How do you deal with all that email?

With Windows Mobile offering excellent access to email I started to think about how long I've used email for and how I use it...

I've had an email address since 1989.  My first email account was on our Texas Instruments MSG system which was a mainframe based email system that was used across the company.  We all had 4 character aliases (mine was JAY1) and could send email and even attachments real time!  Then through the various companies I worked for I used MS Mail and then Microsoft Exchange for corporate email . 

I relalised this week that over the past 17 years I've developed some interesting strategies for managing the huge amount of email I receive.  

Currently I get between 400-500 emails a day....


To deal with all this I follow some principles:

1) For all distribution lists I create rules that filter email to subfolders unless my name is in the TO or CC fields.

2) I filter all Out of Office replies to a separate folder (important for this time of year!)

3) Only emails sent TO me or CC'd to me enter my main Inbox

4) I allocate time in each day to deal with emails


When I then process my emails I follow the strategy :

1) I read my Inbox first

2) I read any distribution lists when I have time - I filter them by conversation and delete the entire conversation if I'm not interested in the thread.


I'm always staggered by people who think email is a realtime process - for me it's a batch process and while Direct Push gives me realtime access I tend to process my email in batches.  So when tackling my inbox I always make sure I only ever open the email once - when I have opened it I either:

a) Respond immediately

b) Set a follow up when I have time to follow up (post holiday) adding it to my calendar.

c) Defer the email to someone else and set a follow up note on when I should follow up.

d) Delete it! 

Some of this is based on the principles in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen

When I'm out of the office - I always make people aware through my OOF message that I am out until a certain date and that you should not expect a response until that date UNLESS you resend me your email with the word URGENT in it!  (If I indeed am planning to access email)

It's amazing how few people resend an email... however it does mean that when you return from leave you can always quickly see which emails are important and need action.  Last time I had a couple of weeks off I received approx 4,500 emails and only 8 got resent as Urgent!


Finally - I have 3 things about people's use of email that really annoy me:

1) People who send massive attachments of information to huge distribution lists... post it on a Sharepoint (or fileshare) and link to it! 

2) People who send emails asking for information or feedback with either no date specified or ridiculously short timeframes to respond in.   Whenever I send an email asking for action from people I always make sure I give them sufficient notice and also make them aware of when I need their response. 

3) People who complain they can't manage the amount of email they receive - normally these are people who don't use rules!

Comments (7)
  1. Paul says:

    "d) Delete it! "

    Uh… why?

    I have been a daily, and hoplelessly dependent, Outlook user for ten years. For work I have my Exchange mailbox and for my private e-mail I have a PST folder on my local C: drive that I back up every two weeks. Both are always open and expanded in my Outlook Folder List. For both work and private, I have, for ten years, not deleted ANY e-mail, sent or received, unlesss it was: a) spam, b) out-of-office reply, or c) from a mailing list I’m not interested in.

    My saved e-mails are a huge and extremely valuable information store (maybe that’s why Exchange calls it that?) that I have very often needed and equally often used. They are a record of what has been said. They are an archive of facts. They mean that while I know I will forget things, I will always remember where to re-learn them. Okay, my private pst file is getting sort of big now (2.5Gb) so searching is starting to become a little slow… but Outlook 12 is on the way!

    But the main point is this: hard disk space being as abundant as it is, why delete e-mails? In my small company (14 people), in which I’m not only the boss but the Administrator as well, I have imposed a no-delete rule for e-mail. I have put 25-MB size limits on mailboxes and when people reach the limit they can’t send anymore, forcing them to file their e-mails into the Public Folders. I am having no problems (that I know of) with this policy. I show people how to manage e-mail adeptly, for example sorting by sender and then grabbing the whole lot from a sender and moving it to the right public folder, etc. E-mail mgt takes very little time if you do it right. People for whom it’s a problem just don’t think about it enough.

    But people who delete e-mails baffle me.

  2. Get a lot of email? Most of us do and being able to control it is essential if you want to keep your wits about you. Jason Langridge has developed some interesting strategies for managing the huge amount of email…

  3. MSDN Archive says:

    Paul – the reason I delete it is if it isn’t interesting to you – why keep it… do you keep all the junk mail you get through the post?  

  4. Paul says:

    Jason, I think you didn’t read past the first line of my comment — I delete spam, mailing list e-mail, and out-of-office replies. All other e-mail is e-mail in which my e-mail address was intentionally inserted into either the to, cc, or bcc fields by hand by an actual human. That does not mean it is NECESSARILY interesting to me, but it does mean that it MIGHT be, and trying to make a guess as to whether it will or won’t ever, at any point in the future, be interesing to me is a) far more time consuming than just keeping the e-mail (which consumes neither time nor anything else that is scarce), and b) at risk of being incorrect.

  5.   I’ve blogged before about the great guidance given in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done ,

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