Yesterday, I posted an entry on this blog about having tamed the Gmail beast. I hope it didn’t come across as too much gloating, but it’s been a long time coming.
Today, I thought I would share briefly how I did this. The process is divided into two steps.
Step one: clear your inbox
To begin with, I had far more emails in my inbox then you are likely ever to see. I’m serious. It’s so embarrassing, that I’m not going to tell you how many there were. Suffice to say it was in the tens of thousands So where to start?
I made an arbitrary decision that any email, whether I had opened it or not, that had been sitting in my inbox for more than 30 days was likely to be of little or no value. I realize that cutoff date may not work for you. That’s fine. Just come up with some age for emails that marks them as stale. Then, I simply mass deleted all of them. In my case, I found a Google Apps script that, with some modification, did this job for me. You may or may not need such a script, depending on how many emails you have to get rid of. If you do, I would refer you to this site, which not only teaches you how to script your Gmail, it also provides numerous sample scripts which you can use as is or modify to suit your needs. Great site.
After I ran that script, I had a few thousand remaining emails to deal with. It took me about two hours, but I finally dealt with all of those by either filing them or deleting them. (In a little bit, I will tell you what my ongoing process is for dealing with email. These steps are derived from that process.)
Next, I set up a procedure for dealing with my most troublesome category of email: long, interesting pieces that I want to read, but in the interest of efficiency, not right now. After a good bit of exploration, I decided to use Evernote to solve this problem. I simply created a new notebook in my premium Evernote account called “ReadLater”. It turned out that Evernote, at least for premium accounts, includes an email address to which you can send items to be stored in your notebooks. How cool is that? In addition, by modifying the subject line in your emails, you can direct an emailed item to a specific notebook.
Step two: handle each email once.
Many years ago, well before computers became commonplace, a business coach gave me a valuable tip. “Never handle any piece of paper twice,” he said. Over the years, I have tried, not always successfully, to follow that advice. But I realized in reviewing my email habits, that I was violating the principle over and over. I realized then that it was time to systematize my interaction with my inbox to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, that inefficient pattern.
So, starting with a clean inbox, I decided that I would look at each incoming email that Gmail, based on many years of experience with my preferences, determined was important, and decide, based on a quick scan of the sender, subject, and excerpt displayed in my inbox, how to dispose of each email.
Many, I could delete without much thought. (Clearly, I need to unsubscribe from some things!)
Some I could see required a fairly easy response, or needed an immediate action. Those I opened and dealt with appropriately.
Email that was primarily informational in nature I found fell into two categories: stuff I wanted to file for later retrieval, and stuff I wanted to read completely, but not urgently. Items that fell into the first category I drag to a Gmail folder to label them so that I can find them when I need them. Items that fell into the second category are those I referred to earlier as my main email nemesis. But now, dealing with these is a piece of cake. I simply forward them to my Evernote account to be read later and delete them. Problem solved.
Since I can tke all of these actions on a relatively small number of emails fairly quickly, I’m spending far less time managing my email more effectively than ever.
It remains to be seen how long this system will work for me, but I’m pretty excited at the prospects.