This post is one of series I’m writing about how to get the most from your mobile devices. I talked about which apps to use and how to set them up here and I showed you how to take notes using your mobile devices in this post.
In this post, I’m going to be exploring what you can do to stay on top of your emails. The post is divided into three sections.
- Five golden rules of email management
- Tactics for reducing the number of emails you get
- Tactics for managing your inbox
I think it’s worth talking about this before jumping straight into the tactics. If you’d rather cut to the chase and go straight to managing email you can by clicking here.
1. Five Golden Rules Of Email Management
- Empty your inbox at the end of each day(Inbox zero)
- Never send an email when a phone call or conversation would be better
- Never send an email longer than five sentences
- Always put the purpose of your email in a clear message header
- Never copy other people in unless absolutely necessary and never write a reply all response.
1. In Box Zero
I don’t manage this every day, but at least once a week I clear my inbox out. I follow David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) method when I do this.
- If it’s something I can deal with right now with minimal time, I do it now
- If I can immediately delegate it to someone else do that now.
- If it’s not important and I don’t need it, I delete it.
The ones I’ve got left are the ones I’ve got to take action on. I’ll show you how I move these actionable emails out of my email inbox and into my task manager later in this post.
2. Never Email When A Conversation Is Needed
There’s nothing worse than a prolonged backwards and forward on email. It’s OK to send an email asking for a conversation, but don’t have the conversation on email. Chances are you might miss an important non-verbal cue or you might misunderstand what you’ve agreed.
3. Limit Your Email To 5 Sentences Or Less
If you need longer than 5 sentences to get your message across, you need a meeting. I put a statement at the bottom of all my emails, which helps maintain my accountability for doing this myself.
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
I’m trying to make email less of a burden. I promise not to send an email when a telephone conversation/meeting would work better.
Please use the subject line of your email as a to-list item (verb the noun with the subject) e.g. Prepare a report on Car Parking
The hyperlink is a site dedicated to spreading the philosophy of short, focused emails.
To change your signature in Airmail:
- Preferences (cmd,)
- Click on the gear wheel
- Signature tab
Then write your new signature in the box below.
4. Always State The Purpose In The Header
Do everyone a favour and out the reason for email in the header. Don’t write “RE: Meeting On Tuesday.” That doesn’t help the recipient.
Write something specific like this instead:
“Can I add Project Finance To Our Agenda On Tuesday Please?“
The formula to use is:
We should assume that everyone has the same problem with just too many emails. If you make it a little easier for them by doing this, maybe they’ll return the favour.
5. Never Copy People In (If Possible)
One of the curses of my inbox is that I’m continually copied in on emails from other people. I’ve got a rule set up in Outlook to manage this.
The rule automatically puts copy emails into a folder marked “Copy Emails”. I then send an auto-respond email message like this:
I get a lot of emails and I have set up a rule which automatically puts copy emails into a Copy Email folder. I give priority to emails in my inbox and will get to the copy emails later.
If you need me to take action urgently or you need a prompt reply, please email me directly.
Thanks for understanding”.
This is a way of training other people who have poor email behaviour to modify their behaviour, at least in relation to you.
If you need to send an email to someone, you should send it to them. If you’re copying someone in, make it clear in the body of the email what you want from the person you’ve copied in. The worst email crime is to click on a reply all. All this does is fuel the email fire. Just reply to the author and if you need to let other people know, send them an email directly.
OK, I’ve got that off my chest. Let’s have a look at tactics for reducing the number of emails you get.
2. Tactics For Reducing The Number Of Emails You Get
It’s no wonder email sometimes feels like it’s out of control. Here’s some data from a recent McKinsey Report.
- Every second the world sends 250 million emails.
- In a recent survey, more than 90 percent of the workers admitted they checked personal emails at work and 87 percent looked at business emails outside of working hours.
- The workers questioned in the poll estimated they spend 6.3 hours a day checking emails, with 3.2 hours devoted to work emails and 3.1 hours to personal messages.
- Nearly 80 percent said they look at emails before going into the office.
- 30 percent said they checked their inbox while still in bed in the morning.
- Half of the respondents also monitored emails during their vacations.
- The numbers were even higher for 18-34-year-olds, with 45 percent opening emails upon waking up.
- More than a quarter of millennials also admitted checking emails while driving.
- Forty percent said they had tried a self-imposed email detox, of which 87 percent lasted an average of five days.
- When asked about the most annoying thing about emails, 28 percent said it was scrolling down too far to read the entire message.
- Nearly 40 percent of workers also said they would prefer to get fewer emails.
There’s an infographic at the end of this post summarising this madness.
Here are two services that can help you fight back.
1. Unroll Me
This is a software solution that can dramatically reduce the number of emails you receive. Unroll Me is a service that scours your email account for subscriptions to newsletters and the like. When I first started using this service you can see that I had 564 subscriptions. This meant that any one of those could land in my inbox each and every day.
Once you’ve signed up you will be presented with a long list of your email subscriptions. Beside each subscription, there are three choices. You can choose to:
- Add to Roll Up
- Keep In Inbox.
The Roll Up is a simple yet powerful solution which combines newsletters and other subscription-based emails into a single email each day. Now rather than opening several emails, you only need to open one and glance at it to see if there’s anything there you’d like to take action on.
Unsubscribe does exactly what you expect it to do. Its presented to you in a much easier format than those tiny Unsubscribe messages at the bottom of each separate subscription. It also removes the requirement to click through to a web browser to complete the unsubscribe process. You can zap through a huge number of emails this way in next to no time.
