Taming the email beast

I get a lot of email. A lot. To the point where it was not only taking up too much of my working day, but becoming a distraction outside of it.

I’ve been working on making how I use email more efficient, here’s a few things I have found that have worked:

1) Gmail filters

A whole load of my email comes from machines. Often useful updates or newsletters that I’d like to read at some point, but not right away. I now run a gmail filter to take any message of this form and skip my inbox, move it to a ‘read it when I have time’ folder.

I also get copied into loads of email. Things I need to read but maybe not right away. Another filter takes any email I’m cc’d in to and skips my inbox, puts it in a folder for when I’m ready to deal with mail.

These two filters mean what ends up in my inbox is actually to me, and is from a person that needs a reply. Helps the important stuff get to the top, and keeps me calmer as the unread message count on the inbox looks far healthier!

2) Five Sentence.es

This is about fixing what I send. I’m finding it hard to be 100% committed to the limit, but I do subscribe to the ‘shorter the better’ ideal.

More importantly, I try to only send for specific reasons. Direct questions or action points are the key. Seems like one of those behaviors you can model in the hope others will copy.

3) Awayfind

In one simple app Awayfind has stopped me feeling I need to check my email every 10 minutes, and has made sure I don’t miss anything that is actually important.

Awayfind is similar to Gmail filters in it lets you create rules, but it adds push alerts into the mix.

If anybody sends an email to me that contains certain keywords (think ‘urgent’) AwayFind sends an alert to my phone immediately. I may not check my mail as often as I used to, but it means if it’s really important I get it immediately.

In addition to the constant rules you set up it also has a really nice ‘waiting for’ feature. Tell Awayfind that you’re waiting for an email from a certain person and it’ll tell you when it arrives. For example, we had some issues with a school trip over the half term break and I needed to see updates immediately. An Awayfind alert for anything from that person the day it was happening meant I avoided constantly pressing the refresh button on my inbox.

4) Gmail meter

This is a free tool that’s helping prove I’ve made a positive change. It watches your inbox and once a month sends you some nice little stats about your email use.

Watching the quantity decrease over the last few months has been interesting, but most importantly the stats show that my response time to the messages I actually need to deal with is improving. Means some of this must actually be working…

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