I wrote a lot about how I manage my inbox several years back (see Making Email Efficient, My Email Bliss, and Not All Email is Created Equal). The methodologies outlined in those posts served me well for years, however a lot has changed since then: I receive a lot more email, we’ve grown quite a bit, we have a team of employees, and I’ve gotten married and bought a house. Re-reading those posts years later, it’s almost laughable how little applies to me in 2014. Towards the end of last year, I realized I needed an overhaul. I needed to recreate a system that enabled me to get all of the good things out of email – namely quick asynchronous communication with a lot of people regarding important topics – without all of the negative distractions that come along with email.
Slowly but surely a lot of unnecessary email had crept into my inbox. Here’s what I did to regain control:
- Revised all of my Gmail filters – any non-critical routine email that I want to keep is filtered. If I need to see each one that comes through, I keep it unread so I’ll see a bold (1) in the folder. If I don’t need to see each message but want to keep it for archival purposes, I mark it as unread automatically. If I only want to check something once a week or once a month, I mark it as read and then create a recurring weekly/monthly Remember the Milk task to check that label.
- Unsubscribed from most newsletters – during the filtering process, when I identified an email that I wasn’t benefiting from, I unsubscribed.
- Auto-forwarded emails to our employees – if they’re now taking care of a specific type of email, say an alert from AdWords, why do I need to see it? If they can’t subscribe themselves, I automatically filter the message, mark it as read, and forward it on to them.
- Created intelligent reports for myself – I spent a day programming alerts and weekly/monthly reports for myself for DI & LP. In some cases I was able to stop reviewing dozens of emails by summing them up into a weekly digest. I also was able to stop routinely checking for bugs/issues by setting up more robust alerts for myself. When you first build a feature you want to see everything and anything in case there is an issue. After a while though, I know what I’m looking for and can save myself a lot of time by only getting an email when a specific situation happens.
- Created a Pure Adapt Email Policy – somewhere along the way we started getting solicited at an unmanageable rate. If someone sends us a pitch and it’s clear that they’re sending the same pitch to dozens/hundreds/thousands of other companies, we’re not replying. If someone takes the time to write a custom email, we will. I’m adhering to these rules myself now as well.
- Created a “Cold Pitches” label – when I get a pitch like I referenced above, I archive it with the label “Cold Pitches”. This allows me to track follow-ups. If someone bothers me enough, I’ll mark the messages as spam and create a filter to send all future messages to spam. I’m creating my own “blacklist”, similar to the famous PR Blacklist Gmail filter.
- Set up “Never send is to Spam” filters – anyone I routinely email with gets one of these filters. That enables…
- Stopped checking spam – I set up a recurring task to skim it monthly, otherwise I’m not checking it unless I suspect there is something I need in there.
- Got rid of my spam-inducing email addresses – we published our email addresses on many of our older sites like SportsLizard a long time ago. Simply changing or deleting those no-longer used email addresses which forward over to me has drastically reduced my spam.
Whew. That seems like a lot, but it was all necessary. The majority of the email that hits my inbox now is either from my business partners, our employees, or something that is important for me to see. I took my time with the changes above so the results were gradual, however the net benefit has been huge.
I’m in and out of email quicker. I’m less stressed when I open up my inbox. It’s easier to check on my phone if I need to because the inbox only contains the important emails. I’m able to reach inbox zero most mornings in less than 30 minutes and then keep it that way with a ~10 minute check every ~3 hours.
Most important of all: I feel back in control of my email. I feel like I’m getting all of the benefits without any of the frustrating, time-wasting, distractions.