Ep 68 | How To Manage Your Email Overload

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting overloaded email under control .

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 68 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

I can’t believe it has taken 68 episodes to finally get to one of the biggest problems people face when it comes to productivity and time management and that is email. We all have it, and for most people, it is out of control and inboxes just get bigger and bigger every day. So, this week we are going to tackle the issue and hopefully help you to finally get email under control and, more importantly, make it so it is easily manageable and it never gets out of control again. 

But first, I am excited to tell you all that the 2019 edition of my most popular, complete productivity and time management course has just been released. Your Digital Life 2.0 Online, the 2019 edition is now available and this year I have added a brand new workbook you can download and keep so you have a ready reference guide for when things slip. Also, I have added a number of new classes around the Golden 10 and the 2+8 Prioritisation systems AND… I have updated the freebies so now you have access to two of my most recent courses for FREE!

So go on and check it out. The link to the course details is in the show notes. This course WILL give you everything you need to become super productive and much better at time management. 

Okay onto this week’s question and that means it’s time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Greg. Greg asks, Do you have any tips to help me get my email under control. I have over 4,000 emails in my inbox and I just do not know where to start to get this mess under control. Any help would be much appreciated. 

Thank you, Greg, for this excellent question. 

Okay, first up. Email is just another task input we have to make a decision about. Whenever a new email comes in, we need to decide what it is and what we need to do with it. Email is unique in many ways though. Unlike regular tasks, where you add it to your inbox, with email someone else is adding it to your inbox. You don’t have much control over what and how much comes in each day. Or do you? 

You see, part of the problem is we sign up for all sorts of newsletters, promotions and other services and each day those services and newsletters come in. Day after day. Because we have no control over when these newsletters and promotions come in we just let them pile up. They invade our inboxes and just sit there waiting to be dealt with. But of course these emails are not important and so we just leave them, hoping that we will have time soon to go through them and read them. Which we don’t do. 

So, here’s my first tip. Get them out of your inbox. Instead, create a webmail account. You could create a Gmail or Hotmail account for instance and only have that account available to you through the internet. Do not put this account into your email app. Only allow yourself access to it through the internet.

Other things you can use this account for is online shopping. Every time you order something use this email address. The companies you buy from will use your email address to send you offers and other promotional emails after you have ordered something, some of which you may be interested in. So having this extra email address just for your shopping and newsletters is a great way to get a lot of the email you receive each day out of your mail email accounts. 

All you need to do then is create a recurring task in your to-do list manager to remind you to check this account from time to time. 

Okay, for most of you, that will probably get rid of 50% or more of the email you receive each day. It puts you back in control of what email you see each day. 

Now, onto the management of your email. All you really need today is four folders. An inbox, an Action Today folder, a waiting for folder and an archive. That’s it. All the popular email apps today have excellent search. Gmail for Android and iOS has excellent search and so does Apple’s Mail app. This means even if you have thousands of emails in your archive, you will still be able to easily find what you are looking for whether you are searching for it by date, person or title. Learn to trust the search. It works and archiving email is not deleting email. It still going to be there if you need it. 

Right, so you now have the four folders set up, how do you manage email? Well, when an email comes in you need to make a decision about what it is and what you need to do with it. Let’s say you get an email from a customer asking you to do something for them. It could be to send a copy of a receipt or confirm when an order will arrive. So to answer the question what is it we have an email from a customer, the next question to ask is what do I have to do with it? In this case that would reply and send the copy invoice or confirm an expected delivery date. If you can do that within two minutes or so just do it now. There’s no need to have that hanging around when all it would take is two minutes of your time. 

However, if you need to find the invoice, or talk to your delivery agent first, that is going to take more than two minutes and you do not have time right now, then move the email to your Action Today folder. 

Now the thing about the Action Today folder is you need to make sure you deal with any email in there within 24 hours. If you do not have such a rule, then this folder will just end being a dumping ground for emails you have to do something about, but tell yourself you do not have time. Rules are a must here. So, apply a rule that any email in your Action Today folder must be dealt with within 24 hours. This will mean you will need to create a routine to check your Action Today folder every day. I have a recurring task in my to-do list manager that tells me to clear my Action Today folder every day and for the most part I manage to do that. 

You waiting for folder does exactly what it says. Any email you are waiting for a reply on goes in there. Now you will have to go into your sent folder and move any email you are waiting for a reply on into this folder, but that just takes a second or two so should not be too inconvenient for you. Once you receive the reply, as long as you haven’t change the title, the reply will be added to your sent email and you can then archive it straight from your inbox without having to move anything from your waiting for folder. 

