Email is the OG. Being able to send a message to someone on the other side of the planet for free and within a few minutes was truly mind-blowing back in the eighties. It’s still pretty amazing now when you think about it.
More impressive still is that it hasn’t really changed at all in the past forty odd years. The fundamentals have remained more or less the same. It has endured. The fact that it has been pretty much universally adopted tells you all you need to know.
In 2020, there were over 300 billion emails sent every day. Yep, that’s billion. With a ‘b’.
Everyone uses it. Except my kids, but when they aren’t kids any more, even they will have to start spending time with email. They’ll realise that email is essential for creating accounts online and various other seemingly pointless, grown-up things.
Do you see yourself as a digital minimalist? I tip my hat to you. Maybe you find it annoying that email is one of the few things that you just can’t manage without?
You can have as many email addresses as you like, create new ones and discard old ones as you see fit. If you have an email address, you also have an inbox too. You can even use your inbox to collect all the information that you come across in your daily life. There are great little apps, utilities, and web extensions (like Captio or Braintoss for example) that make this incredible easy and convenient but even without those, everyone knows how to email themselves, right?
The point being, if you want to make email the centre of your workflow, the hub of your digital life, you can — easily. Your email software will most likely integrate beautifully with your to-do list and calendars. Starting from your email makes a lot of sense when you are trying to organise your life, whether it’s work, personal stuff, or both.
Newsletters and the like are a great way to intentionally receive content that is valuable to you. Email can actually help feed your reading list and ensure that you are keeping up to date with whatever it is that floats your boat.
Here are 5 tips which will help you make sure that you are really making email work for you.
Turn them off. All of them, all the time. Urgent? They’ll call. That message letting you know your house is burning down is not coming via email.
You do need to make sure that if you have a customer support email, that you have a separate system for this, otherwise you’ll feel like you need to keep checking your email.
In my business, customer emails go to help-desk software and then an alert gets sent to a specific Slack channel whenever a customer gets in touch. The enquiry gets dealt with without needing to open email software.
Tip: If you really can’t help checking your email all the time, you may want to look at something like Freedom.
Having a strict process and following it every time just makes the whole thing a lot easier and will give you a sense of being in control.
I try to keep things simple. Anything from a list I didn’t sign up to gets deleted after hitting the ‘unsubscribe’ link if there is one. If there isn’t a link, it gets marked as spam.
Anything that I can deal with in under thirty seconds, I get that done there and then. This is typically things like forwarding an invoice to our bookkeeping software or sending something on to the right person in our team.
Everything else goes into one of three folders.
- Action. This is for emails that I will deal with in the next few days or for emails that contain information that relate to a meeting that I have coming up.
- Waiting. These are emails that I can’t resolve because I’m waiting for someone else to do something.
- Everything Else. This is my filing system. You don’t need hundreds of folders. Search functionality is good enough these days that it is easy to find archived emails.
That’s it. Make sure your inbox is completely clear at the end of each session, you’ll feel great.
Tip: Be brutal. If you’re not certain, delete. If it’s important, it’ll find it’s way back to you anyway.
You need to be intentional, and your schedule will depend on how email fits into your workflow.
I open my email software once each day, around half an hour before the end of my working hours, and I process all my incoming messages as described above. I review my ‘Action’ and ‘Waiting’ folders too as part of planning my work for the next day. Maybe I’ll fire off a quick ‘Any updates on this?’ kind of message to someone that I’m waiting for, and I might schedule something from my Action folder for the next day.
I usually spend ten to fifteen minutes in my inbox each day.
Tip: Figure out the absolute minimum number of email sessions it is possible for you to have in one day, and start there. Try to stick to this routine for at least a couple of weeks.
4. There are better ways to communicate with your team.
Don’t use email for team communications. It’s not well suited to keeping track of long threads with lots of different people involved. Use Slack or something else instead. If you make sure that emails are not used within your business, you’ll find your inbox infinitely easier to stay on top of.
Tip: I also completely avoid emails with multiple recipients. I just skim read and then ignore them. Nothing bad has ever happened.
5. Rejoice in ending your day well.
Seriously. This is how I wrap up my day. Inbox empty, all my work for the next day scheduled in. It means I can draw a line under that day, which helps me shift into a different mode where I can fully engage with something different.
It also means that I can get on with the next day without my plans getting hijacked.
Even if your routine varies, find a system that works for you and stick with it. People will get used to waiting a little longer for you to respond to them, and they’ll appreciate the fact that when your response lands, it’s probably going to be a thoughtful one.
Email is here to stay, so you may as well make your peace with it. Figure out how to make it work for you, and maybe you’ll even grow to enjoy using it. Maybe even as much as we did in the eighties.