JanRezab / Blog

Founder & Executive Chairman of Socialbakers.com


Good tips: How to tackle email and some useful email management tricks

Published: October 21, 2013

Tags: efficiency

This is the article about what role email plays in my life and about our evolving romantic relationship… Reading the article can hopefully save you some precious time in your life. Having recently read a few articles about time efficiency (obviously is a very interesting topic for me), I would like to share with you on how I deal with email. Yes, there are countless ways to look at efficiency, and this is only one of many, but its quite a big part.

Why? This year, I sent 17,000 emails (about 60 per day), and received about 70,000 (worse day still is about 500, which does not include spam, but does include things where I was on CC). Email communication accounts for one of my longest spent times in my working life, I spent an equivalent of 12 full days (x 24 hours) of pure time emailing during 2013, and it was an equivalent of 25% of my computer time (computer time is about 50% of my working time).

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RescueTime (software I use to monitor computer time) says: 

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I figured email being one of the biggest time spender for people, reading this article could save some people quite a load of time. I have optimized and evolved my rules and processes around email for quite some time.

How I organize my emails? 
I have 30 GB of email, and that quite a lot of it. I tackle it by using a Mac and Mac Mail (Outlook). I use Google Apps, and I use native rules and labels.

For me, inbox is the buffer, the to-do list, the undone. I never delete emails, I only archive them (move them into a separate folder by keyboard shortcut). The benefit especially because I use a lot of automated rules comes next.

I have automated rules for almost all contacts I email frequently. This allows me to just archive an email, and I know I can find it in a few seconds in a particular topical folder. I put a full overview of my folder tree below. (Gmail doesn’t use folders but labels, but in IMAP a folder works like a label, this sometimes means having one email in 2 folders, but Mac mail and Google know how to deal with that).

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I deal with emails in categorical waves – first filter out notifications and newsletter right away, then look at the most important, flag those, then look at ones you can easily OK – approve – move (especially if people are waiting for you on something), and do them right away in the next 10 minutes, and then come back and make a decision which flagged ones you will deal with right away and which you will deal with later. I deal differently with internal and external email.

I use a ton of keyboard shortcuts: For replying, sending, opening new, reading, deleting, archiving, and navigate the emails mostly with a keyboard making it quite a fast process.

Balancing email – I believe there is a right amount of time between balancing emails and work itself. For me as a CEO, communication is the key thing. Sometimes you get an email and its many more times productive to call a meeting or set up a phone call, but many of the times you just have to really go in and reply those emails. So this is the advice around dealing with a load of that.

Best emailing tips:

  • Turn off mobile email notifications – its a focus killer, have email on your phone, but only open it when you want, not when “it wants”
  • Sometimes, if you are dealing with a day or more of unread and undone emails, as you are working on it and getting the process is getting repetitive, change from for example Mac Mail to the iPad and continue there for a while and then change the device again. Although impossible to prove by any study I could find, this is a guaranteed tip that it will work especially if you are dealing with over 200 – 400 emails that you have to all deal with in a few hours. 
  • If you look above, I don’t keep my Inbox as a stream, but only as a “todo buffer”. This also means I try and keep it clean and most of the time I like to end a day with under 100 total emails in my mailbox, and clean it once a week or two to zero. This also means that for me I will hardly lose an email reply.
  • Don’t have emails turned on all day long, for example lower the receive refresh rate, or just minimize or quit your email for a while – create several times a day where you would check it. But unless email is most of your job, do your job first and then go back to email
  • I noticed more and more people using the Gmails native interface. I think an Macmail, or the PC version Outlook Express/Outlook is a better way to deal with email especially if you know how to tackle this. The web interface is good and I sometimes go there for a few operations, but its much slower to operate, doesn’t work well offline, and doesn’t just keeps loading (where in IMAP, even if you work offline, the sync really does magic and works perfectly well).
  • Not a direct emailing tip, but I used to be a big ICQ, chat, and instant messaging person. I use very little IM communication, as its probably the least productive thing out there. I would call it micro defocus. You defocus a little but at scale in many chat conversations. I try to keep it off by default, and on Jabber I only have 10 people and turn it on only when I need to.

How I would like to eradicate email? 
In the company, we use Podio, something that both adds but as well structures communication in a better way. With Podio, I hope to get rid of all so called “CC email”. A “CC email” is where over 3 – 4 people are on CC (worst cases: 7 – 10, or even more), and you start creating a bad email chain.
Similarly to how Facebook dealt with email, and today, most people don’t need email notifications for Facebook and Facebook is a destination, Podio and other collaborative social networks can deal with emails.
I am looking for tools or any other things to really help me build a layer above email that could help deal with a lot of the issues out there.
Of course, email will still be there, but I would hope to get rid of the one to many use case at least, and make sure most of that communication is in some structured place like Salesforce in Chatter, Podio, or social media

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What features I really miss in email?

  • Social features – internal conversation about an email with my PA – but a very quick one, double read notifications. Something we have in our Socialbakers Builder for example, that we can internally discuss a Tweet or a Facebook post
  • Enterprise features – for example – forward, delegate, archive, and monitor – being able to monitor a forwarded email to either a department or a person how its being dealt with, and having statistics on it. I would love to have this company wide if possible. 

To conclude, email is a very important part of everyones life. One interesting observation on Facebook and its development – I used to send friends emails and texts. Today, I don’t remember the last time I would send a friend on email – I would send a Whatsapp, iMessage, but most importantly a Facebook message. Email is mostly now a business tool for me, and I am trying to manage it in the best way possible.
I will keep you updated on my new tricks that I find. In the meanwhile, I would love if you would share any tips and tricks of how you do it below in the comments.

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