Why Does Email Get Such a Bad Wrap?

I love email. It is a great way to communicate and it gives me a way to organise mails in a way that is far better than paper mail ever was. Paper mail used to hang around the door at home, work mail used to be dropped in to a never ending pile in my physical inbox. It was horrible. And then, if you lost that important letter, it was so much hassle trying to get a copy of the original letter.

With email I can control what I receive. I can block spam, newsletters and other digital debris that periodically enter my inbox, and unless I foolishly delete an important email, I am unlikely to lose those vital mails as the search functions in my email client is excellent. And since the introduction of smartphones I can reply to emails quicker than ever. Before email, Tuesdays used to be horrible. That was the day when I received the most mail and it was just a huge pile of important mixed in with a lot of crap, but to get to the important, you had to physically open the crap to see what it was before confirming it was crap. With email, you can see immediately, without opening the mail, whether it is important or not and a quick swipe on the screen permanently removes it if it is not important.

This is why I can’t understand why so many people give email a bad wrap. It is not as if we did not receive hundreds of physical letters every day before email went mainstream. We did, and it was a much bigger hassle to deal with it all. Okay, there was less time pressure. And we did of course have the excuse that the letter was “lost in the post”, but we can always claim an email was never received just as easily. And, if you are on top of your email, the time pressure should never really be a problem.

I think the reason why email gets such negative press these days is because someone somewhere back in the early 2000s once complained they got too much email. And that single person was a very disorganised, unproductive person. Their comments about email caught on and now it seems to be a cool thing to say that they get too much email. A kind of badge of honour if you like. It’s the “hey look at me! Aren’t I important. I get so many emails!” type of person.

The truth is, email is easy to maintain. If you treat your inbox as just that, an inbox, and whenever you get new mail, you decide immediately what it is and what you have to do with it (and of course, do it) email should never ever be a problem. If you are strict about what you receive, treat your email address as your home address, i.e. Not giving it out to just anyone who asks for it, and not subscribe to anything and everything that asks you to subscribe, you will find you don’t really get all that many emails. However, if you treat your inbox as a storage centre, give your email address to any person or website that asks for it, and you never make a decision about an email — what it is and what you have to do with it — of course your inbox will grow into a pit of despair. But that is not the fault of email. That is your fault.

If you want to love email again, here are some simple rules you can follow:

  1. Whenever you get an email, immediately decide what it is and what you need to do with it, and do it. Do not leave it in your inbox.
  2. Unsubscribe from all those newsletters you do not read. Only keep the ones you do read.
  3. Create 3 folders. 1 — Action today (all emails that need a reply today) 2 — Waiting for (all emails you are waiting for a reply) 3 — Archive (for all emails you need not do anything with)
  4. If an email does not fit in to any of the above folders, delete it.
  5. Treat your email address as you would you home address. You wouldn’t give your home address to any stranger you just met. Do the same with your email address.
  6. Create a dummy web-based email address you can use for home shopping accounts and other places where an email address is needed to join. Do not add this email address into your email client. Keep it as a web-based email account. This way the crap these companies send won’t clutter up your real inbox.

And that is all it takes to love email again. There should be no reason at all for having a long list of read emails in your inbox. If an email is opened, you need to do something with it. Reply, archive or delete. Simple. The real reason email is a problem today? People overcomplicate it. It really is simple. So, keep it simple.

Take some time this week to empty your inbox, a good tip is to select all the emails in there, save for the the most recent ten emails, and hit the delete key. Don’t worry, if you delete an important email the sender will soon send you a reminder. Alternatively, you could do a “soft email bankruptcy” and just move these emails into a temporary folder called “old inbox” and process that when you have time. Then follow the six rules above. You will soon find yourself falling in love with email. And that means one less thing to get stressed about.

Good luck.

Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.

Amazon iBooks | Website

Get Your Email Under Control With InBox Zero 2.0

This is an article I wrote for my students to help them get control of their inboxes. The feedback I got from my students, encouraged me to add it my Medium blog. So, here it is. I hope it helps you to gain better control of your email.

Current statistics show the average office worker receives over 80 emails per day, and they are expected to process and deal with those emails quickly and efficiently. Yet, this is not happening. There is so much work that needs to be done, email is checked in the morning then the day’s business gets under way with meetings, presentation creation, report writing and more meetings. This means emails pile up in the inbox where it becomes difficult to find the important from all the crap.

