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My email diet

GmaillikeI love using Gmail, but until it works with my über IMAP acount, I wouldn't seriously consider switching over.

Still, Gmail's made me see the value of having very few actual folders for storing new and archived mail. It makes it much easier to track and organize your mail on the fly, plus Google's search and labeling tools let you confidently shunt items out of your inbox constantly without fear of having stuff disappear. So I decided to try a little experiment.

I took all the messages I had in almost 50 nested IMAP directories (what can I say: I grew up on Eudora) and threw them into a single new "archive"? folder. So far, it’s working great. Here’s my flow:

  1. Mail arrives in the "Inbox"?
    • I read each message
    • If it needs only a fast response, I bang it out
    • If it doesn’t need a response, I just keep on moving
    • If it needs a more detailed response or a followup, I flag it (like a star in Gmail), and capture any associated TODOs in my big txt list
  2. I process the inbox
    • flagged messages go into "@flag"? to be monitored for followup
    • read but unflagged messages get dragged into "archive"?
  3. I then return to the "@flag"? box throughout the day to complete hot items or unflag and move expired ones to "archive."?

It’s simple, super-fast, and keeps my inbox what it should be—a bare receptacle for holding unprocessed stuff.

It also really simplifies the multiple mailbox selections needed to show threads correctly. Instead of having to grab all those nested folders, I just need to select three or four now.

The two things that are not very Gmail-like about this, of course, are the search quality (come on, Spotlight!) and the missing neato labeling (I never thought I’d actually miss Entourage).

So we’ll see how well this ages and scales over time, but so far it seems like a go.

How do you process your mail? Any killer tips?

Dinah's picture

Veen, I hear ya, man....

Veen, I hear ya, man. I really need the inbox as the "this must be dealt with space" since a folder labeled "To Do" is too ignorable.

I file or delete as I read for non-action items.

I use filters to put certain like things which will not be urgent into other folders (e.g. our customer listserv, programming change messages from the source control system, the lists for other departments which I need to monitor, etc.) Then I use Eudora's underlining & bolding of folder names with unread messages to nudge me to check those.

I use labels to identify things in my inbox which belong to a particular role, task or project and those labels are in the real priority order for working on those things.

The messages labelled with the bottom category, though I acknowledge it as important, when the size of my inbox starts to stress me out are grabbed and dragged over into a folder called "To Do" where I dream that I will someday get to them.

What I'm thinking I really need to get better at is sending a message saying "I received your email. This will require some research. I'll get back to you when I have more information." Right now they get nothing while the letter languishes. This treatment is dished out primarily to co-workers and biz dev people from other companies. Boy, do I wish I had an admin.

Since the empty inbox is a pipe dream for me, I get some of that "Aaahh, I have accomplished things" feeling from having everything marked as read.

[Oddly enough I had to launch IE in order to post this because I saw no Preview or Post buttons in Firefox. Not sure what was going on there...]




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