Queries for good email management strategies

(Please note, because of the time that has passed since I wrote this article, it may no longer reflect my current views or the most accurate and complete information available on this subject.)

Inbox ZeroThe new calendar year is a great time to think about how you manage your personal and work/organizational email accounts.  I know that I benefit from the opportunity to purge or rotate out some old folders, delete large attachments just sitting around taking up space, and think about how well my setup is working for me in my daily workflow.

There are a lot of different strategies out there and each person has to find what works best for them.  Here are a few queries that might help you think about how well your strategy is working for you:

  1. Are you able to work through your e-mail inbox in a reasonable amount of time every day, respond to or delegate time-sensitive questions/comments, convert messages into to-do items, or otherwise file them away on the first pass through?
  2. Do you make good use of e-mail filters available in your mail reading program to highlight/tag/sort messages in ways that make you more productive?
  3. Are there mailing lists or other regular notifications that you could unsubscribe from or have re-routed, to minimize the e-mail that you just delete or file on a regular basis?
  4. Do you have a system for filing email that allows you to quickly and intuitively retrieve messages (sent and received) that you need to review without a lot of searching or jumping around to different folders?
  5. Are you purging or archiving old messages in a way that makes sense for your role and your use of email?
  6. Are your auto-"check for new mail" settings calibrated to (or turned off for) being productive? (i.e. Do you really need to know about a new message the instant it comes in, or would it be okay to review new messages once an hour?  A few times per day?!?)

If you're not employing any particular email management strategy, may I recommend the "Inbox Zero" series of articles from 43 Folders?  There's a great video of a presentation about this approach to get you started.

What other tips or strategies do you use to keep email useful to you as a tool, instead of getting overwhelmed by it?

One thought on “Queries for good email management strategies

  1. One feature I have found really useful is gMail's "Archive" feature. It works well with a GTD mindset:

    E-mail comes in, and you read it, then apply the appropriate labels and either "delete" (if it's irrelevant) or archive, which gets it out of the inbox.

    The only things I leave in the inbox are things that I need to be reminded of (like pending bills, travel info, etc). Once I've dealt with an email (reading, replying, whatever), I can just Archive it, knowing full well that any future replies will bring it back into the inbox. 🙂

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