Quick Start Guide to Email Productivity

Email might be one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of my life. Of course, it’s not the emails themselves, it’s the future plans and commitments they contain. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you feel the same way.

For me, email productivity isn’t simply about getting to inbox zero, it’s about managing those plans and commitments and setting the right expectations for the people on the other end of the email. It really comes down to being mindful of your time and others’.

There are many productivity books and concepts out there, but I’ve found that the time investment in reading and absorbing the material is a barrier for many. To help you get past the initial hump, I’ve distilled what I’ve learned from studying said books and concepts into a few basic ideas.

Decide what to do with the email

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, developed a simple system for dealing with this: do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it.

Do it

If it takes less than 2 minutes to close the loop on the email, then do it. The idea here is that it’ll take you longer to organize and process than it would to just take care of it while it’s in front of you.

Delegate it

Are you the best person to address the this email? If not, delegate it to the person who is.

Defer it

Most emails fall into this category for me. It’s something that I need to take care of, but it takes longer than 2 minutes to address. To get it out of my inbox, I determine when it needs to be addressed and do one of the following:

  • Add it to my to-do list with the appropriate date. ToDoist is my to-do list app of choice.
  • Use Boomerang to bring the email back to my inbox when I can better address the question or task.

Drop it

Sometimes you don’t need to do anything to the close the loop on an email. Delete or archive it, or, if it’s something you may be interested in looking at again in the future, move it to a “Someday” folder.

Keep track of emails you’re waiting to hear back on

Sometimes people take a long time to respond. Sometimes they don’t respond at all. We all have some of these people in our life. That’s why you need a system to track and follow up on emails that you have not received a response on.

That’s exactly what FollowUpThen does. You can schedule a follow-up email to automatically send to the recipient(s) at a specified date and time if you have not received a response, or schedule a follow-up reminder to be sent to your inbox at a specified date and time if you have not received a response.

FollowUpThen provides a dashboard for viewing all emails that you’ve scheduled follow-up reminders for with options to edit or delete them. You can also get this view of all your scheduled follow-up reminders by sending an email to pending@followupthen.com. I’ve configured my email to automatically send this every morning so I can get a quick glance at which emails I’m waiting to hear back on.

Review as often as needed to keep from thinking about it

The reason why we organize emails and the responsibilities associated with them is so we don’t have to walk around holding all of that information in our head. It’s a lot to remember and you’ll likely forget some of it. And, if you’re like me, your brain will work overtime to remind you of all this information if it’s not organized in a system that you trust and review frequently.

The review frequency and duration will vary from person to person, but I’d recommend building a system that will allow you to do a quick review of tasks and follow-ups daily and a more comprehensive review weekly to include things like your “Someday” folder.

That wraps up my quick start guide to email productivity. If nothing else, incorporate these basic ideas into your email workflow and I promise you’ll have less sleepless nights thinking about what you need to do next Tuesday.