How I manage my email

A colleague was noting that he was wanting a better approach to manage his email so I thought I should document what I have been doing for several years now and has been (mostly) working for me.

The general concept is that I aim to have nothing in my Inbox at the end of each day. 

The approach I have been using builds on top of Getting Things Done (GTD), Inbox Zero and the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritise it.

Ideally as soon as an email arrives and I get around to looking at, I move it to an appropriate folder to action later, respond straight away, file it away in my archive folders or delete it. In reality I often end up going through what is still lingering in my Inbox at the end of the day and do this. 

I have some key folders setup:

  • 1. Action - Urgent and Important
  • 2. Action - Urgent but not Important 
  • 3. Action - Not Urgent but Important
  • 4. Action - Not Urgent and Not Important
  • Casual Reading 

These are the key folders I use for determining the priority of actioning an incoming email. Of these 1 & 2 are the key ones for me; 4 I often don't get to for a long time. Casual Reading and 4 are used a bit interchangeably and the reality is I rarely put things in those folders. Once I have dealt with emails from these folders I put them into my standard folder structure. I also keep a list of things I am working on (or plan to get to) and sometimes the contents of emails will be added there. 

I used to have a "Waiting for others to respond" folder but found I rarely used it so now days tend to keep the email sitting in the various action folders so I am regularly reminded about it and may then deprioritise it from there.

With some email clients (such as the Outlook fat client) I have found that folders can be configured to show the number of items in a folder (as opposed to the number unread). I have found this useful as a reminder that there are emails requiring an action.

It is not a perfect system but I have found that having nothing in my Inbox at the end of each day useful to have a clearer frame of mind and to not miss something that may be buried in my Inbox. 


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