Developing A Personal Email Management Strategy

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Gregory Heller


December 7, 2008

Developing A Personal Email Management Strategy

Last week I emptied my inbox completely. And from this point forward I pledge (to myself I guess) that I will only "check" email if I am going to "deal" with my email. Every email that lands in my inbox and is not filtered into a specific mailbox will be dealt with: archived, deleted, responded to. I was motivated to this undertaking and commitment by a blog post, Email = EFAIL, I learned of via Twitter. I'm not going to repeat all the pearls of wisdom from that article, I recommend that you read it. After re-tweeting the article, Aaron pointed me to Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero talk, which in turn lead me to the 43 Folders Inbox Zero series which I am working my way through. Let me share my new strategy:
  • I will check email only when I have the time to review it
  • My inbox only shows unread messages
  • Filters will move read mail out of my inbox after 3 days and into the appropriate folder if I don't do it first.
  • I am using 3 flags: ToDo, Important, Later and associated saved searches so that I can pull up these specific lists.
The other thing that I plan on doing is transitioning even more towards using Delicious and Twitter to share links with people rather than using email. I encourage others to do the same. I'll let you know how it goes over the coming weeks. And please post any links or resources or your own strategies for dealing with email overload. Find out more in Email Management Strategy Phase 2: IMAP with Gmail iPhone and Thunderbird.

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I've had good results this year by creating a new user account with zero messages in it -- then keeping the old account to go back to when necessary, every few days at first and (hopefully) finally not at all. This is my first complete refresh in years, and the software (Apple Mail) seems to work better even for reasons in addition to getting rid of the gigabyte-sized archives. There were software problems years ago, and errors may have accumulated in the ancient Mail database, even with compacting. Also, I brought only half my email addresses over, and will notify people and close out the others over time. Some go back to before there was spam so they were not protected - and have become firehoses of spam into my computer. One of those had to be kept, but it's now protected with Postini first and then a Bayesian filter. Postini gets some particularly troublesome stuff that the Bayesian can't. But it has to be watched; it can filter out some nonprofit and progressive email that never spams. You can add the sender to your whitelist in each case when this happens. -- John S. James
I've just declared email bankruptcy. Maybe not the most elegant solution, but over the holidays, I got so behind that there was no way to catch up. Just a quick note out to all my contacts asking them to resend anything important that they may have sent over the last month, then mark all as read. Presto! Zero unread messages. I've already received a few re-sends too. One forwarded from a friend in the UK who claims that after seeing how easy it was for me to declare email bankruptcy, he is flirting with declaring moral bankruptcy. That, I would not recommend. -AJ