Okay, so there’s some structure to your email processing system, what do you do with those 4,000 emails in your inbox? Well, here you have a choice. You can either do a hard email bankruptcy or a soft one. The choice is yours. A hard email bankruptcy means you select all the emails in your inbox and just hit the delete key. It’s the fastest way to get to inbox zero. For those of you who are a bit squeamish about this don’t worry. If an email was important, the person who sent it to you will soon send it again. If the thought of deleting all your emails scares you, you can create a new folder and call it “old inbox” and again select all your email in your inbox and move them to this new folder. Then, as and when you have time you can go through it and delete emails that mean nothing to you or move them to your archive if you want to keep them. 

Now here are a few tips to help keep your email numbers down. 

The first tip I can give you is send less email. Instead, use instant messaging or just pick up the phone. Too often we take the easy route and send an email to ask a simple question that could be done in less than a minute if you picked up the phone. When you send that kind of email inevitably you are going to get an email in reply. My rule here is only send an email if it is absolutely necessary. The less email you send, the less email you get in return. Before sending an email, just ask yourself if there is a faster way to get the outcome you want. You’d be surprised how often you find a better, faster way.

Another tip is to protect your email address like you would your telephone number. Only give it out to people you trust. One of the worst things you can do is to put your business card into one of those collection boxes you find in bars and restaurants promising you-you could win a prize. True, you might win a prize, but you are also compromising the integrity of your email system too. To me, that price is far too high to risk having my email address added to yet another mailing list. 

Finally, I see a lot of people sending actionable emails over to their to-do list manager. Don’t do this! All this is going to do is fill up your to-do list inbox and you will be going from one app to another app and back again. That is such a waste of time. Emails that need you to take action should be in your Action Today folder in your email app. All you need is a simple task telling you to clear your action today folder. As I said earlier, I have such a daily recurring task and I see that around 4 or 5pm. I will then spend thirty minutes or so dealing with those important emails. 

Well, Greg, I hope that has given you some tips you can implement. I find the tip that has the biggest impact on your email is to create that Action Today folder and make sure you clear it every day. Seeing a list of ten or so emails that need action is far easier to manage than a list of 4,000 emails you are not sure whether they need replies or not., and if they do it takes you so much time to actually find the email you want to reply to. 

Thank you for your question, Greg, and thank you for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering then email me(hahaha) at carl@carlpullein.com… Don’t worry my email is completely under control and you WILL get a reply within 24 hours… I promise. Or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 41 | How To Get Your Email Under Control

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting your email under control.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 41 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a great question about managing email and in particular how to tame an out of control inbox. 

Before we get into the question this week, I would like to just ask if you have any questions you would like answering on this podcast to get in touch. All you have to do is email me or DM me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be happy to add your question to the list. 

Speaking of email, don’t forget you can get all of my weekly videos, blog posts and podcasts direct to your mailbox each week by subscribing to my weekly Working With... Newsletter. Straight to your inbox every Friday. Perfect for your weekend reading, viewing and listening. 

Okay, let’s get into this week’s question so that means it’s time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Jackie. Jackie asks Hi Carl. I know you have done a few videos on managing email, but I still really struggle to keep on top of my email. Do you have any tips to get in control of an out of control inbox? 

Thank you, Jackie, for the wonderful question. Now where to start? Email is a difficult one for many people. Even the most productive people seem to struggle with this one. I’ve seen so many people with perfectly organised to-do lists, files and notes, but their email organisation is a complete mess. I think this is due to people not being in control of what comes into our email inboxes whereas when we are working with our to-do list manager or notes app we control what goes into our inboxes. 

So, how do we get our email under control? The first thing to understand is leaving all your incoming email in your inbox is not a smart way to manage email. Over time your inbox becomes a huge mess of read and unread email and then it just becomes very difficult to find exactly what you are looking for. It’s a bit like just dumping all your clothes on the floor of your room at the end of the day. Eventually, you are going to have to start looking for the clothes you want to wear and it would be a nightmare just looking for them. 

Instead, we need to operate a four options system and there really are only four things you can do with an email when it comes in. Do it now, defer it to when you have time to do something with it, delete it (my favourite) or delegate it to someone else. The four “D’s” Do, defer, delete or delegate. I’d love to claim this idea as my own, but it came from the wonderful Merlin Mann who called this system “Inbox Zero”. Merlin put together a website with a ton of information about how to set up Inbox Zero and he also did a Google Talks presentation. Both of which are worth looking at. I will put a link to both these excellent resources in the show notes for you. 

So how does this work? Well, when an email comes in you ask a simple question. “What is it?” Is it an email you need to reply to? Is it an email you don’t need to reply to but do need to keep it for future reference? Is it something that’s not important to you? You need to decide. 

