10 Rules of Email

Email is such a huge problem for all of us that we should all adopt a few clearly defined guidelines. I like to think the best guidelines are thought-through but not lengthy, so I’ve condensed the rules I apply to my top ten.

I don’t like to be sucked into the vortex of email anymore than you do. And even if you enjoy spending days at a time in your email client, hopefully you still see what a time-suck they can be when you’re not prepared to take action with all the different types of emails you have to filter. My ten rules make it possible for me to be productive and reach an empty inbox almost every day.

1. Don’t check email during the morning routine.

Before I begin worky-work, I want to focus on establishing my alertness, fleshing out my to-dos and schedule, and caring for my family’s immediate needs. My morning ritual always feels better when email management isn’t a part of it.

2. Time that I manage email is focused.

I stop everything else that’s competing for my attention and give all my attention to my email situation. I’m most likely to be done with the emails much faster than if I kid myself that I can multitask while I navigate my inbox.

3. Look at an email for at least a second.

If it’s in my inbox then I probably gave the sender my email address. My spam filters are exceptionally powerful, so I rarely see an unsolicited message mixed in with relevant messages. I’ll look at each email in my inbox for at least a whole second to determine if its content is of interest and actionable.

4. After reading, I need to take some kind of action.

Take care of my responsibilities outlined in the email for work projects immediately. Add the to-dos to my project management app. Reply to the sender with the appropriate response. Archive the email… The point is, I never look at an email and leave it in my inbox because the email has been seen and now belongs elsewhere, because I won’t have time tomorrow to manage tomorrow’s emails in addition to today’s that I procrastinated on.

5. If I should reply, do it now.

If all I need to do is reply to the email and I’m hesitant because I dislike the issue presented, then I catch myself in the act and reply to the email immediately anyway. I’ll feel much better once the reply is sent and the email is out of my inbox.

6. Flag important emails for later reference.

If the email is truly valuable for a project that I’m in part responsible for, I flag it then archive it. When I need to see it I’ll retrieve the email from my flagged folder. (I never have more than a dozen flagged emails.)

7. Archive for later reference.

If the email requires no action at all, it’s going straight into the archive. The only reason it’s in the archive is if there might be a need to reference it later, otherwise it’s never to be seen or heard of again.

8. Practically useless in every way? Delete it.

If the email isn’t worthy of a response now or later, and I can’t see ever needing to reference it, that email is deleted immediately.

9. Share inspiring emails for their intrinsic value.

If an organization sends an email to their list (which I’m a part of) with a compelling message or design, I often share it with some of my peers that appreciate high quality email content. I’m not the only nerd that appreciates a thoughtful email.

10. Newsletters are marked and archived automatically.

If it’s a newsletter or advertisement that I’ve signed up to receive, then I have automated settings in place to direct the email to my archive and label the message as a newsletter so that I can review newsletters all at one time, at my convenience, or ‘select all’ and use a keyboard shortcut to ‘mark all as read’ so that I can be done with them and any notification badges drawing attention to them.