No new mailWhen I first started receiving emails – in the days before Hotmail, the ever-present threat of spam and the birth of eCommerce – it was always a pleasure to find something new in the inbox. These days, although I still look at the inbox frequently, there always seems to be an enormous pool of information to wade through. And yes, a lot of that is now spam.

It’s time to rethink my email strategy. It now seems to be used largely for passing both personal and professional information around; in most cases the tasks of ‘keeping up with site x’ have been taken over by XML feeds. There are a couple of resources that are proving incredibly useful in fine-tuning things.

The first of these is 43 folders; particularly the Inbox Zero series. There is a wealth of great information here, but a few standout points (for me, personally) are :

Lose the guilt

If you’ve allowed your email to get out of control, and you can trace any of the resulting procrastination and inaction back to feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, or just the general feeling that you alone completely suck at this, quit it now.

Use the delete key

Seriously: is this an email you are ever going to respond to? If it’s more than a week or two old, either answer it or delete it now.

Using filters

I have several filters set up to help protect me from the daily barrage of spam; however I don’t tend to use them for much else. Filters are extremely powerful – not simply for getting rid of things, but sorting things ready for later processing. Comments, friend applications for various Web 2.0 sites and general site feedback are all good candidates.

The second site is Tim Ferriss‘ blog, The Four Hour Work Week. Of particular interest was his post How to Check E-mail Twice a Day, which explains how to do exactly that. A noble goal – and I love the underlying philosophy; check less frequently, just be a little more focussed when you do.


Other changes

There are a couple of other changes that I made after reading these. Although they’re common sense and not mentioned specifically, I wasn’t doing them before reading these articles. They are :

Get off unused mailing lists

I sign up to a number of mailing lists after reading a good article on a site somewhere, or simply to receive the free ebooks that seem to be popular joining bonuses these days.

In many cases I no longer read the newsletters, but I file them away ‘just in case’. In case of what, I’m not sure. Solution : if there’s a way to remove my name from said lists, I do so.

Reducing the number of labels

I’ve been using gmail for a while now, and in that time I’ve amassed quite an impressive collection of labels (or folders, if you prefer). Not only is the list giving me plenty of scrolling practice, it’s long enough to encourage the subconscious hiding of emails. I’m sure there are hundreds of unread messages in there, tucked away in the darkness.

The solution? Drastically cut down their numbers. Combine them, and get rid of any emails that will obviously never be read (those more than 12 months old are first in the firing line). Ahh, much better.

Now comes the fun part. Maintaining these good habits.