Do they deserve the gift of your keystrokes?
There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die. - Me
One of the most influential (to me personally) posts Jon Udell has written was his classic "count your keystrokes." I've mentioned this post in a number of my talks, including my talk on "Tips to make your blog suck less" at Blogging While Brown this last weekend. This point, in particular always seems to resonate with people, so here's my own take, before you read the original.
Let break it down. I'm 36 and change. I'll live to be 80, let's say, and I can type 100 words a minute (but 50 of that is errors and the backspace key) so let's say 50WPM. If I type for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for the next 44 years, that means there are 198M keystrokes left in my hands. Max. Period. And that's generous; it's likely 10% of that.
5.1CPW * 50WPM * 60m/hr * 6hr/s a day * 5 days/wk * 50 wks/year * 44yrs = 1,009,800,000 keystrokes left in your hands.
Let's assume the average length of an English word is 5, plus a space, so six. That's a ceiling of 168M more words I can type in my lifetime. Nothing I can do, short of dictation, or some new brain invention is going to create more keystrokes. I am I/O bound by my hands. The keystrokes they contain are finite. And this assuming my hands don't give out.
Drink that in. OK. So now, next time someone emails you ask yourself "is emailing this person back the best use of my remaining keystrokes?" That includes both 1:1 and 1:many emails. You could even add a little hubris to it and say: "Does this person deserve the gift of my keystrokes?"
Instead, consider writing a blog post or adding to a wiki with your keystrokes, then emailing the link to the original emailer. (Like this email, er, blog post, for this example.) Send them to http://www.letmegooglethatforyou.com or http://www.letmebingthatforyou.com and teach them to fish.
UPDATE: This is about reach and effectiveness vs. efficiency. If you email someone one on one, you're reaching that one person. If you blog about it (or update a wiki, or whatever) you get the message out on the web itself and your keystrokes travel farther and reach more people. Assuming you want your message to reach as many people as possible, blog it. You only have so many hours in the day.
The best way to get more email is to reply to it. The best way to get less email is to stop answering it.
Conserve what remaining keystrokes you have left, Dear Reader. Or, use them in the comments area here and give me the special gift that is your keystrokes.. ;)
P.S. This blog post is 435 words or 2362 keystrokes. Hope it was helpful. I've only got 1,009,797,638 left!