Earlier today, I found myself in a conversation on Twitter about how I process email with my friend Bryan Liles. He uses the Inbox Zero method, as do I, to a bit, so I thought I’d actually write a post.
The last time I talked about email, I believe I was still using Mail.app, which, of course, I still like because of it’s nice integration with other Apple Apps. I have to admit, however, that I no longer use it.
I use Gmail, the web interface. That’s all I use. I mentioned before that I used to have about 10 email accounts, all for various reasons, none of which I could truly justify. None of them were hidden or anything, they were all some derivative of “eslerj” or “joelesler” or something. So I started consolidating.
Right now, all my personal email, (friends and family) use one address. All my list servers go to a second address, and of course, I have my work email.
I found logging into three different accounts to be very annoying, so I found out through playing around in the Gmail settings that you can enable your Gmail to be able to send email “on behalf” of other email accounts. So, for example, I set my “from” address to be any one of the three addresses, and when I hit “reply”, Gmail knows to reply from the proper account. (If you have it set up correctly.)
So, I took my other two accounts and forwarded them to the one. That way, I have one single account to check all my email from. Very nice.
So, onto the meat, how do I process email?
Like a lot of people I use Gmail’s filters and labels. Since I forward all my email into one account, I get anywhere between 600-1000 emails a day, so I needed an efficient way to handle this stuff automatically.
All listservers, when I receive an email from them, are tagged automatically with a label, based upon the list header. (I suggest you let Google filter this stuff for you, use the “Filter Messages like this” feature.)
Google will suggest what it thinks you should use as a Filter. Whether it be from a certain person, etc.. For the listservers, it does a nice job of parsing headers. For example, the filter in my Gmail to filter emails sent to the Snort-Sigs list for http://www.snort.org is “list:"snort-sigs.lists.sourceforge.net"”
I then let Gmail apply a label, and Skip the Inbox.
That way I don’t get bogged down in the listserver email when I am trying to do actual email processing. All listservers are set up like that (Except for my “Snort” based ones, I want those in my Inbox, so I can respond to people.) That eliminates about 400-800 emails from my daily processing. I take a look at all my listserver email about once a day, scan the subjects, and if I don’t see anything interesting, I mark them all as read and move on. (BTW -- so, if you want me to particularly look at your email if you post to a listserver, cc me! You’ll find out why in a sec ;)
BTW -- If you aren’t using these two features in Gmail, you are absolutely crazy.
The first option is Keyboard Shortcuts. Once you learn the keyboard shortcuts in Gmail, you FLY through your email so much faster.
The Personal Level indicators place little arrows next to the emails that are sent only to you “>>” or sent to your name (as well as someone else, like for instance, if you were “cc’ed” on an email. “>”.
So, when I read my email in my inbox, I use a labels/filters to process the ones from my corporate domain “sourcefire.com” and (and a couple other domains) and label them a particular color. This allows me to quickly glance down a huge page of email, determine which of the emails with the “>>” arrows are from my company or not.
I process all the email in my inbox to “zero”, making “todo’s” (I use OmniFocus for this (learn your keyboard shortcuts!) Responding quickly to those that need responding, and archiving the things I don’t want to respond to. I can burn through a couple hundred emails in a very short amount of time.
I also try to keep to the 5 sentences or less method of email if I can. I do make exceptions to this rule if I need to, (rarely), but I find that I don’t generally have a problem if I keep my emails quick, descriptive, and to the point.