MG Siegler recently wrote about his choice to archive 50,000+ emails one night. And how he used that to decide to archive everyone once a week from now on.
A week ago, I came home after a long night of drinking and wanted to vomit. It wasn’t the whiskey. It was the email.
The way I deal with email is only slightly different from MG’s. The ammount of email I get is extremely tame, but I still think the workflow could help a lot of people. It’s something I’ve worked into after hours of listening to Merlin Mann, in various formats, speak about email and time management.
I use my email in very tight conjunction with Things. It could be any “to do” list style app. OmniFocus is another good one. I like Things for its simplicity.
There’s one rule that I have with email, only read it once. That’s not the perfect way to say it. Of course I read emails multiple times, but when I read and email there are three things that can happen.
- Junk. Delete.
- I can do this in a minute or two. Do it. Archive or Delete.
- I don’t have time to do this right now. Put it in Things. Archive.
When it’s something I don’t have time for, I’ll drop a link to the email in the notes field of Things if I’m going to need to reference it again. This obviously requires you have an active to do list that you keep up with. It might seem like you’re just pushing the problem out of email and into another list, but ideally your to do list is more organized that your email. If you read the same email six times before you do something about it, you were wasting your time the first five times. With a GTD type approach, you can quickly look at your list and know what needs to get done and what things you can currently do based on contexts.
This works for me with a small volume of email. I imagine it gets even better the more email you get. The more email you get, the more time you waste re-reading everything.1
MG writes about how relieving it can be to have the weight of 50,000 emails moved out of your inbox, to a place that you only ever see them when/if you need to. It’s funny because I’m the same way, though I don’t clear my RSS reader every night, it’s something I do regularly. And those red Push Notifications. I don’t think this is uncommon though.
It’s essentially out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I should have known this would be the case since I’m also obsessed with clearing my RSS reader every night (even though I barely use it anymore) and am a slave to clearing red Push Notification dots on the iPhone/iPad.
I only slightly disagree with the final point:
Read most of it. Respond to some of it. Keep all of it. But hide it. Then forget about it. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
I don’t keep all my email. There’s a lot of email that I know I’ll never need again. I delete them. Maybe you never get email like that.