to get out from underneath all of the email stacking up in your inbox, there are a number of different tools and methods available to help you, several of which have been highlighted here in your Atlantic Toolkit. But none of these options let others understand just how swamped you are. And that's useful information. I'm far more likely, for example, to respond to your message if it comes just after I've reached Inbox Zero than if it comes in the middle of my morning newsletter rush.
A new service, Courteous.ly, which grew out of a project by Georgia Tech professor Eric Gilbert, allows voyeurs to take a peek inside of your email habits. "By consenting to have Courteous.ly look at your inbox, it can determine your present level of email overload and then report in laymen's terms as to whether or not it's a proper time for someone to send you an email," the Next Web explained. "By clicking on a unique link that you can use in your email signature, people are taken to a page that displays your present level of overload." But then you'd have to bother with sending an initial response to give any new contact your unique link. Luckily, that link can also be copied to your personal website, Twitter bio or any other digital place where people frequently find your contact information.
Once you install Courteous.ly, the program spends 12 hours monitoring your email activity to determine what should be considered "normal" for you. It then builds its messages to your contacts around that baseline and updates every 10 minutes. A number of options allow you to customize Courteous.ly. There's even a feature that, should you decide to activate it, allows someone to include "[whenever]" in an email subject line; that email will then get delivered to your inbox only after you catch up on previously-delivered messages.
Tools mentioned in this entry:
More questions? View the complete Toolkit archive.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.