Here’s my process for managing email.


The most important thing is not to use your email inbox as a task list. Your goal should be to empty the inbox completely, as quickly as possible. All followups should be captured on a separate task list. Personally, I use a site called Checkvist. A piece of paper works just fine too.


Go through your emails rapid-fire. Pick one email. Open it. Read it. Decide what you’re going to do about it. If you can archive or delete the email immediately, do it. If you can respond in one or two sentences without thinking too much, do it right there, then archive or delete the email.

If the email requires you to do something more elaborate, write down what you need to do on your task list, then if necessary, reply quickly to the email. For example, if someone has sent you something you need to take a look at, you can respond with, “I’ll take a look” but don’t let yourself get sucked into a response longer than three sentences. Now archive the email. Keep going like this until you’ve emptied your entire inbox. This is called “Inbox Zero”. Pause for a second to enjoy this moment. At this point, you should have a list of followups that you created as you were emptying your inbox.

I try to do this process only once or maybe twice a day. Otherwise new emails coming into your inbox will always be grabbing your attention and ruining your concentration. You definitely don’t want any alerts popping up telling you about new unread emails. This is sometimes easier said than done, but if you keep getting distracted, you can just close your email program completely.

Prioritize Your Projects

Now it’s time to prioritize your day. Organize your task list so the most important items are on the top, and then start working down the list! Easy peasy.

2 comments… add one


  • This is helpful Pierre. Good advice. What is your position on archiving? I have archived all my old e-mails by project, but now have at least 50 sub-folders in a .pst archive, and find it time-consuming to pick and choose which project-level folder to sort my mail into. I find that mail could go under various different categories. Some folks have suggested to go with a zero-inbox strategy and at most 2 archive folders: "to-do" and "done". How would you do it?
    • author
      Hey Vivek thanks for stopping by! I go with a single archive. In Gmail, that's just the regular Archive function. In Outlook, I use the Deleted Items folder as a pseudo-archive. Once I've processed something in Outlook, I delete it. I rarely empty the Deleted Items, though once in a while I'll purge seriously old items. The reason for this, like you said, is it's time-consuming to put emails in folders to begin with, and then it can be difficult to find emails later even when they are in folders, either because the email crossed multiple topics, or because over time I've simply forgotten what the topic was even though I *swear* I can remember the existence of the email. One thing to check out is Google Desktop. This is a pretty good search function to look through all your historical emails. Though I've found it's not perfect either, because it doesn't include my archive/deleted items, only the emails received going forward after you install the software.

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