Enter InBox Zero 2.0. A concept built from the original InBox Zero as created by Merlin Mann in 2006. InBox Zero 2.0 adds a little bit more flexibility to the original idea.

The idea behind InBox Zero 2.0, like the original InBox Zero, is your email inbox is sacred territory. No email should ever remain in there once it has been looked at. You only look at an email in your inbox once and immediately decide what it is, what you need to do with it and where it goes. With InBox Zero 2.0 there are only four places an email could go. Trash, archive, waiting for or Action Today folders.

Two simple questions.

Ask yourself: what is it? And what do I need to do with it? Then, do it. Asking these two questions soon becomes instinct and will help you to make a decision in a split second. Once you get faster at asking these questions, you will find processing email takes no time at all.

Trash

This is obvious. If it is not important and it is not of any value to you, then trash it immediately and never give it second thought.

Archive

This is where you put emails that need no action from you, but may contain some important information at a later date. Examples of these could be product information updates, company newsletters or simple updates from your team members.

Action Today

Your Action Today folder is for emails you do need to do something with. That could be a reply, or it contains some information you need for the work you are working on or it could be something you want to read later. If you need to do something with the email then, you put the email in here.

Waiting For

For emails you are waiting for a reply, you put a copy of the email you sent into a folder called “Waiting For” and check this folder at some point during the day. Once an email is replied to, you remove the waiting for email and place it in trash or archive. (This takes less than 10 seconds!)

Other Temporary Folders

If you are working on a special, complex project, you may wish to create a temporary folder to hold the relevant emails, so it is easier and faster to get to the relevant information. However, once the project is complete, you move the emails into your archive and delete the project folder. These are only temporary folders. One recent example of this was for my Christmas shopping orders. I placed the confirmation emails into a special folder and once the package arrived I deleted the email. This helped me to keep track of orders much easier.

The key to Inbox Zero is you spend a few minutes a day cleaning up and managing your email, and the rest of the time you get on with the important work you are employed to do. You should plan to give yourself twenty to thirty minutes a day maintaining your system.

Letting your email get out of control, with no best practices for managing it, leads to stress as you will always be wondering if there is something important hidden somewhere in there. By keeping a simple, managed system you will avoid unnecessary stress and will always be able to find what you need.

Search Functionality

Almost all email programs from Google’s Gmail to Microsoft’s Outlook have advanced search functions. This means you no longer need to create separate folders for separate types of email. All you need do is place emails you may want later into your archive and they will be searchable as and when you need them. It is a good idea to look up the search formulas for the email program you use as this will help you get so much more out of your email.

Email does not need to be a nightmare. It is very easy to get under control. However, as with anything that needs controlling you do need to put in some best practices that help you to maintain the system. One such best practice is to get into the habit of always asking “what is it?” to every email that comes in to your inbox and deciding there and then what you need to do with it. Over time this becomes natural and you will feel uncomfortable leaving an email sitting in your inbox when you know it needs to go in to your Action Today folder.

Empty Your Action Today Folder Every 48 Hours.

It’s all very well moving emails in to your Action Today folder, but if you are not doing anything with them within 48 hours then your system will break down. You need to treat any email in your Action Today folder as important and must be dealt with. If you need more than 48 Hours to get the necessary information to reply to an email, then send a quick email to the sender so they know you are doing something about it.

If you are not processing your Action Today folder properly, then it will turn into another monster of an inbox. Don’t let that happen. Be strict with yourself.

The Two Minute Rule

Finally, if you can deal with an email in two minutes or less, then do it. There is no point in having these emails hanging around if all it will take is two minutes to reply. Do it and file it.

And that’s it. That is all you need to get your email under control.

To get things started select all the emails currently in your inbox and either delete them (a hard bankruptcy) or create a folder and call it “Old Inbox” and place them in there (a soft bankruptcy). Then when you have time you can go through it and process those emails. Doing it this way means you start with a fresh clean inbox and can let go of all that email stress.

To help you get started with Inbox Zero 2.0, I have created a pdf file you can download here (or just use the image below) as a quick reference guide.

Good luck!

I have an online course that goes into much more detail on getting control of your email. You can enrol right here. 

