Tuesday, November 2

Archiving Emails in Mail.app, there's an app for that.

If you are using Mail.app on OSX, this post is for you.

It's been well known to people that read my blog that I am an Inbox-Zero ninja, and generally pride myself on my ability to get through vast amounts of email quickly because of the system that I have refined over the past several years of experimenting.

Techniques in Archiving


One of the things about Inbox Zero is the ability to quickly move an email out of your "Inbox" and into another folder.  If you sort your emails that come into your Inbox by topic or subject or whatever, different folders may do good things for you.  For instance I have a folder where all Snort related email goes.  The three Snort mailing lists go straight to my inbox where I read most of them and then file them away using a keyboard shortcut.  Other Snort related mailing lists just go straight to this box, leaving me with only the important ones in my inbox.

Most listserver traffic of the 40 or so listservers that I belong to go straight to a "listserver" folder, where I can deal with it later.  You get my point.

But everything that I don't filter, is in my inbox, which usually nets me about 200~ emails a day that I need to deal with.  When I read an email I have possible outcomes.

  • Delete it

  • Archive it (if I need it later)

  • Respond to it (if it takes shorter than 2 minutes to accomplish this task)

  • Delegate it (if I am not the appropriate person to deal with "x" email)

  • Make a todo to deal with it later.


Delete it


Duh.  I don't do enough of this.

Archive it.


This is the meat of the post, and kind of the point of writing this article.  I am a firm believer in leaving your hands on the keyboard if possible.  Learning the keyboard shortcuts in your favorite app will not only save time, but it also keeps your hands where you need to be doing work.  On the keyboard (instead of continually reaching for your mouse).  There are keyboard shortcuts for almost anything in OSX, and if you can't find it, or the menu command doesn't have a keyboard shortcut, you can make a keyboard shortcut to do what you want in Snow Leopard.  Heck, there are keyboard shortcuts in Gmail (learn em!)

Now, how do you do this in Mail.app, well there is a little app called "Archive" that will allow you to do this.

Archive.  Archive allows you to do exactly that.  Archive the email that you are presently on.  It creates a folder in your email accounts named "Archive", and when you mash the shortcut in your inbox, it puts the email that you have lighted in the appropriate Archive folder.  Simple, clean, done.

There is also Mail Act-On, which I've talked about before here, is a nice little app if you need to do more advanced things than Archive, but for 99% of you, check out Archive, it does what you need.

Respond to it


If I think it'll take less than 2 minutes to respond to the email that I am currently reading, I'll bang out a response.  I try to not bang out a "quick" response "just to keep the ball moving" as Kevin Rose says.  I try to write out a through response.  My point in doing this is to eliminate further email by providing any answers I can, by asking the appropriate question so that the response to my email is full of exactly what I need it to be, and so that people don't waste more time by me not wasting theirs with a "short terse banged-out email".

Delegate It.


Otherwise known as the "Forward" button.  I get a ton of email, not all appropriate for me to handle, some need to go to our web team, some need to go to our research team, but it comes to me, because I "handle" the email, as opposed to ignore it.  I don't mind being the conduit to which people communicate, at least I know things are getting done, and I have a pulse on what is going on.

Todo It.


If the email contains an action that I need to perform, but I can't do it right now, I have a keyboard shortcut that allows me to highlight a section of text, mash a keyboard shortcut, and Omnifocus will grab the hightlight-ed input that I selected and makes a Todo out of it, along with a link in Omnifocus back to the email that generated it.  (This is called "Clipping" for you Omnifocus nerds, get ON IT.)  I quickly set a context (email) and a due date.  Then I go onto the next email.  Everyday, I get to the bottom of the "Todo"s that are due that day, and that includes the thoughtful emails.

Matter of fact, writing this post about "Archive" was a Todo.

Let me go mark it done.

BTW -- Inbox Zero comes from Merlin Mann.  I'm not stealing his work.  It's insightful.  He rocks.  MerlinMann.com and InboxZero.com

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