5 Steps to Easy Email

I hate email. I find it’s an awful waste of time.

This is what I learned about email efficiency over the years. I can’t remember who taught me everything, but I’m certain that Aaron from Asian Efficiency taught me quite a bit when we sat down in London to go over how I could be more efficient. He also told me about Merlin Mann and Inbox Zero, which is the basis of almost everything I do email-wise.

An Introduction to Archiving

I only found out that you can archive emails (not delete them but remove them from your inbox) two or three years ago. This saved me a ton of time, because otherwise I’d be looking through the first two pages of emails wondering where that one action item had gone to.

Once you finish reading this post and processing all of your emails, the rest should be emails that you don’t need in your inbox. They’re “husks” as Merlin calls them. They serve no use except to distract you. Archive ALL messages. Your inbox will be empty.

Take a moment to enjoy that feeling.

Turn Notifications OFF


This is the biggest time saver. Notifications drive me nuts. I’m working, no wait I’m checking my phone. Why’d you vibrate, phone? Oh, it’s nothing important. What was I doing again?

The same thing happens with GTalk. The little mail icon flashes, and even once I turned that off there’s a tempting little red envelope that just sits there, waiting to be considered and thrown away.

I work in Chrome, and I used to have gmail as a pinned tab. It would glow when I got new mail. I could not work without stopping it from flashing.

The amount of time I’ve wasted by checking my stupid email a million times a day is unpleasant to think about. So I just turned off all notifications.

Turned them off in my phone. Turned them off in GTalk. Unpinned gmail as a tab.

Now I can go hours without even thinking about email, and when I do I check it, go through it, and forget about it for another two to three hours. Amazing.

I’d suggest doing with this social media apps on your cell phone as well. Use HootSuite to actively (as in, when you choose to) check your social accounts all together.

Process All Emails

If you’ve got a solid half hour, this video is fantastic. You can also check out Mann’s Slideshare below.

If not, my process is slightly different anyway.

Here’s the idea: When I check email, there are only a certain number of actions I can take in regards to a specific message. This is almost completely Merlin Mann, so credit where credit is due. Anyway, with an email I can:

  1. I can Resolve it.
  2. I can Archive it.
  3. I can Delegate it.
  4. I can set it as a Task.
  5. I can Reply to it Later.

Resolving it is simple. Dev, my boss, emails me for two paragraphs regarding a client. It’ll take me less than five minutes to do, so I just respond right away. The idea of touching it once is important to me and something Aaron taught me: if it takes less than 15 minutes to do, just do it now and get it out of the way. Future you will very much appreciate it.

I can archive any emails that I don’t need to respond to or take any actions on. That gets it out of my inbox. No use filing these away into folders–most email clients have a really powerful search function. I did this with an invitation to a movie this weekend–I had already verbally agreed. So, one-click archive.

I can delegate a lot of emails. I don’t work on the PPC bits for my clients, Ali does. So I check the email over quickly and send it to Ali. It takes up his bandwidth. He resolves it, sends it back to me and I send it to the client.

I can set an email as a task. I know there’s actual functionality for setting emails as tasks with due dates and such. Thunderbird and Outlook let you do this. That’s not my method, though. My buddy Nick Capozzi asked if I could set up a meeting for Monday. I said yes and scheduled it in Google Calendar, then archived the email thread. Done!

I can reply to the email later. I do a lot of outreach in the travel industry. They get a lot of spammy guest post requests, so every single time I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know me they ask for hundreds of dollars for us to work together. I’m not going to pay $500 to co-promote with someone who has a smaller website and fewer subscribers than my client, but I need to explain how it’s beneficial to them. My template usually works fairly well, but it takes a bit to customize it, especially if it’s someone who I have a ton of respect for and would hate to mis-communicate. So, I put it in my Reply Later folder and get to it when I have time.

Sometimes these emails are urgent, but I’m afraid of that word. If I’m always putting out fires I’ll never have time to build a proper fireplace.

When I check email, I take one of those actions. All of them, you’ll notice, get email the hell out of my inbox.

The biggest email sin I commit is opening my inbox, scanning through it, reading a couple emails, sometimes reading old ones over again, deciding I don’t have time to do anything about them and then going back to what I was doing before. Until the next time I check my email, where I now have twice as much email to feel sad about.

Touch it once. Just choose an action and do it; it takes very, very little time.

My Trick For Sending Emails and Following Up

I learned this trick while I was recruiting. I’d send out an offer, which, if the person accepted, would make me a thousand dollars in a snap, and then I wouldn’t get a reply back. Since I don’t check my outgoing emails (why would I?) I’d completely forget about that person.

That cost me quite a bit of money.

What I do now is send and tag emails to “Follow Up.” I check my follow up folder every once in a while and touch base with people who haven’t gotten back to me.

Some people use more complicated methods that rely on timers (remind me if they haven’t responded in X days etc.) but ain’t nobody got time for that. I use a plugin that a friend made me to tag any outgoing gmail with my preferred tag. Props to Hirad from Pendar Labs for putting this plugin together for me.

So I send and tag the email to follow up, archive the conversation and it’s done taking my attention.

Filters and Unsubscribes

This step is pretty simple. I get a lot of email from lists and social accounts that I never, ever read and really don’t care about. I took some time to unsubscribe from all email notifications that I don’t care about. I filter basically anything that falls in the Promotions or Social tab in Gmail’s new layout.

Try it!

Now It’s Your Turn

Turn off all of your notifications.

Filter and unsubscribe to everything.

Go set up these two folders in Gmail:

  1. Reply Later
  2. Follow Up

Write down these five actions on a sticky note and put it on your monitor:

  1. Resolve
  2. Archive
  3. Delegate
  4. Task
  5. Reply Later

Every time you go through your email, choose one of those actions and do it right away.

Get used to using a calendar to schedule your days (Google Calendar is amazing). The task section only works if you’ve got some separate place to put tasks. Don’t use your email as a task manager, that’ll be the end of you.

That’s how I manage my email. Do you think it’ll work for you?

Tagged with: Asian Efficiency, email, gmail, Inbox Zero, Nick Capozzi, Pendar Labs

About Troy Boileau

SEO Specialist at Powered by Search and passionate about SEO, marketing and networking. Always endeavoring to be a stronger developer, writer and conversationalist on the side. Follow me on Twitter, my personal website, or grab a copy of my book, The Conversation Handbook.