I recently got an email from a friend that said simply "I am getting too many e-mails. How do I organize them? Sometimes I need to research an answer, but then forget for whom it was and I totally forget about it as they get buried. How do you manage your e mails?"
Here's how I do it:
No software email client: I used to use an email client like Outlook or Thunderbird, but I found that by switching to a web interface for email I have much more control over it. I have multiple inbound email addresses -- two work addresses, a gmail address, an Apple email address, an alumni address, etc. I have all my mail forward into my personal email account, which is a Google Apps-hosted address. Here's what that looks like:
Using the web-based email interface also lets me leverage all sorts of great advanced stuff, like using Rapportive, Boomerang, and many other email tools that I rely on. Also, using the Google Apps interface for my email allows me to use Google's powerful "important and unread" feature which prioritizes emails from people I know or that Google otherwise thinks I should see first.
Sanebox: I further filter my incoming email using something called Sanebox. It's a great tool that filters out known newsletter and other bulk type email, so instead of all that email bombarding my inbox the moment it comes in, I only get two emails each day from Sanebox, one at 9am and the other at 4pm, with a list of all the email it's collected. I can quickly scan it and move important emails to my inbox. The rest skip my inbox. Here's what one of the digest emails from Sanebox looks like:
Filter emails: I also make aggressive use of filters, which is easy when you're using Google Apps. Here's just the first page of my filters:
Keyboard shortcuts: I've written in the past about how important it is to use keyboard shortcuts in general if you're in front of a computer for hours at a time. You get an especially high ROI when using them for email. If you're using your mouse at all when you're navigating through email, then you need to turn on and learn how to use keyboard shortcuts. This one tip alone will make a huge difference in your day, literally saving you hours per week.
Efficient email searching: If you're using Gmail or Google Apps for email (basically the same thing) then your email is all being stored in an easily searchable location. There are all sorts of articles on how to perform advanced searches in Google's web email interface, including this one from Google, this one and this one. I also recommend CloudMagic as an additional search tool, which will tie into all your email accounts as well as Google Docs, Twitter and more. Here's a screenshot:
My last tip centers around how much time to spend checking email daily. This depends on how important email is to you getting your job done. Oftentimes, it's not as important as you think. You might block out some time in the morning and/or afternoon to check email, and only focus on the important ones. This is a very personal decision. For me, personally, I need to keep a clean inbox. I use the techniques above to filter out the non-essential email, and then I create a "chore" each day in Pivotal Tracker to get through the remaining messages, all of which are important. To learn more about how I use Pivotal Tracker to prioritize my day, take a look at this post I made on the topic.
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