If it’s something you need to act upon the question then becomes what do you need to do with it? Reply? Do you have time to do it now? If not then move it to an action today folder. 

Now I should explain a little about the folders. You really only need four folders. An inbox, an “Action This Day” folder, a “waiting for” and an archive folder. I would suggest you set these up immediately. Four folders - an inbox, an action this day, a waiting for and an archive. The chances are two of those folders/categories are already set up. You just need to create the waiting for and action this day folders. 

The action this day folder is where you put emails you need to do something with, but don’t have time right now to do it. However, as the name of this folder suggests, you do need to do whatever needs doing this day. No excuses, EVER! When you stop treating this folder as your most important folder, it’s power will diminish and you may as well not bother. 

For those of you wondering, the phrase “action this day” is a Winston Churchill phrase. During the war whenever he wanted something done urgently, he would label the direction with the words “Action this day” with a red sticker. Churchill’s staff new then what to do. 

Your waiting for folder is for emails you are waiting for a reply on something. I also use this folder for items I have ordered and I am waiting for delivery. I don’t order very much, but the date stamp from the email confirmation tells me when the item was ordered so when I check my waiting for folder I have a clear view of what is outstanding. How often do I check my waiting for folder? Once a day. Usually in the evening. If something is getting close to becoming overdue, I will send out a little reminder to whoever I am waiting to hear from. 

Your inbox and archive should be self-explanatory. Anything that needs no response from you, but you may need later for reference should be put in your archive. Your archive is searchable so you don’t need to worry about losing anything. Just make sure in your email settings you have your archive folder set to not delete emails older than 30 days. Gmail has this turned on by default. I would recommend you change that to 12 months. 

So how does all this work? When you process your email—note I did not say “check” your email—checking email is probably the worst time sucks out there. Checking email means you are doing nothing just checking. What’s the point in that? Instead, process. Either start at the bottom or the top and ask the question “what is it” and “what’s the next action?” If you can reply now - do it now. If you need a little more time, time you do not have right now, then move it to your “Action this day folder". If you don’t need to reply or do anything, move it to your archive. And essentially that’s it. 

Just for your reference, I can process around 70 emails, in this way, in about ten to fifteen minutes. And when I say “process” I mean I can go through all 70 emails, move them from my inbox and be left with an empty inbox. Sure, there will be around ten to fifteen emails in my Action This Day folder, but I will batch process (or chunk) those later when I have done at least one of my big objectives for the day. 

When you start replying and dealing with actionable email consistently within 24 hours you not only feel in control of your email, you also find your colleagues and the people you interact with regularly, start to see how effective and timely you are and that is always a good thing. People will respect your time much more. 

One bit of advice I would give is to become more adept at deleting. If you dump everything into your archive over time, you are going find you have an unmanageable folder of stuff you need, might need and never need. Delete the never need stuff. You don’t need it. If you find later you wanted it to keep, then someone somewhere will have a copy of it. Don’t stress yourself about it. The delete key is much faster than swiping or dragging and dropping. It was designed that way—use it. 

The real trick with this system or method is to get really good at answering the question “what is it?” And, “what do I have to do with it?” When that becomes a deep habit, that’s when email will no longer be a place of stuff you don’t want to look at or clean up. 

One final thing on this is the declaration of email bankruptcy. If your inbox has become a pit of read and unread emails dating back to the millennium, then it’s time to declare email bankruptcy. Now there are two ways to do this. A hard or soft email bankruptcy declaration. The hard one is to select all emails currently in your inbox—yes, every single one of them, then take a moment, breathe and count down from ten ... 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 then BANG! Hit the delete key! Now what you have just done is created a true “inbox zero moment. No emails in your inbox. Get used to it. This is going to be your life every day from now on. 

Okay, so maybe your not that brave. If that’s the case you can do a soft email bankruptcy. This involves creating a folder and naming it “old inbox” and again selecting all emails in your inbox and moving them to this new folder. Again, you will have created an inbox zero moment — sit back and enjoy— this is the start of your new life! You can now process your old inbox as and when you have spare time. 

One of the funniest things about doing a soft email bankruptcy is after a few weeks you begin to realise that 99% of the emails in your inbox were not that important after all and you end up hitting the delete button anyway. Doing things this way though means you miss out on all the fun of blindly hitting the delete key and the fear of the unknown washing over you. Love that feeling. 

Well, I hope that answers your question, Jackie and I hope all of you got something out of this week. Please don’t forget if you have any questions you would like me to answer on this show, just email me with your question (or leave a message on Facebook or Twitter) and I will be very happy to answer your question for you.

Thank you very much for listening to this episode. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.