Email Management Tactics
I love and “dislike” e-mail in equal measure. I’ll be honest, I can’t live without it but I do feel at times it plays far too bigger a part in my working day than it should.
I know there are proven strategies to deal with the mountain of e-mail we all receive. Inbox zero is achievable, or so I am told.
I think part of the problem is that I don’t really have an e-mail routine. I have tried a number of different email management approaches in the past and some have worked and some have failed. The problem is that most of the time if you miss a day it’s a massive catch up routine. I am therefore always on the lookout for new ideas when it comes to e-mail management.
The 99% Approach
Back in January the 99% blog posted a great article called E-mail Etiquette for the Super-Busy. It’s a 10 point plan about how to not let e-mail rule your life. Here they are:
- Be concise
- Communicate “action steps” first, not last
- Number your questions
- Make the way forward clear
- Include deadlines
- Use “FYI” for emails that have no actionable information
- Tell them that you’ll get to it later
- Don’t send “Thanks!” emails
- Never send an angry or contentious email
- Never “reply all” (unless you absolutely must)
The article is worth a read as it goes into detail about the points and it’s also worth reading the comments to hear a variety of different opinions. Since reading it I have certainly tried incorporating a few of these into my workflow.
The article also got me thinking about how I try to manage my own Inbox and I came to realise that I do have a few tactics that might be worth sharing.
6 Ideas that Work For Me
- GMail Labs - The web interface is my preferred method of email, I like the keyboard shortcuts and am just very used to it. I also rely heavily on a number of labs features such as “Send and Archive”, “Nested Labels”, “Multiple Inboxes” and “Super Stars”. These all help make managing email that little bit easier.
- Notify for Mac – This is a great little app that just “notifies” you of new email. It’s a super handy way to read email without having to open up your browser and allows you to keep a watching brief and not feel overburdened by a full inbox. More info here: http://vibealicious.com/apps/notify/
- Filter or Turn Off Web App Messages – I love web apps like the next person but they do generate a lot of email. One tactic I use is to auto label these incoming messages in GMail and take them right out of my inbox. In order to not miss anything I set up a new multiple inbox based on that label and position it beneath my main inbox. This means I don’t (usually) miss anything but can still see what’s going on.
- Write less – I have taken to replying inline in a different colour. GMail handles this fine and makes reading these kind of replies very easy. I have also found that it becomes much quicker to respond to email in this way.
- Don’t Over Categorise – This is something I am very guilty of but am trying to ween myself off. Labels in GMail (folders by another name – well almost) are very handy. However I find it’s all to easy to get obsessed by categorising old email. Instead now I tend to simply “Archive” all my incoming email. GMail search is so good that it never normally takes more than one or two searches to find the email I am looking for.
- Auto Labeling – Make your life easier by auto labelling your incoming e-mail using GMail filters. An example of this might be to label incoming mail from all your team members. This has the added benefit of visualising importance (i.e. it’s an internal e-mail) as well as giving you a big bucket to quickly find all your teams communications.
These are just a few little tactics I have used, specifically in GMail to help me combat the daily e-mail grind. I am sure there are a million more so if you have some secret e-mail foo please feel free to share it in the comments.
For me, two features of Gmail that have made a massive difference are:
– Priority Inbox to bubble important stuff to the top. Works really well for me, very rarely fails to identify something I would class as important and filter the chaff.
– Labels set to ‘Show if unread’ – I’m a bit guilty of the hole over-categorisation thing, so I have a large list of labels. Now, I have the all collapsed under ‘X More’ by default and have it bubble important labels out when there are unread messages (you do this by right-clicking on the label). Probably worth noting that most of my labels are setup to skip the inbox.