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9 Tips For Better E-Mail Productivity

With this post I’d like to share a few strategies I use to keep my email manageable and suggest some ways out of being overwhelmed with today’s communication.

1. Get a good spam filter

9 Tips For Better E-Mail Productivity

This one is basic, therefore it’s the first.

I get 150–300 spam mails each day, so a good spam filter is essential. Mail.app‘s built-in junk filter may serve this purpose for some people but since I can’t stand spam at all I upgraded to SpamSieve which is worth every single cent of the 30 bucks it costs (if not even more). Only ~1 spam mail each week slips through SpamSieve’s filtering. My Inbox is clean!

2. Set up rules to sort out incoming emails

Apart from spam, there’s bacn. This is a new term for e-mail you want, but not right now and describes the middle class of e-mail, such as notifications of new followers on Twitter or the Google alert for your name.

I set up some rules in Mail.app that push those e-mails right out of my Inbox into a special “Bacn” folder — so I can quickly skim through them if I’ve got some spare time and don’t know what to do. Bacn is out of the way.

3. Develop a way for fast processing

Open up an unread message, read it and decide whether you need to take any action or not. If you choose the latter, go on with the next e-mail. Otherwise put it on your to-do list and move on.

I use iGTD to store and organize my tasks — it is an amazing application and provided for free. I recommend it to any Mac user — I just hit F6 in Mail and it copies the active e-mail over into a new task created in iGTDs Inbox, a link back to the original e-mail included.

4. Organise your Inbox for faster retrieving

I know many people which use gigantic entanglements of folders to store their e-mail. Why bother with remembering where you put that mail? With the speedy computers we have nowadays using the search function is neither slow nor complicated, so there’s no need to file e-mails away. If an e-mail is read, I choose between two options: delete or archive. The latter happens automatically: once an e-mail is marked as read and stayed in my Inbox for 10 days, it’s moved to my Archive folder. Mail.app’s rules rule!

If you’d like to support Mail.app with finding your mails, try MailTags 2.0: This handy plugin enables Mail to save some additional information alongside your e-mails that can be searched as well. Add keywords and notes to your messages, assign a project and priority or create an event in iCal directly from Mail and maintain the link between the original message and the item in iCal.

MailTags also works nicely in conjunction with the above-mentioned iGTD — information such as priority, keywords, note, due date and if the item is flagged or not gets copied over to iGTD as well as the original message itself. If you donate to iGTDs developer, you can even get a 5$ coupon for MailTags.

5. Use proper subjects

Let the recipient know what your mail is about. When I have an email with the subject “LOL” and perhaps a smiley after that in my Inbox, I have to open it up only to read “Check out those funny kittens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRCux7wefH0″. You get the idea.

If this email was entitled “Funny cats on Youtube” I could either safely delete it or ignore it until I have some spare time and a need for more silly cat content.

6. Keep it short

The shorter e-mails are, the faster they can be written and processed. So focus on what’s important and leave out nonessential information.

Let me quote Guy Kawasaki‘s five-sentence rule: “All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.”

Mike Davidson, the CEO of Newsvine, also limits his outgoing e-mail to five sentences or less and set up a site called five.sentenc.es — include a link to it in your signature, if you like to spread the word and explain why you keep your e-mail short.

7. Stick to (your) GTD principles

First collect information, then process it. This simple technique can save you a ton of time — don’t get distracted, focus on what you’re doing and ignore Mail, IM and Twitter.

Batch process new e-mails, tweets or whatever at scheduled times or when you’ve really got the time it takes — which means that there is nothing as important on your to-do list.

8. Wait before responding to non-emergency messages

Processing e-mail at set times has another positive effect: If you’re responding too quick to especially little important e-mails, you might set too high expectations for the future — try to respond within 48 hours, but don’t do it right away.

9. Teach others to do the preliminary work for you

Tell co-workers, friends and family to text or call you if something’s urgent and point them to your email guidelines. Tell them you’re processing emails with higher priority if they have an adequate and significant subject.

And show them that you mean business — delay responses to e-mails that haven’t got a good subject and change it to something that fits better. Train others how to use e-mail!

Which are your favourite techniques for efficient e-mailing? Feel free to share them via the comments!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Shawn Blanc » Email Productivity pingbacked Posted August 24, 2007, 12:26 am
  2. GTD With Email: Turn Mail.app Messages into Tasks with iGTD · TechBlogger pingbacked Posted August 25, 2007, 3:36 am
  3. blog » Blog Archive » e-mail pingbacked Posted August 25, 2007, 5:20 am
  4. IAMWW » 9 Tips For Processing E-Mail More Efficiently pingbacked Posted August 29, 2007, 6:45 am
  5. Burning Ones trackbacked Posted August 30, 2007, 4:21 am
  6. iGTD and Mail.app Together For E-mail to Tasks pingbacked Posted August 30, 2007, 6:31 am
  7. Pimp your Mac trackbacked Posted October 5, 2007, 10:40 am

Comments

  1. Quote

    how do you get 300 spam mails? get a new mail address!?!

  2. Quote

    Because I have e-mail accounts on five different servers and multiple addresses on each one of them. Because I’m an active user of the web and comment on many blogs for example, my e-mail addresses are kind of public and therefore get spammed.

    And since so many people know these addresses and use them to contact me, I’m not going to change them — why should I?

    I do get up to 300 spam mails each day, but SpamSieve is a very powerful spam filter, so there’s almost no spam in my Inbox (~1/week) and I didn’t have a false positive in the last few months (I use SpamSieve since 12/2006). I don’t need to change any e-mail addresses because all spam is sorted out perfectly and doesn’t do me any harm.

