How I Manage Email

My sister commented that she needs a system to manage her email. I’m not the best at this, but I do have a system that works for me. This is how I manage email.

I draw on a couple of principles from GTD, and from Inbox Zero. They are:

  1. Process it once (GTD/Inbox Zero)
  2. If it takes less than two minutes, do it now (GTD)

Here’s how that looks:

  • I check email two or three times a day, typically once in the morning, just after lunch and late afternoon. While I feel that still to frequent, it keeps others around me happy. Checking it any less and they start to notice, checking it more frequently and they also don’t notice.
  • I go through the list of emails, if the FROM persons name or email address, or the subject line tells me there is nothing in this email for me, I don’t even open it (newsletters, automated updates etc). This doesn’t mean I don’t read all newsletters or all updates, I just don’t read those that can’t grab me in that moment.
  • Those I need to read (co-workers, clients, personal friends) and those from above that made it through that filter, I read. I’m fully there for that email.
  • However, if that email loses me, like many newsletters, gone.
  • If there is an action required of me, for example I need to do something, or check if others have done something, I create either a task in the appropriate system (SugarCRM, Reminders, Jira, Git) or a meeting (SugarCRM, Calendar).
  • If there is something I need to refer back to, I copy it to the appropriate system (my Zettelkasten, Confluence, SugarCRM, or client/project folder)
  • If it requires a reply, I reply. This takes less than two minutes. If it will take more than two minutes, it was taken care of by an earlier step, if not I go back to that prior step.

It’s important to remember that email clients are not task management systems, scheduling systems or knowledge systems. In the same way that a carpenter uses the right tool for the job, as knowledge workers we too should use the right tool for the job.

Sometimes, as in this case, the tool is the methodology, not so much the actual tools used. The tools I use can be completely different to the tools another will use. It’s the process, the methodology that matters.

Investing the time to clarify how we process a thing pays off over time.

Written on July 5, 2020