From time to time its worth review your Roll Up messages. If you find you’re not reading any of them consistently, it’s time to Unsubscribe.
SaneBox is a tool which takes a little bit of getting used to. It uses clever algorithms to triage your emails based on your previous email management behaviour. The software provides some additional mailboxes which are added to your email client. The first one, which is automatically switched on when you start is SaneLater.
SaneLater automatically files incoming emails into this inbox if it believes they do not need your immediate attention. The first time it does this you will receive an email asking you to review the way it has handled this process.
When you open the SaneLater mailbox you can decide whether these are genuinely ‘read later when I feel like it material’ or if they really belong in your inbox. If you conclude a message should be in your inbox, just drag it back into your inbox and next time SaneBox will remember what to do.
There are additional boxes you can switch on by going to the web-based SaneBox dashboard. These include:
SaneNews: Use this to deal with any newsletters that creep outside of Unroll Me.
SaneNextWeek: I don’t use this one because I use the Snooze feature in Airmail. If for some reason you’re not using Airmail, putting an email in here will remove it from your inbox and then make it reappear one week later.
SaneNoReplies: This is a handy one. If you have sent an email out, this will keep emails in this box which haven’t been replied to. It keeps them for four weeks. It’s a really useful way to track and chase responses you are waiting for. Just scan the box once a day and take action as needed.
SaneTomorrow: This works just like SaneNextWeek, just that your email will reappear tomorrow rather than next week.
SaneBlackHole: This is brilliant. If you ever get an email from someone you never want to hear from again, put that email here. SaneBlackHole will then automatically put email messages from that sender into your email Trash. If you make a mistake, just visit your training page and remove the training. Unlike when other pieces of training are removed or changed, emails already placed into your trash will not be restored to your inbox.
Note: SaneBlackHole is not used for Spam! It is meant to be used for a legitimate email from people or services that you don’t want to see or hear from anymore. Please mark “real Spam emails” as Spam or Junk in your email client/webmail (usually that means moving those emails into your Spam or Junk folder).
3. Tactics For Managing Your Inbox
Airmail has a number of features built in which will help to thin out your inbox. These are available on iOS by using the Action List (long, left swipe) and on OSX by clicking the down arrow on the email circled in red below.
The Action List in Airmail has a host of useful actions which can reduce clutter in your inbox. These include:
- Snooze: Remove the email and return it when you want to see it.
- Move To: Put it somewhere else, outside of your inbox.
- Unsubscribe: One click unsubscribe if by any chance anything is still sneaking through your other unsubscribe protection.
- Spam: Speaks for itself.
Review Your In Box
Try and define a set time(s) to do this. I clear my inbox each day before I go home so I know I’ll get to my inbox then. I generally go in once or twice a day in addition in case anything urgent has appeared.
Each time I visit my goal is to triage emails. This is how I do it.
- Quick skim down to see what’s there.
- Delete anything that I obviously don’t need to read.
- Read anything important.
- If I can reply immediately, do so.
- If I need to forward it, do so.
- If I need to take action later, send it to OmniFocus.
- If I need to keep it, decide where it will go.
- Read the remaining email and decide whether to delete, forward, archive, file or send to OmniFocus or Evernote.
- My inbox should now be empty.
How To Manage Emails That Need Actioning
Your email inbox is not the right place to store anything which needs an action to be taken. Instead of keeping emails that you need to act on in your inbox, move them straight into OmniFocus. OmniFocus is where you manage all of your tasks.
You can easily send an email straight to OmniFocus. To make this happen you’ll need the secret mail drop OmniFocus email address I showed you in Part 1.
To forward to OmniFocus:
- Long swipe left on the message you want to send to OmniFocus
- Scroll down to “Forward”
- Type in your OmniFocus mail drop email address
- Your email is now waiting for you in your OmniFocus inbox.
How To Keep Emails For Reference
There are occasions when you need to keep an email for future reference. There are three basic choices available.
- Archive the email and rely on search to find it again when you need it.
- Create a label, which is what Airmail calls folders and put it there.
- Save your email into Evernote.
I use all three of these tactics. I archive any email I don’t want to delete, so I know I can always search for something later. This works well but has some limitations – I might not recall I got the email, or I might forget what it was about. This makes the search a bit unreliable.
When I want to keep something and I’m sure I want to be sure I will quickly find it, then the solution is to file it. In Airmail I do this by creating a small number of folders, called labels in Airmail.
To create a label in Airmail do this:
- Tap the menu icon (3 horizontal lines, top left corner).
- Tap settings
- Select the email account you want to create the label in.
- Scroll down to “Labels”
- Tap Labels
- Tap + to create your new label.
To move an email into the folder that you’ve just labelled do this:
- Long swipe left
- Tap “Move To”
- Select the label you just created
- Your email will now be tucked away into this folder.
I might want to keep an email as a reference document or for some other stand-alone purpose. One example of this is emails that have instructions or guidance in them. For these emails, I generally send them to Evernote
To move an email into Evernote, you’ll need the secret mail drop email address I showed you here.
To move the email into Evernote do this:
- Long swipe left
- Tap Forward
- Enter Evernote email address
- Your email will now be in your default Evernote notebook.
If you implement the tactics for reducing emails together with the simple email processing advice, you’ll be amazed by how few emails are left that you actually have to deal with. By using the 5 Golden Rules, then deploying the tactics for reducing the number of emails you get, you’ll make the final step of beating your email monster easier to achieve.