The Advice Not Given About Managing Email

Screenshot of mock email regarding a fictitious report on blockchain and medicine.

There are millions of takes floating around the internet purporting to be the secret to getting the seemingly endless mountain of email we receive in a day under control. The thing is, they are all missing the real trick.

It is the bane of the modern white-collar workplace. Email. We know we get too many of them every day.

The staple conversation around the bespoke artisanal filtered water tap in the kitchen that always needs its filter replaced is how we struggle to stay on top of the endless mountain of correspondence that arrives every minute with a chime and a notification in the bottom of our screen.

There is plenty of advice out there about staying sane and actually accomplishing what you set out to do in a day, avoiding falling into the pit of forever reading and responding to email.

The problem with most of this advice is that it presents the solution as a simple, can start it in five minutes on Monday morning and by 11am everything is sorted and you’ve ascended to the next plane of existence. Because who doesn’t want to spend two hours on a Monday morning in the senior leadership team meeting?

The problem is, all these ideas tend to present a manual solution. The problem is still that you need to pile through your inbox and decide which emails need responding to.

What you should be doing, is letting the computer do a lot of that heavy lifting for you.

We all have on our desks a machine that is very good and doing repetitive tasks within a set of rules given to it by an operator. Why not use it?

The number of emails that a typical white-collar person receives they do not even need to read, let alone respond to, is massive. I would think that a lot of them are automatically generated.

These emails come from the same places, and should be filtered so they are filed in the appropriate spot but do not generate a notification. There, saved you looking at 20 emails.

Those all staff emails about…whatever it is, Stephen’s birthday or there’s a taped off loo in the gents because someone from sales clogged it. They don’t need distract you from what you’re doing, but you want to read them. File them into a folder to check after lunch.

That email newsletter you never read, but never unsubscribe from? JUST UNSUBSCRIBE FROM IT. You do not need updates from the weirdly cheery developer that build a WordPress plugin you have not used in five years.

These email filters can be set up in your email client. It might be Gmail, it might be Outlook, it might be something else. I guarantee you that no matter your email client there is a simple way to set up a rule that looks at who sent an email or what the subject line or who the recipients are, can mark it automatically as read and move it from your inbox to another folder in your account.

Setting up a series of these rules for your own email is not going to happen over a coffee when you get into the office, or even over a day or two.

The thing you need to actually train yourself to do is understand and analyse what actually is sent to you, recognise the patterns and create a series of rules that correspond to those patterns.

Do that, and suddenly that familiar chime will be less frequent, and take less time out of your day.