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Blogging Rhythms – Clearing the Inbox

Posted By Darren Rowse 8th of December 2005 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Every morning when I get up there is a all manner of things waiting for me in my inbox. This morning there were 251 emails (it was about 6 hours between checking them – this number doesn’t include the 200+ emails that came in telling me about deleted comment spam). The morning inbox clearing process is taking an increasing amount of time. It has this strange way of setting the agenda and tone of the day. I always approach it with a mixture of apprehension and excitement at the unknown things it might contain.

In the inbox this morning was:

  • 100 or so comments from my blogs (a few of them spam that got through the spam killer plugins that needed my attention)
  • a couple of blogging opportunities to follow up (I’m always amazed at the array of interesting projects people are working on)
  • two requests for interviews (one podcast one, another via email)
  • a load of b5 correspondence from b5 bloggers and directors
  • 80 or so news alerts and press releases on different keywords that I follow in Google News and Topix (yeah I know they do RSS, but there are a few words I like to follow via email as well)
  • one or two hate emails (unfortunately a daily thing these days)
  • a couple of encouraging emails (I try to focus more on these than the previous category of emails)
  • 15 ‘can you check out my blog/new product’ emails (emails that I find it hard to keep up with these days)
  • a number of suggestions from blog readers on how I might improve my blog or topics they’d like to see me cover
  • quite a few questions from my different blog’s readers (I get a lot of these on my digital camera blog)
  • a few suggestions of links I might like to check out.

Here’s three of the links suggested today from ProBlogger readers:

It was a pretty typical array of email to deal with. In fact it was probably a bit lighter than normal, although since daylight savings came in I find that the first couple of hours of the day tend to bring in the biggest numbers of emails each day.

Dealing with email can be a pretty overwhelming experience so I’m attempting to develop systems for dealing with it. I’ve slowed down the frequency that my email is checked, but also have a triage type system which I’m trying to use to help me deal with it. As it comes in I have three categories.

1. Junk – some email goes straight in the Trash. This includes spam, the majority of comments on blogs that don’t need following up but which I read to keep my finger on the pulse and a few other miscellaneous emails. I ‘junk’ around 30% of my email.

2. Respond Now – if I can deal with the email in less than 3 minutes I try to do so immediately. This includes answering simple questions, responding to comments threads that need my attention etc. This makes up about 40% of my email. The more of this that I can do in the moment the clearer my day is.

3. Later – These are emails that will take longer to respond to. They fall into two subcategories really.

a. Firstly there is ‘later today’ – these are the urgent emails that will take a bit of thought, a phone call or an IM conversation to sort out. I try to schedule these into my daily to do lists. It also includes emails that result in posts on my blog (ie when someone asks a question that I want to turn into a post, where someone suggests a topic or a link etc).

b. Secondly there are those ‘much later’ emails which could get done today if I get time but will probably have to wait a few days, weeks… and even months. These include some interview requests, bigger questions from readers etc. While I’d love to respond to every request sometimes it’s just impossible. I quite often clear these much later type emails all at once every few weeks when I take my laptop down to a local cafe where I can be offline and churn through them.

How do you deal with email? Got any productivity tips for the rest of us?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. How do you deal with email? Got any productivity tips for the rest of us?

    Options>Select>All>Move to trash

    Not really. I somehow manage to work through my five or so e-mails a day. 10 to 15 including comments, but nothing like you

  2. Lately I’ve been getting a higher than normal volume of email from a recent traffic surge. You can see what I mean if you check out my site’s Alexa graph on this page:

    Some of my tips for dealing with email efficiently…

    1. I use SpamAssassin and ClamAV on my web server, which automatically nukes most spam and viruses before I see it. These tools are essential for me.

    2. I use PocoMail as my email client, and I setup email filters to sort all incoming email into different folders. Notification-style emails are automatically marked as read, so I don’t even look at them unless there’s a problem. I’m then able to go through each inbox to handle similar types of emails in batches, based on the source.

    3. I put a notice on my web contact form that I cannot respond to questions for personal advice. I still get dozens of advice questions each day, but I don’t have the capacity to answer even a fraction of them. If there’s a good general question, I’ll address it in my blog.

    4. I plan to hire a personal assistant probably sometime in 2006 to pre-process my email for me and give me a report of the significant items once a day. I imagine at least 80% of the email I receive could be entirely handled by a competent assistant. Ideally I want to hire someone local for this role.

  3. “Terry recommends Big Brains Mean ‘Tiny Testes’ (Not blogging related but it made me think of one or two bloggers who must have massive testes!)”


    Now I’m sure I’m sure someone just told me that you would never bite back :)

  4. I have found it useful to use more than one email account, especially if I’m getting things that I can’t (yet) get via RSS. I can have all that stuff diverted to a separate (Google Mail) account and keep my main inbox fairly clear.

  5. Are you using the Getting Things Done system. I have been reading the book over the last year and it makes perfect sense. It is the getting things started part I have trouble with. :>


  6. Stuart: – no names mentioned. I’ll allow each individual to work out if it applies to themselves.

    Tom – no, I’ve heard of that sytem, but havn’t really looked into it.

  7. What you are doing is very close to this. Probably worth a read in your spare 5 minutes a day… :>

    The Book : Getting Things Done
    The Author: David Allen

    And this is an unpaid recommendation. Did not even put an Amazon Link up.

  8. […] This post was inspired by Darren Rowse’s post on managing his e-mail. […]

  9. I use Mozilla’s Thunderbird for all of my e-mail accounts, including gmail (gmail offers pop3 access, but only to the inbox, and deleting from your local inbox will not remove it from gmail’s).

