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Inbox zero, stage five

You may recall that in the previous state of our saga, I had achieved "inbox zero". All six of my inboxes had zero messages. This essay serves as a bit of a followup. I'm not writing it in one day [1]; rather, I'm hoping to log short vignettes about my attempts to stay at inbox zero [2]. We'll see how it goes.

When I got up at 7 a.m. after achieving inbox zero, I had 46 messages in my inbox. Most are low priority and worth skimming. A few notes from racket-users that I can immediately delete. A few SIGCSE-members postings (including one that my co-moderator seems to have approved at 5:00 a.m.) that I can deal with quickly. Still too many advertisements, but most are either from places whose ads I like to skim (e.g., book publishers). One Facebook comment on my latest essay. And some other stuff. But no time to go through the mail now; the household is getting ready for school and work.

Okay, let's see how long it takes to get through the messages in the inbox. Once again, some can be deleted quickly. Others will take more time. Chronicle has a story that begins "Professors can't be fired based on race, for instance, but what happens when students write racist evaluations? Could an instructor be fired based on those?" which I'd like to read. I may leave that in the mailbox, along with this week's "Straight Dope".

Let's deal with the Facebook comment. Doug Cutchins writes.

I'd recommend a program called unroll.me that you can use either to unsubscribe from emails or have ones you want to see rolled into one email that they send you daily, rather than receiving them individually.

I take a quick look. It appears to be a Web service. I don't trust my emails to assorted Web services. In fact, I think it may violate FERPA if I do [3,4]. But it's a good idea to put my mailing lists to the side, or at least some of them. One of the "services" that the College imposes upon me puts the phrase "[Bulk Mail]" before all of my mailing lists. I could write a mailbox rule to move those to a folder to look at at the end of the day (or when I want).

Let's see ... It took about thirty minutes to achieve "inbox three", although that included writing the paragraphs above and sending a few messages at the start of the day. Is that good? I don't know.

I will admit it was depressing that once I got out of a meeting to discuss the design of a spring class, I had accumulated another forty or so messages to clean through.

But I ended the day with inbox zero. I even managed to read the important articles in Chronicle and the Straight Dope, and to have a few interesting email conversations with folks.


Inbox zero, day two. Saturday. It looks like less mail comes in on weekends. But there's still some.

Okay, I know I unsubscribed to some of these advertisements. Why do they keep coming? Oh, yeah, "It may take seven days, or, in some cases, as many as ten days, to process your request." I know that one of our alums [5] explained that delay to me once, but I don't remember. Oh well. I'll wait.


Inbox zero, day three. Sunday. It's been remarkably easy to stay at at inbox zero, but that's probably because I get less email over the weekend, and this weekend is a long weekend, so I may get even less.

The inbox cleanup is affecting other kinds of computer usage, too. I spent some of today reducing desktop clutter (from 200+ items to 15, which is about as few as I can deal with).

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble doing the same level of reduction in the physical world. I went to the Friends book sort, and brought home too many books. I rescued Jon Dos Passos' USA Trilogy in paperback from our "throw out" bin. I don't need it, but I may sneak it back into the bookstore. Someone should want to read Dos Passos. I picked up and paid for Getting Things Done (friends have been telling me to read it), Thinking Fast and Slow (on my long-term reading list), and As You Wish --- Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride (just because). I did not pick up an extra copy of David Feldman's Imponderables, since I own it already. I grabbed a copy of Snowcrash for a student. And I grabbed a book for Michelle. So I think I have to find three books to get rid of. I did put fifteen books in the "get rid of" pile yesterday. I wonder if that counts? Probably not [6].

But this is supposed to be about keeping my inbox at zero, not about keeping my bookshelves at below capacity. So, I'll note that the project is going well. We'll see how weekdays go, as well as how the start of the semester goes.


Inbox zero, day four. Monday (MLK day). I slept in until 9:30, since it may be the last day that I can sleep in for awhile. That meant that I had accumulated 74 messages overnight. Let's see how long it takes to process all of them. I spend some time on a Facebook discussion of the new Web site, relating to a post I made about our inelegant new slogan, "Already you might be a Grinnellian". (I have my own new variant: "Already, Grinnellian you may be".) I ended up checking out one stop on the virtual tour and discovered that they don't know how to spell the name of Saints Rest [11] and that the narrator can't pronounce the word "Canary" [12]. But that's a rabbit hole. Back to the email.

One thing I've realized: I've stayed on a lot of promotional mailing lists (e.g., from StackSocial or Staples) because I figure it doesn't take a lot of time to delete them, and I occasionally need them for a coupon or a sale or something. But there are enough that it's worth unsubscribing.

In the end, processing my email took about thirty-five minutes, and left me with four messages that will take a bit more time (daily digest from Chronicle of Higher Education, weekly digest from the same source, sale at Oxford University Press that may be relevant to books my kids need for classes, and a request to bid on papers to review [14]. I seventy-some-odd messages in thirty-five minutes good? I think so; that's about thirty seconds per message on average, and some did require some work.

