We love email. We hate email. We deal with email everyday. Through out the years I’ve tried many ways to keep my mailbox sane. Many seek for help from a task management system. Often with this method, people track emails as todo items and treat emails themselves as merely reference material. Some email clients have taken that even further by making the client itself a hybrid task manager, popularized by Mailbox and its peers.
A rising amount of email clients started to automatically process and organize emails on user’s behalf, employing machine learning and alike. The processing may be based on an email’s type, priority, and other criteria. Such feature is sometimes called smart inbox. Spark and Inbox are two notable contenders. Even traditional email clients such as Outlook are exploring this option.
I personally do something much simpler. For that at the end of the day, email is just another communication channel. First of all, I separate my work and personal email entirely—different addresses and different clients. I don’t even have my personal account set up on my work machine and vice versa. When I absolutely need to look something up in my personal email when using my work machine, I use the web interface. Having the physical separation helps me build a clear mental separation. The cleaner context is defined, the better. The less context switching, the better.
I only subscribe to a minimal amount of newsletters. All the unsolicited ones are unsubscribed mercilessly. Marketing and promotion emails? Gone. Useless notification emails? Gone. For the ones I can never seem to find a unsubscribe button, I simply set up a rule to delete them upon arrival.
Notification. The single most distracting invention in history. To minimize the amount of notifications, I use rules to automatically mark the emails that I need but don’t need to be notified about as read. For example I do so for the newsletters I subscribed to.
I triage my inbox in batch using a GTD inspired method. If an email can be responded within 2 minutes, I usually do that right away. Otherwise I leave them in the inbox to response at a later time, and again in batch. When a long response is needed, I most likely write the response in a writing app instead of directly inside the email client. Once I respond, I archive them. I flag the sent items that I’m waiting for a response for.
I use exactly one folder besides Archive and I don’t use tags at all. The folder is called Saved, where I store things needed for upcoming events, such as concert or flight tickets. Once they are used, they go to Archive.
I believe the best way for anyone to manage their email is the way that makes them feel in control of their inbox rather than the other way around. Mine makes me feel so.