    For each account, I have defined filters… …You know what, this will take a bit of time to explain, but essentially each type of e-mail is filtered (by subject, or sender) into its own folder, comment spam e-mails are deleted immediately, and thunderbird’s junk filters pick up 99.9% of my spam (of course Boxtrapper on my main e-mail account, helps a LOT).

    The full explanation, resides in a post I just wrote.

  10. There’s a free app from Microsoft called SNARF which will triage your email, assessing it by frequency of contact. I haven’t got the link to hand but you can find an post on it at http://www.microsoftweblog.com.

  11. I used to use PocoMail, but now I use Outlook and Nelson Email Organizer Pro (NEO Pro) to manage all my mail.

    It saves me loads of time and hassle.

    There is a FREE version available if you want to take a look.

  12. I just dream of the day where I have 200 emails awaiting me each morning. :o)

  13. Darren,
    To manage time, you can use Time To software. Free version is available. You can plan your day nicely. I have written a small review in my
    computer ezine . Please have a look.

  14. @Steve Pavlina,

    I use PocoMail too. Why do you need Clam AV if you run PocoMail? I have Strip HTML and Sanitize Message ON so viruses can’t “execute”, so there should be no need for an AV package. Or am I missing something?

  15. It’s pretty rough, but here’s how I do it:

    I usually get up early A.M. (about 6:00). I get some coffee going, go grab a quick shower, get dressed, then sit down with my laptop.

    After nodding off a couple of times (and having my head it the wall behind the couch), I open the Yahoo Mail page up, afraid to check the massive amounts of email I’m sure to have waiting for me.

    Sweat starts to pour down my forehead, my eyes bulge, temples throb, hands are clammy. My breathing rate increases and I can feel my heart in my throat. I just can’t contain it. I feel like i’m about to scream. But somehow, somehow, I manage to dig through that one single email message I sometimes have waiting for me, finding enough strength to reply to it, and breathing that wonderful sigh of relief.

    I stretch (from the hard work), proud of myself, and go on to other business.

    Tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.


  16. i try to knock off email in two to three seperate sessions a days. when i wake up around lunch time and then before i sleep. like you i also delete ones that look irrelevant and then answer the emails that won’t take too long to reply too. emails that require more time i flag and get back to when i have time.

    as a sidenote, hate mail can be annoying but i also believe that you wouldn’t get any hate mail if you weren’t relevant.

  17. @Robert: ClamAV runs on the web server. This means that viruses and spam are filtered at the server — before I ever download them. This greatly speeds up the process of checking email.

    It’s not a big deal if you only get a trickle of viruses and spam. If I disable server filtering and use PocoMail’s filters, it means I have to download 1000+ virus/spam emails every day. This is too much junk for PocoMail’s filters to handle in a reasonable period of time. Plus it takes a while to download hundreds of megs of viruses, even with a fast broadband connection.

  18. I should mention add that it’s possible to setup PocoMail to filter email before it gets downloaded, but it’s still slower than having server software do it for me.

  19. Interesting comments, looks like many people are using a multi-pronged attack on spam to clear down the bulk of the junk.

    I personally use a multitude of email addresses across multiple domains, ranked in importance from ‘use it anytime, anyplace, anywhere’, through to ‘trusted close friends and colleagues’. With hotmail and gmail acting as the catch-all check it once-a-day with a quick scan, to the trusted addresses that haven’t hit the spammer lists which can be checked every 60 minutes.

    Hate mail is something that I get one or two of a week, mainly from people who feel snubbed at not having their photos accepted for my main website. I try and placate these people by offering suggestions as to what they can do to improve on their submission etc, but mostly it falls on deaf ears. Occasionally you get the totally random hate mail that you wonder what you’ve done etc, these get framed on my wall – nothing like the motivation of some moron hating you to spur you onwards and upwards :D

    Seriously, email is getting the swamping stage – if you don’t have a plan, you’ll drown in the stuff. Muist admit, I’m happy to get around 50 legitiamate emails a day, its a shame the other 300 hundred (that I actually see) are generally worthless, apart from the days when I feel my manhood is a little on the thin side and could do with an extra 9″ of girth…..

  20. What is the site of your digital camera blog?
    I couldn’t find it in your links
    I have one too…


  21. My primary spam problem originates from comment spams from my blogs. Ever since I started using forms on all my websites instead of giving my contact email the amount of spam drastically reduced. A year-and-a-half ago I stopped using all the email IDs that were receiving massive amounts of spam and started using the forms instead. For forums and comment purposes like this one, I use this particular email ID and I think it does get its share of spam but Gmail promptly segregates it.

  22. […] If you read Darren Rowse’s description of an average day you might want to think twice about that assumption! […]

  23. Well, lately I’d like to roll up in a ball and hide.

    It’s recently exploded.

    Press releases, review my product… etc.

    I have so many advertising income opportunities gone un-replied-to, THAT makes me sad, too. I’m GOING to go through THOSE next weekend. It’s a must.

    With a fashion/shoe blog and a handbag blog, occasionally, I get duplicates that are even actually authentic. Sigh!

    (But I’m going to get a free handbag!)

  24. Yeah, I NEED a “virtual” assistant, but that is expensive, I believe.

    And I’ve implemented tougher filtering and I no longer offer my actual e-mail address with a link to people. It’s a form with SET subject topics.

  25. Marilyn says: 10/11/2006 at 11:18 pm

    Is there a way to delete everything from your inbox all at once?

  26. I am using two gmail accounts: One for the contacts through my main website, and one for email I initiate (groups, personal, ministry, etc). In the main one, I use the gmail categories. Then I can quickly find one when I need it. Some of my emails skip the inbox and go right into their little category homes so I can deal with them in “bulk”, something I learned from a book.

    I would love to see more great ideas. I still need to get faster at this part!
    Malia Russell

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