This is a very simple description of the method I use for managing email. None of the components are unique to me, I’ve learned from many others over 20+ years. The goal is “Inbox Zero”, which is a well documented strategy for boosting productivity and making sure you don’t miss important emails. You might read this article and want to glean only one or two tidbits for improving your workflow, but many of these components depend on each other. If you’re not happy with how you’re managing email, try adopting every part of this strategy for a while. My system is much simpler than others, so you’ll easily be able to “Add-On” to fit your requirements.
This system relies more on training your behavior than it does technology. If you’ll commit to these things, we can build technology around your workflow.
- Commit to this: Unsubscribe from mass emails. Don’t just delete them. Every time you delete an unwanted email without unsubscribing you’re actually committing to have that distraction again in the future. If you’re not ready to break up with that sender, see #2.
- Commit to this: Create rules for emails you need, but don’t need to immediately read or act on. Route these emails to “Archive”. There are a variety of examples of these emails. Travel confirmations, paid bill notifications, statement notifications, etc. You may want these someday, but you never need them immediately.When you’re first implementing this system, do these 2 steps for the last 60 days of historical email. You’ll be very surprised how dramatically you’ve reduced mail coming to your Inbox.
- Commit to this: The first time you lay eyes on it, deal with it. Leaving emails in Inbox for re-reading later is stressful and a productivity killer. You’re generally going to be doing one of these 5 things:
- Delete (Program your phone to delete when you “Swipe Left”)
- Archive (Program your phone to Archive when you “Swipe Right”)
- Unsubscribe, then delete
- Read, then archive
- Read, reply, archive
- Read, forward, archive
Create one new subfolder called “Waiting”. This is where you’ll put emails that you can’t resolve right now. Usually these are things you’re waiting on someone else to do, or things you’ll need to do later.
You’ve now got all of your email in “Inbox”, “Archive” or “Waiting”. Emails in your inbox are what you should be working on next.
If you had many subfolders for varies kinds of email before, I recommend moving all of those emails to “Archive”, then deleting the subfolders. We’ve got robust search capabilities in our email now, those emails will be easy to find later using search.
Many of us use our phones to stay on top of email. This system works well in that scenario. I can be gone an entire day, grab my phone, swipe left on everything that needs deleted, swipe right on everything that needs archived, then only be left with a handful of emails that need my attention.