H. L. Menken’s Solution

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We can all learn from H. L. Menken (1880-1956) the journalist and essayist on how to manage mail.   In our case, email. mencken.jpg

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, the author of Mencken: The American Iconoclast included some details of her subject’s letter-writing habits.

In his correspondence, Mencken adhered to the most basic social principle: reciprocity. If someone wrote to him, he wrote back.   He believed writing back was “only decent politeness.”

He reasoned that if it were he who had initiated correspondence, he would expect the same courtesy. “If I write to a man on any proper business and he fails to answer me at once, I set him down as a boor and an ass.”

Whether the mailman brought 10 or 80 letters, Mencken read and answered them all on the same day. He said, “My mail is so large that if I let it accumulate for even a few days, it would swamp me.”

The postal service used to pick up and deliver mail twice a day. It was frequent enough to allow Mencken to arrange to meet a friend on the same day, but not so frequent as to interrupt his work.

Today’s advice from time management specialists to limit email checks to twice a day echoes the cadence of Mencken’s postal deliveries.

Ms. Rodgers said that Mencken was acutely disturbed by interruptions that broke his concentration.

The sound of a telephone ringing was associated in his mind, he once wrote, with “wishing heartily that Alexander Graham Bell had been run over by an ice wagon at the age of four.”

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