April 29, 2021

How I Learned To Love Email Again

This is the eleventh in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

I’ve never met anyone who wishes they received more email. I’m guessing you’re the same.

I have tried many ways to tame my inbox. What made the biggest difference was turning off my notifications. Instead of reacting to incoming messages and interrupting my workflow, I would stick an hour in my work diary each day to batch process my emails.

So far, so good. But there were still a couple of issues, like how to handle emails I couldn’t immediately respond to? Where to file messages for reference? And, the biggie—email never stops, so how do I know when I am done for the day?

I solved the first issue by creating to-do list tasks for emails I needed to follow up on. This separated the extra work of chasing information, etc., from my email processing workflow, so it didn’t get slowed down.

I used to file emails for reference in different project folders. Then I discovered that archiving emails would make them quickly disappear while still being easily retrievable. Now I didn’t need to maintain a filing system. I could just archive all my messages (and occasionally copy reference information into Evernote, organised with tags). I was getting somewhere.

The final problem—when to stop each day—was solved when I discovered Tony Hsieh’s Yesterbox method. Its simplicity is beautiful. You only ever answer the previous day’s messages. Once you clear them, you are done with email for the day. No backlog, no trying to keep up with incoming messages. Easy.

The last trick I implemented was to start writing my emails like text messages. Straight to the point, no fluff.
Together, these methods reduced my email processing time from 90 minutes or more per day to 30 minutes, often less.