Over the weekend I decided to get serious about my email situation. I’d been sitting on an inbox with close to 10,000 items in it for months and was feeling more and more stressed by the day.
I posted on Twitter that I needed to do something about it and then decided to take action. Within 24 hours I had an inbox with no items in it (well momentarily) and have been able to maintain that ever since (OK, so it’s only three days, but it’s been a very busy three days).
A number of people asked me to give an update on what I did – here’s a very quick summary (by the way – thanks to the many Twitter followers who offered advice):
I moved all my email activity to Gmail
To do this I forwarded all of my previous email addresses and contact forms so that they now arrive in my Gmail inbox. Previously I’d use Mail.app (mac) to fetch email from 5 different email addresses and synced it with Mac.com using IMAP so I could retrieve it from two computers. Now I’m using Gmail online rather than a client to sort them all. It does mean I can only access email while online – but I think this in itself will be helpful as it decreases the time I am using email.
Email 101 lessons always say that you should unsubscribe to as many newsletters as you can. I was getting about 50 a week, most of which I didn’t EVER read. The first thing I did on Sunday was to unsubscribe from most of them and delete the majority of past ones that I’d put in my ‘read one day’ folder.
I’m using Gmail’s ‘filtering’ and ‘labels heavily
I’d heard for some time now how good Gmail was at filtering but until the weekend I’d not investigated it. I so wish someone had sat me down earlier and forced me to do it. On Sunday I sat down for an hour and went through every email that I’d received for the last week. I didn’t do this to catch up on email but to get a filtering system in place.
The problem that I faced previously is that I get close to 1000 emails a day. Some of them are comments from my blogs, some are social media friend requests, some are reader questions, some are metrics reports, some of them are newsletters, some are from b5 colleagues…. the list goes on. The issue I had was that there’s so much clutter that I was spending an hour or so each day just filtering through them all. I did have Mail.app filter out some of them but only had about 6 ‘rules’ set up.
Now I have over 50 ‘filters’ in my Gmail account (and I continue to add more as more emails come in). I’m using filters in two ways:
1. Stopping myself from ever seeing unnecessary email – so much of the email that I get is just not important at all – or at the least it’s email that I might want to keep but don’t need to read immediately (if at all). For example, so much of the social media site email that I get from ‘friends’ is superfluous. While I’d like to occasionally check friend requests on facebook I don’t need to see them as they come in. I could switch off notifications altogether but as I do like to quickly scan them each day I now filter any with a command to ‘skip my inbox’ (so they are archived but never seen in my inbox) and ‘labled’ as ‘social media’. This means that I can quickly scan them all (along with hundreds of less important other social media requests and messages) quickly once or twice a week.
I do the same now with notifications from Aweber when someone subscribes to a newsletter, notifications from the DPS forum which tell me when a new thread is started and the same with blog comments (although I scan this more regularly.
In this way I still have an record of each of these emails archived so that I can access them – but they never hit my inbox.
2. Labeling other Semi Important Email for Quick Archiving – not all email can be archived quite so quickly. There are other types of emails that I like to see, even though I don’t need to respond to them. What I’ve done with this is to filter them differently. I still label them automatically as they come in – but let them hit my inbox. The advantage of this is that they’re already labeled so that once I’ve read them all I have to do is quickly read them when they arrive and then do a one click on ‘archive’ to have them put in the right label area so that I can access them quickly later. When I get a notification that someone has put a new ad on my Job Board (an email that I never have to respond to but like to know about) I get the notification but can have it archived within half a second rather than having to manually label it. It only saves a second or two but when you do it hundreds of times a day it counts!
Identify the Important Stuff
I have some emails that I consider extra specially important. Email from my wife, boss (at b5), email from my contact forms on my blogs, any email with the words ‘I hate you’….. You know the kind.
With this type of email I again use filtering but instead of hiding it I highlight it. So any email coming from my wife’s email address, or with certain words in it, or a certain subject line (eg my contact form’s) I can set up with a label like ‘important’. I could also assign it with a ‘star’ (like a flag in many email clients). Even more ‘attention grabbing’ is the ability to assign labels with colors. So for example I’ve assigned the label ‘ProBlogger Email’ (all email from my contact form) as having a bright ORANGE label to catch my attention so that I can quickly see them in my inbox when i wake up in the morning.
I mentioned earlier that my inbox had 10,000 items in it. How was I going to get that number down? Well the cool thing about filtering is that it can be retrospective. I was able to get the numbers in my inbox down by well over half by just applying all my filters for non important items to all my old emails too.
I also was able to identify the important ones and clear a lot of them. This left a few thousand…. which…. well…. I ‘archived’. Yep, it’s cheating a little but here’s the thing. Those emails went back for a year. If I hadn’t dealt with an email from someone that’s a year old then it’s too late. I did keep them all in case I need to do a search – but sometimes a guy needs to draw a line in the sand and my line was on Sunday evening at 11pm!
If you sent me an email prior to that and you have not got a reply to it – my sincere apologies but it got caught in the great email culling of 2008 and I’d invite you to try again – it’s much more likely to be read now… I promise… at least for the next few days.
Other Stuff I love about Gmail:
- One click ‘report spam’ that actually learns
- Threaded viewing of related emails (conversations) – Mail.app has it but Gmails is so intuitive and useable
- Search that works… fast
- Chat – I’ve only used it once but it was handy. First impressions of it are that it’s useful but that it’ll need further refinement
- Shortcuts – I’m learning one a day – I figure in a month I’ll know most of them off by heart
I’ve got a long way to go with Gmail but after a few days of using it it’s saving me hours each day. I’m also not completely satisfied with the way I’m managing my email and think I’ll probably add some new labels to help me manage emails that I still need to deal with less urgently (perhaps a ‘ToDo’ label) – but one step at a time!
Feel free to add your own email tips in comments below – teach me friends!
PS: also check out Leo’s post with 12 rules for getting a grip on massive email.