On to bidding, reading, and then some writing. For bidding, there are 175 papers for me to consider. Whee! But this is supposed to be a quick skim (or at least I think it is), using titles and, if desired, abstracts [16]. As someone who is red/green color deficient, I wish they wouldn't use those colors to indicate how we've bid. It doesn't help that they use two shades of green and two shades of red. I think with just one shade of each, I could more easily tell the difference [17]. Anyway, after about an hour of skimming, I had bid on each paper. I bid 36 as ones I would prefer to review. I think that's a generous number . I bid 88 as ones I would be willing to review. I think that's an even more generous number. I guess I've been reviewing for long enough that I just assume that I can deal with most of the papers. That feeling also probably made the bidding a faster process; I didn't feel like I had to get everything "just right" or that I had to game the system. I do hope my large number of "yes" entries makes things easier for the Program Chairs.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Time to skim Chronicle. [Time passes.] There's an interesting article on whether faculty should retire to allow the next generation of scholars to get positions. I may want to write a reflection on that article, since it's different in CS [18].

Okay, no email while I do some more complex work.

Back to email. I seem to have an alert from Windward jobs for "Associate Professor of Computer Science" jobs near 50112. I have no idea how I ended up on the Windward jobs mailing list. Amusingly, they have "Be Your Own Boss - Caviar Delivery Driver - Up to 25/hr; New | Caviar - Brooklyn, IA". I took a look (not because I want the salary, but because I'm interested in whether this is someone who delivers caviar from Brooklyn and why people would make caviar in Brooklyn). However, it appears that they are just confused. Caviar is a food delivery service, and has service in Brooklyn, NY, not Brooklyn, Iowa [19].

Including that detour, I think email took about five-to-ten minutes, plus another five-to-ten minutes reading a new Chronicle article on How to Responsibly Close a College [21]. In terms of mailbox management, it's a good day. All that's left in my inbox is the OUP sale, and I'll probably wait to deal with that until the kids are around to discuss their textbooks [22].

Back to work.


Inbox zero, day five. Tuesday. I'm starting to get more "real" email, such as messages from colleagues and students. But, so far, most are relatively short and don't require a long time to answer. And the number is manageable. I ended the day with one message in my inbox, something I need to read and follow up on tomorrow. That's not too bad.


It looks like this essay is now long enough that I should release it, even though it's earlier than I expected. But I'm pleased to report that, at least for the first few days, maintaining inbox zero (or at least "inbox few") was a reasonably manageable task.


[1] Or, rather, I'm not planning on writing it in one day.

[2] Can you tell that I'm planing ahead for when I don't have time or energy to write a full essay?

[3] Grinnell had to designate Microsoft as an "Officer of the College" so that they could store our email.

[4] However, I'm told that it's absolutely fine that Proofpoint looks at our email and even stores some of it on their servers. That makes no sense to me.

[5] The legendary ErynO, I believe.

[6] The three books I got rid of: Volume 2 of The Walking Dead, which I'm not sure how I ended up with, and which I'll never read; Fables Book 1: Legends in Exile, which seems to be a spare copy and can go to the CS commons [7]; and Sources of Early Christian Thought: The Trinitarian Controversy, which I'll offer to Middle Son [8].

[7] That reminds me, I also picked up a copy of Reading Code: The Open Source Perspective for the CS library.

[8] I'm not sure that passing books on to my kids counts as getting rid of them, but it's a start [9,10].

[9] Early in my married life, my brother-in-law and I would trade boxes of books back and forth so that we could each tell people that we were getting rid of books.

[10] I might end up passing Thinking Fast and Slow on to eldest. It seems like his type of book.

[11] They inserted an apostrophe.

[12] It sounds more like "cannery" to me. But buying some canned prairie does sound interesting. It might go well with the new Trump Tater Chips.

[14] No, we don't promise to pay in order to review papers. Rather, we indicate which papers we would prefer to review and which papers we would prefer not to review. Here's the full set of instructions, from Simon [15], the primary contact for reviewing.

Under the Bidding menu you will find a list of the submission titles, and you can choose whether to show or hide the corresponding abstracts. You will choose, for each paper, whether you would like to review it, you are willing to review it, or you have a conflict of interest and can't review it. The default, no interest, requires no action. Please give every paper your careful consideration: we hope that most reviewers will be willing to review most of the papers.

You should declare a conflict of interest when it is your own paper or you know who wrote the paper.

All bids must be in by the end of Friday 20 January (UTC-12). If you have not bid by then, I shall assume that you are not receiving emails from EasyChair, and shall regretfully remove your name from the list of reviewers.

If your bid shows interest in only a handful of papers, please expect it to be augmented with bids for the least popular papers, in the interest of fairness to the reviewers who have made more substantial bids.

As you have already been informed, papers will be assigned to reviews at the start of Monday 23 January. You will then have three weeks to complete your reviews, and during the following two weeks you are expected to be available to take part in discussion and possible revision of your reviews. If you will be unavailable for either of these periods, please let me know now.

[15] I love that there's an important computer scientist who has only one name, and therefore breaks many systems.

[16] We have the option of showing abstracts during the bidding process. I do.

[17] I sent a letter to Simon. Simon sent a letter to the developers of EasyChair asking them to deal with the colour issue. They promised to look into it.

[18] Since CS is so different, I probably should not comment on the general issues raised in the article. But I think I might enjoy reflecting on the issues.

[19] I tried signing up for Caviar [20]. They said "Sorry, we currently aren't serving that area."

[20] As a customer, not as a driver.

[21] An article which I'd swear was called "How to Responsibly Choose a College.

[22] The only OUP textbooks were the OUP Latin Course, and Middle Son owns that already.


Version 1.0.1 of 2017-01-23.