I’ve got a new email technique to help those of you who get a crazy amount of email every day. It starts with a framework I’ve used before.
Have your email sorted automatically, before you ever see it, into groups based on the frame of mind needed to act on it. Frame of mind might be “reading” for newsletters that are informative, or “act and reply immediately” for work items.
The problem is your current email inbox isn’t sorted at all. It’s more like a big pile of paper mail. It’s all mixed up. You can’t tell what’s in there. You have to process it one item at a time, in no particular order.
Now, if it was paper mail, your assistant could come in and sort the pile. All the magazines in one box, newsletters in another, bills all together, notes from friends where you could find them, junk mail trashed, letters from clients grouped, and the packet from the boss right on top. Then, ideally, your assistant would only bring you the items you need right away. You could deal with the work items, savor the personal notes, let the bills wait until bill-paying day, and easily skim through newsletters on your lunch hour. Each group of mail requires the same frame of mind, so your brain doesn’t waste a lot of time switching gears.
One tool for doing the automatic sorting is to use separate email addresses. Then it’s easy to automatically send anything that comes to that email address into the right pile.
So you could have email addresses for subscriptions, one for bills, one you use only with key clients, and a different one for social media notifications.
Here’s how to make it work.
Step 1. Create separate email addresses.
Option A. Use gmail? You can add a “+” and any other suffix to the end of your email address. No settings to change. So if your gmail was email@example.com, you could use firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your bills notificaitons and gmail would dutifully deliver it to you with the rest of your email.
Option B. Have your own domain name? You can create different email addresses at your host. The tool you use will probably be Cpanel or your host’s own tool. Check their help files for “creating email addresses.”
Step 2. Set up filters to automatically put those emails into the right categories or folders.
In Gmail you do this with Filters. Send your +bills emails to the Bills folder or label. Send the +client emails to the Important Client folder. You can even set up filters to automatically forward emails to another person. Or have your +911 emails sent straight to your phone. (No other email on your phone, ok? That’s important to remember.)
Step 3. Read and process each folder at the right time and in the right frame of mind.
You’ll start with the few items that didn’t get filtered. Put them in the right place, and create the filter to catch them next time. Then hit the critical work items you had delivered to your Client or Work folders.
That’s it. Everything else stays out of the way until you need it.
Let the Bills folder wait until bill paying day. Once a week, you can drop in and skim the social network notifications.
Trust me that it’s 10 times easier to deal with each related group of email instead of flailing around in the sea of unrelated messages.
The unexpected bonus to this technique is that you’ll get a lot more value out of your email. You’ll find time and focus to actually savor the newsletters you want to, because you aren’t in a rush to get them out of your way as you frantically dig for the important business email you just got 3 text messages asking about.
You’ll also find it easier to notice which emails you don’t really need. If you have 12 Twitter notifications in an inbox with 150 emails, that’s different than when they make up 12 out of 14 emails in your social folder. Suddenly you can decide which notices are important and which ones you want to shut off.
Send all your reading and review email to a separate address and use a separate device to read it. For example, send all your subscriptions to an address you only read on your iPad. Then you can read and review them easily from the couch or where ever works for you.
Inspired by a post by Ann Handley and the conversation in the comments: 10 Ways to Deal with the Stupid Amount of Email You Get.
Add your own email tips in the comments. I’m always learning from you!
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