How I manage email
I get asked this question a LOT, so I figured it would be wise to write a blog post about it.
It all boils down to using Multiple Inboxes in Gmail.
The image above says it all. (By the way, the image above is a sample Gmail account, not my actual working Gmail account.) I have my Inbox on top, a label called High Priority in the middle, and Waiting For at the bottom. See the image to the right on how to set up Multiple Inboxes (you’ll have to first enable it in Gmail Lab, under Settings.)
The Inbox is literally the inbox. It’s mail that I’ve yet to manage.
The High Priority label is email that is urgent, and needs to remain top-of-mind, that way, every time I open my email (which is very often) I’ll see those emails and they won’t be forgotten.
The Waiting For label is email that’s been sent to someone and I’m waiting on someone to act. That someone could be me. That someone could be the last person I emailed. If it is waiting on me, it’s not urgent enough to be in my task list. I have a weekly Review Waiting For event on my calendar to ensure I look at this label at least once a week. If it’s a busy week, I may only get to look at it when I’m reminded by this event. Otherwise, I usually get to review that label two or three times a week.
Now let’s talk about Tasks.
I capture all of my tasks via Gmail Tasks. If I’m on a mobile device, I use Team Tasks’ excellent Android app (the paid version — they deserve a little money for such an excellent piece of work.)
I also process my Inbox as follows: I delete the crap, archive stuff I may want to find later, apply any High Priority and/or Waiting For labels where appropriate, then archive those labeled emails so they don’t show up twice (once in the Inbox, once in their appropriate label section on the front page of my mail). The rest get added en masse to Gmail Tasks, then archived. The Inbox is now empty.
I then process my tasks one by one, in order (this is key,) until I’ve cleared my task list.
Some tasks result in setting appointments, calls, emailing someone then adding the Waiting For label and archiving the email, etc.
What the task can’t do is just sit in the task list. You have to process them in order. If you don’t, the entire system fails.
You can then pick and choose what you want to do, stuff will get missed, emails won’t get responded to, people will wait on you perpetually, cats and dogs will start living together, mass hysteria!
But isn’t that a lot of manual manipulation?
At first, I thought it might turn out to be, but in the end, it’s actually better this way. Why?
Manually moving your emails forces you to look at them. You have to know what you’re moving. This allows the emails to sit in your residual memory. It’s harder to forget something you’ve looked at and moved around recently.
I’m not condemning creating complex filters in Gmail, but for me, manually moving emails and applying labels allows me to better remember the stuff I’m working on.
I think that’s everything. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. If you’ve got Email Anxiety, and are looking for a better way to manage your email, try this system out.
If you already have an email management system, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Click and comment!