 

If you would like to learn more about getting your email under control and so much more, then my latest book, Your Digitial Life 2.0 will give you all the right tips and tricks.

 

Why I Use Apple’s Mail App

This article first appeared on my Medium blog

A few weeks ago I began a test of Airmail, a third party email app for IOS and Mac OS. Airmail is an excellent app and I know it does and would work for many people. It has everything you could need for multiple email accounts and more. However, after just two weeks of using it, I found myself migrating back to Apple’s native email apps and below are the reasons why.

I have three email accounts. One each for my two businesses and a personal account. (My legacy .mac email account) What I need is a unified inbox for all these email accounts. Airmail does this, and does it very well, but I found the built in support for Apple’s Mail app was just smoother and worked better. When set up right, Apple’s Mail app works fantastically with multiple email accounts. While Airmail has a lot more options, Apple’s Mail just does the basics right and better.

I do not regret the couple of weeks I had with Airmail, it gave me some wonderful ideas for simplifying my email workflow. And I have changed the way I process email as a result of the experience I had with AirMail.

I still follow inbox zero, and achieve this daily 99% of the time. I have one inbox that collects all my mail from all three accounts. When these emails come in, I process them as a whole. I do not distinguish between my businesses or personal. I just go from top to bottom asking “what is it?” And “what do I need to do next”. If the email requires action of more than two minutes in duration I send it to an “Action This Day” folder. If it can be dealt with within two minutes or less, I will deal with it there an then. When I am waiting for a response from someone else, I will send the sent email to my “Waiting For” folder and send a copy of that to Todoist, my task manager of choice.

Airmail has a dedicated built in folder called “To Do” and this is a unified mailbox. That’s something I really like about Airmail. To achieve this in Mac OS Mail, I created a smart mailbox that collects all my “Action This Day” email. I then placed this smart mailbox on the top line of Mac OS Mail where it is easy to access. I have done the same with my “Waiting For” emails. I also keep the “Action This Day” folders in my IOS devices’ email home screen so I have quick access to these if needed.

Following my test with Airmail, I purged all my email accounts of unnecessary folders. The search functionality in email clients these days makes it easy to find any email you want just by searching for it, so I no longer need folders to keep specific clients’ emails together.

Over the last week I have been using this system with Mac OS Mail and IOS Mail and it has worked seamlessly. In the couple of weeks I was using Airmail, I was constantly fiddling with it, adjusting things and not quite getting it right. This was probably my perfectionist character coming out, but I just felt Airmail was a procrastinators paradise with so much to fiddle with and never quite giving you exactly what you wanted.

What I learnt from this exercise is that email is simple and you do not need any complex workflows or apps to make it work. When an email comes in you deal with it. Either you need to reply, or you don’t. Simple. Quick replies can be done immediately and the original email archived. Longer replies can be sent to an “Action” folder and dealt with when you have more time available. The trick with email is getting good at the question asking: “What is it?” And “What do I need to do next?” After that, it’s a matter of just doing it.

Over the years I have discovered that native apps in an operating system are generally the best. On Windows, Office is the best productivity suite. It just works so well on a Windows machine. On an Apple device, the iWorks suite of apps work fantastically. Of course there is Google Docs, and they work well, but I find they don’t have the refinement native apps have. I know for many, you do not have the choice of app all the time because we collaborate much more than we did in the past and using services such as Google Docs and MS Office 365 is often essential for collaboration. But my test with Airmail reinforced my opinion that wherever possible, using the native, inbuilt apps is more often the best way to go when choosing the apps to work with.

Email is simple. You receive an email, you decide what needs to be done with it and if time allows you deal with it. If you do not have the time, then you put it in a place where you can deal with it when you do have time. You never, ever leave it open and read in your inbox. Leaving open and read email in your inbox is why so many people feel email overwhelm and struggle to manage their email accounts.

If you want a simpler, more refined digital experience my advice would be to use native apps wherever possible. They were designed to be used with the device you use and are built in to the operating system so when you want to email an interesting blog post to a friend or colleague you only have to tap the email button and enter the email address and send. Often with third party apps you need to copy and paste the article’s address into the app and then send. More steps, more time, more confusion. That is never a good combination for a more simple and productive life.

Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century