  3. Quote

    Some very sound advice. Not responding too quickly to mails is one that I’ve learned the hard way. For my clients I have an emergency email address (a kind of Bat Phone Mail) that is only to be used for life and death emergencies, like the site is off-line.

    Spam Sieve looks good. I’ll take a look at that one. I’ve used ThunderBird for quite a time now. Would you recommend Mail.app over it?

  4. Quote

    I only used Thunderbird for a very short time back in the days as I still worked on a PC and had had enough of Outlook. Thunderbird was no change for the better, it crashed all the time.

    I’m on a Mac now for almost two years and always used Mail.app — there hasn’t been any reason for me to look at other applications, it just works very well for me.

    @Shawn Blanc: Thanks a lot for mentioning my post!

  5. Quote

    #8 is good. Usually i’ll write a draft and then wait a day or two to send it.

  6. Quote

    Anand’s way semms good…

  7. Quote

    Some good tips, thanks for that.

    I have written about some other aspects of e-mail productivity recently.

  8. Quote

    300 spams a day is pretty standard for a large number of web workers. I’m sure I get even more than that but fortunately my spam filters take almost all of it out of my way.

    I too agree strongly with #8.

    I’m looking forward to giving iGTD a try. However, I don’t think I can switch to Mail.app away from Gmail.

  9. Quote

    @Andreas: Thanks for the link, it’s been a great resource to point others to so far ;-)

    @physio: This number is what I find in my spam folder in Mail.app each day — I don’t even check what Gmail filters out, there’s a lot more spam. But as I wrote before, it doesn’t matter to me, since SpamSieve does a really great job. I’ll probably get a problem as soon as I have an iPhone… There’ll be a way to hack around this problem. ;-)

    I never got accustomed to Gmail. Outlook and Thunderbird on the PC sucked, so I used Gmail — but only for a few weeks. Then I got the first Mac and used Mail.app ever since. Mobility hasn’t been a problem at all — I’m walking around with my MacBook Pro all the time and have additional access to my mail via a web interface (which I never use, because I don’t need it).

  10. Quote

    Great Tips – I really like SpamSieve – it´s really usefull…

  11. Quote

    thank you for your very article. I’ve just stumbled and bookmarked it! Tank you, George

  12. Quote

    I have to agree with the other comments. Great Post!

    Number 8 is my own worst enemy. I always want to respond as quickly as possible so it makes the person think I care about them and it cleans out my inbox. But just as you have written this also causes them to think I am their big brother and will be around to answer any crazy question within 10 minutes.

    I have seen that if you make them wait there is a good chance that they will do some research and/or look through the help documentation.

  13. Quote

    Thanks for your comments!

    I’m still too quick when it comes to writing answers and I hardly use my drafts folder though I’m trying to slow the medium down a bit.

  14. Quote

    Thank you for these tipps! i configurated my antivirus program, that’s also very useful!

  15. Quote

    300 spam-mails? Ok…
    You should read them ;) , because if you get an e-mail containing child pornography or a link to child pornography and you do not notice the police about this mail this may be a criminal act (german law).
    A new chapter in the story “Politicians and their understanding of the internet”

    And stop bashing thunderbird or I start bashing mac ;)
    In my opinion Thunderbird is a quite fine program, it never crashed on my pc…
    And thanks for the blog,… again!

  16. Quote

    WTF, we’re required to read spam mails? Holy shit, that’s hilarious! ;-)

    When my Thunderbird mail volume grew to the 10.000 mark it kept crashing all the time. And it’s been slooooow. This is why I wrote it sucked — I can’t say anything about the current version, maybe it’s better.

    But I won’t try it because Mail.app doesn’t do such stuff though it has to manage many more mails today ;-)

  17. Quote

    Although I like Thunderbird, it did crash on my pc, so I’m back to outlook now.
    Reading your spam mails? Are you serious? That would be a full time job when you’re in the link building business!!
    Julian thanks for the tips. I could use some advice sorting out my outgoing mails cause I spend way too much time going through my ‘sent’ folder, looking for something I sent someone months ago…

  18. Quote

    Very nice list Julian. In fact, I’m emailing this to my husband. E-Mail productivity is huge. I hate it when my emails fill up whereby the scroll bar appears!

  19. Quote

    I am SO very glad to see that you listed spam filter as #1 – You would be surprised at how many people actually do not have any filter running. I would have to say 9 out of 10 pc’s that are having trouble can be sorted back to issues with email spam ie. virus, worms ect that have been transfered though a simple email.

  20. Quote

    How do you make the rule to put read messages into archive?
    Thanks

  21. Quote

    I’m actually using Mail Act-On 2 today to archive my e-Mail — that said, I removed all rules from Mail.app, rules are processed on GMail and only there (I’m using Google Apps for my domains).

    My process usually is: New mail in Inbox? Read it. Do what needs to be done about it or put task(s) into Things, my GTD app. Archive that mail (move it out of the Inbox) or delete it.

  22. Quote

    thank you thank you thank you

    some of these are reminders
    other are new good ideas…

    i have to be efficient with my time these days
    and i like some of your ideas here for me.

  23. Quote

    Thanks for all the tips. Actually I have done most of them except for about two of them. Will consider them immediately. This is a very nice and informative blog.

  24. Quote

    All of these make sense to me. I already use some of these, and am going to put a few others from the list into action.

    But clutter and overload are not the only problems with email. What do you do about the problem of knowledge/information loss: http://blog.grexit.com/email-the-knowledge-morgue

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