August 10, 2011


Email is a beautiful thing for communication. But improperly managed it can be a time waster, zapper of productivity and a sucker of your life energy. It is an unfortunate thing that something so useful is so abused and has become part of our information overload. Fortunately with a minimalist touch, a little pre-emption and organization your mailbox can be brought under control.

Below are 17 tips for getting your email under control so you can be more productive:

  1. Read my article – Learn how to setup your email like a pro. Using the recommended setup in the article will allow you to reduce how many times you deal with the same message when using multiple devices. Further in those moments where you are waiting on someone or taking the bus, you can be managing your mailbox allowing yourself more productive time when you get home or to work.
  2. Use less accounts – Keep the number of emails accounts you access to a minimum. If you have more than one account, take advantage of software and devices that offer unified access to all your email accounts. Also try forwarding the other email accounts to the main account you use the most.
  3. Be stingy with your address – Avoid giving out your email address unnecessarily. The less people or automated systems know about your email addresses, the less email you have to contend with.
  4. Use spam filters – Setup spam detection to remove unwanted and obvious spam.
  5. Batch it – Reduce the number of times you access your email in a day. Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek recommends checking your email no more than twice a day. That maybe too little for some, but his point is well taken. You will save more time by processing more messages at once than processing a few here and there through out the day. It would be a good idea to turn off notifications or close your email client altogether.
  6. Unsubscribe –  Get yourself off as many email lists as you can. You probably don’t click through or read 90% of what you subscribe to. Each of those automated messages that you have to see and delete, but never act on take a few seconds each which can add up to a few minutes a day or more. What could you do with an extra hour each week?
  7. Alternate email address for junk mail – If you absolutely must keep yourself on a bunch of email lists. Create a free account with Yahoo Mail or Gmail and send all subscribed emails your alternate address and stop clogging your main email account with distractions and diversions. Give this alternate address to people who insist on forwarding chain emails or other email you rather not deal with.
  8. Touch it once – Deal with emails as soon as you get to them, don’t keep coming back to them. Do whatever action items are needed or send whatever responses are required where possible. Use prioritization to quickly sort through messages that don’t need more than a few seconds of your time. For example- most chain, junk and spam emails can be spotted by subject line or the first sentence or two in the preview, delete these right away before touching anything that might be  more important or time consuming. Then start at the top and work your way through responding, forwarding and filing as necessary to emails that can be dealt with in 5 minutes or less. Obviously not all email can be touched once, but using the principle will go a long way to making you more efficient with your time.
  9. Organize – Create folders with sensible, usable labels to move emails to that need to be kept.
  10. Set maintenance intervals – Pick a time once a week, month or year and make it a habit to search your folders to remove items that are no longer needed. Check the sent items, deleted items, drafts, junk, etc. Remember that deleting emails simply moves them to the deleted/trash folder where they must be purged to be completely removed. I like to leave a years worth email in my sent items and deleted items in case I have to go back for anything. Otherwise on a yearly basis I clean out my sent items and deleted items for anything over a year old or that has large attachments.
  11. Attachments – Save attachments to your computer and  remove emails with attachments to save space and reduce clutter.
  12. Holding cell – Create a folder called “holding” or something like it to move messages into. This folder is for items that you cannot or do not want to deal with right away. This will keep them from cluttering your inbox. Then once a month or some other interval of your choosing revisit the email in the holding folder. Delete emails you know you won’t do anything about, and see if you can do anything about the rest that are waiting for your attention. You will find your holding folder will consistently fill up with email you will most likely never miss. Look for emails you receive consistently and consistently do not act upon or read- then unsubscribe.
  13. Automate – Take advantage of any automation your client software offers to filter and move messages to designated folders. This is useful for dealing with items that you don’t really need to see, but need to keep. Or use automated filters to move important messages to a folder that you will check regularly leaving everything else to another time.
  14. Use blind carbon copy where possible – When sending emails to multiple recipients, use BCC  to cut down on the number of replies that hit your mailbox from people using “reply all”. The other recipients will also appreciate not getting reply all emails with responses that mean nothing to them.
  15. Break the chain – Don’t be a forwarder of chain emails first and foremost. Second eliminate chain emails by asking others not to send it to you. 99% percent of forwarded chain emails tend to be exaggerated, partially untrue or simply untrue. They are time-wasters to read in most cases, and time wasters to process and delete. The best approach is to ask those who forward chain messages to stop and limit what they send to meaningful and important emails. If that doesn’t work or you don’t want to rock the boat, take advantage of the junk folder and automatically divert chain or joke emails there. Check the junk folder from time to time to rescue wanted items and purge the rest.
  16. To do list – For many people, the inbox has become a “to do list” of sorts which causes clutter in the inbox. Not to mention those messages  tend to rot at the back of our minds. Resist the temptation to do this. Use a calendering or to-do list software to schedule action items for these emails. Outlook is perfect for this.
  17. Lead by example – If you practice good email etiquette, this will go a long way to getting others to follow your example and the world will be a happier place :-)

Have over tips not listed here? Share with me in the comments areas below.


Article by Chris Harris @ Between the Temples. Image credit: Robert S. Donovan

Previous post:

Next post: