I’ve complained about email myself. I’ve tried to banish it to specific parts of my day. I keep getting back to email because it is so random. The joy of seeing new stuff, only to have it shattered moments after if it is something you did not expect, it is a bunch of work you just can’t have right now, or a negative reply on a proposal you worked on for so long. It can be a pleasant surprise too: a message from a long-forgotten friend, a new follower, a compliment.

There are a couple of things you can do to live better with email.

  1. Use the right app. There are dozens of apps to deal with email. I’m using good old Gmail. My requirements: it needs to be really fast. It needs to have excellent keyboard shortcuts. Search needs to be really good.
  2. Stop archiving into folders. If you have really good search, archiving makes less sense. Also: when it the last time you really wanted to get all the emails around a specific project? I archived email into project folders for years, but in the end found it a waste of time. Saved you a couple of seconds for each email.
  3. Take a look at your flow. I’m using Gmail’s automatic important versus non-important labels so I can focus on the most important emails and the non-important stuff is filtered out automatically.
  4. Rethink when you’re dealing with email. The guys from manager tools recommend three blocks of time every day to deal with email. Not more and no emailing in between. But you do need to schedule time for it, otherwise (and I’m experiencing this too often) you get dragged down by it and you need to do it on times you don’t want to deal with it. I like to do email during my commute back home, because my energy level tends to be a bit lower without being totally depleted, which is perfect for email. Another thing (I do this all the time, but it’s bad): doing email requires your full attention. Don’t try to be efficient and combine email with meetings, conversations with your spouse or walking.

As email is a large part of our work, taking some time to rethink how you deal with it can return a lot of value (and forwarding this email might be the best forwards you did in a long time).