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Fighting the Email Deluge

Are you drowning in email? Join the club. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a system that helps me keep my inbox relatively under control. Some days are better than others, and I’m trying to keep improving. But here are my email thoughts.

Everybody’s got a different method for this battle. Some work, some don’t. But even among productivity gurus, there are different schools of thought that all work in their own way.

Personally, I believe in two things: 1.) inbox zero, and 2.) search. Combined, they make my email manageable.

But before I explain that, are there ways you can eliminate some of the incoming emails? Do you really need to be on some of those email newsletter lists we all subscribe to? Does a certain friend or relative forward tons of junk that just clutters up your inbox?

We have to take control. Stopping emails at the source is the first thing I suggest. See how many you can eliminate BEFORE they ever hit your inbox. Every email you receive costs you precious time.

Now for my processing thoughts:

1. I process my inbox to zero every day.

Why? Because then I know for sure that nothing slips through the cracks. Does this mean that I actually handle every task that came in? No. But I’ve at put those tasks on my to do list (where tasks belong in the first place). Email is for communicating, NOT for getting things done. Communicate, put tasks on your task list, empty the inbox, and get out.

Basically, I run through all the emails one at a time. For each email, decide which choice best fits:


Delete as much as possible. Or, if it’s only informational and no action needs to be taken, Archive it. Then you still have it in Gmail in case you need it for future reference.

Delegate any appropriate items to any employees you have (or if it’s something a spouse or partner should handle). Get it off your plate and onto someone else’s. Archive the email.

Defer things that will take more than 2 minutes to do. Put a task on your task list. Archive the email.

Do things that take less than 2 minutes. If it’s a quick email reply, hammer it out. If it’s a super quick task on someone’s case, do it. Archive the email.

At the end, you have your inbox empty and a list of larger tasks to do. You can knock them out when you have time. But the key is that you’re no longer drowning in an inbox.

Finally, you have to remember that your inbox won’t stay at zero. The best practice is to process everything in there to zero once or twice per day. Ignore the inbox the rest of the time (I’m not so good at that part). But don’t stress if the box starts filling up again, as long as you zero it out each day.

For more on this, check out Merlin Mann’s work.

2. I don’t organize email.

That’s like trying to organize a river. It’s insanity to try to put each droplet of water in a certain place. There are a million more droplets coming down the mountain at you. You’ll spend too much time organizing and not enough time doing. I rely 100% on Gmail’s search abilities. It’s *never* let me down. If I can’t find it with Gmail search, it doesn’t exist in my email.

Keep improving

Does this mean I’m perfect? Heck no.

My biggest fault is keeping an eye on my inbox too much. But I’ve taken steps to improve that. For example, I have no new email notifiers. My computer doesn’t beep. My phone doesn’t flash. I only see new email when I open my inbox. Now I just need to only check it a couple times per day.

What works for you?

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17 Responses to “Fighting the Email Deluge”

  1. chinese new year
    September 29th, 2010

    i have more than 2000 email most of them are advertisement

  2. Putra
    September 29th, 2010

    i have spam email 100 every day…

  3. Store locator software
    October 3rd, 2010

    I totally agree with the inbox zero concept which is the only thing letting me to do something other that managing emails

  4. Paul Yokota
    October 6th, 2010

    I personally really enjoy GMail’s priority inbox that they recently implemented. It sorts out the emails it thinks are important from other emails. You can tell it whether it is right or wrong about the “importance” of certain emails. Let’s face it, we all have some emails that fall somewhere between spam and high priority, and this gives us a good way of separating them out.

  5. wholesale Prada Handbags
    October 9th, 2010

    Nice info I would like to begin by saying, thank you for supplying me with the information I’ve been looking for

  6. Grant Stringer
    October 28th, 2010

    Nice post – I have the drowning in e mail problem right now. I am going to give what you suggest a go and get back to you!

  7. Graphics
    October 28th, 2010

    We receive ~ 120 spam mails to corporative box.
    But Gmail box is almost empty/
    That’s why we use now Gmail for business.

  8. Bhathiya Wasala
    October 30th, 2010

    I’m also organize my email well, If i could’nt log to inbox thorough a week it is like a hell to check the email. then ill delete every thing. Even the important emails. Great post

  9. Carl Zusman
    October 30th, 2010

    Yep, I gave up email organizing a long time ago. Searching is a far better way to go. How often do u go back to those old email anyways, and if you do you usually need to search even if you had organized. I still need to get better about answering the note immediately or maybe labeling it to follow up on. But I know people who label emails to follow up on, and they collect those by the hundreds 🙂

  10. korean plus size clothing
    November 2nd, 2010

    I hate spam email, they gave us many troubles.

  11. anime
    November 6th, 2010

    Nice post – I have the drowning in e mail problem right now. I am going to give what you suggest a go and get back to you!

  12. Samer Habbas
    November 11th, 2010

    Gmail is the wonderful email client with the search tool which help us to easily locate emails and I use labels to categorize them. As Paul said, Google’s new priority Inbox also help us to sort out important emails. Thanks for the pretty good tips on Zeroing the Inbox.

  13. mba courses
    November 12th, 2010

    What’s your e-mail, I’ll try to send an alpha sometime tomorrow, if the author has the switch in by then, if not it’s still good to have some Alpha testers before the Beta release.

  14. ANI
    November 22nd, 2010

    Really really strong tips. We are a small business and don’t have a large budget for email software system. I’ve already implemented some of these suggestions. Thanks again.

  15. led strips
    November 23rd, 2010

    Searching is a far better way to go. How often do u go back to those old email anyways, and if you do you usually need to search even if you had organized.

  16. Petter Smith
    November 25th, 2010

    Well we all know that now a days we all have addicted to the email. even i meet in email. but the thing is that when we are working on it its very difficult to remove each and email. time by time and many are comes in the spam. so we cant ignore it. nice posting

  17. document archiving software
    December 7th, 2010

    Thank you for you efforts looking for this great list. Welcome to the do follow community I am hoping for a great work from you in the future.

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