Email Tagging

The last 6-8 months have been pretty hectic for me, both at work and with other “real life” stuff and I’ve noticed, as a result, that my email handling has really suffered. I can’t even say it’s begun to suffer because it’s entirely snowballed to the point where my inbox is insane.

The other day Lifehacker noted Andreas Klinger’s blog posting on Don’t drown in email! How to use Gmail more efficiently.. It was a good read and got me thinking. Unfortunately, I don’t use the Gmail web interface and I doubt that it’s use of stars and exclamation marks will really work across email clients. I want something that’s easy enough to use.

Recently I’ve been using MailMate and it has a nice way of treating Gmail labels like IMAP keywords so that you can tag emails, in MailMate, and have them labelled in Gmail. The nice thing with this, unlike other non-Gmail normal IMAP providers is that you can tag a message and then delete it, and it will show up in the “folder” corresponding to that label.

So I created the following labels (in Gmail) and tags (in other IMAP accounts.. yes, I have a few scattered abroad):

  • @ACTION: for things that need to be done or responded to
  • @IMPORTANT: for really important things that need to be done or responded to ASAP (like today)
  • @WAITING: for things I’m waiting on or expect a reply on, essentially things I’m waiting on a person for (needs to be reviewed weekly)
  • @FOLLOWUP: for things I need to follow up on (such as things I’ve delegated, also needs to be reviewed weekly)
  • @EVENTS: for upcoming events or trips, just so they are easily found

I’m not sure how @WAITING and @FOLLOWUP will be treated differently. For now, I’m going to try it this way and see if I use one more than the other.

So my goal is to look in the @ACTION folder (on the regular IMAP accounts, I have a smart mailbox in MailMate named after these keywords so that regardless of whether I’m using Gmail or not I get the same behaviour on all email accounts) once a day and deal with quick things, and try to empty out every week.

The @IMPORTANT stuff will need to be dealt with daily. That’s going to be the hard one. But I’m going to have to set a time (like 3pm or something) where I have to clear this folder out.

The rest, with the exception of @EVENTS (which should be cleared out after any said events), should be reviewed at the beginning of each week. Before I used to do reviews on Friday, but that seems odd to me now as I’ll be emailing a bunch of folks right before the weekend when they probably don’t want to hear from me. Better to catch them (hopefully!) fresh and chipper on a Monday.

So I’ve cleaned out two out of my four emails. They were the easiest of the two. Inbox-zero for them both. My work and primary personal accounts are two different stories, however, and will probably require some time this weekend to do.

I have many friends who have, quite literally, thousands of emails in their inbox. How they manage to stay sane is beyond me. Maybe if I can get a system that works and I can do consistently (that is my biggest challenge… taking those few seconds to just deal with things) then I can share it with them and they’ll maybe realize what a crippling thing it is to have such horrendously large inboxes (and why it feels like their email is so slow.. seriously, I cannot make this make sense to them!).

Any other tips from anyone out there on how to manage your email, or perhaps what clever things you do to manage your email? Keep in mind that for my work I can quite easily get a few hundred emails in a day, so email is a very important and severely irritating part of my life.

5 comments for “Email Tagging

  1. Russell Dickenson
    January 27, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for this blog post. I too have recently “discovered” the beauty of email tagging. For my work email this has really made a big difference. Now I quickly triage my email and tag as I go. Then I can return to those that require follow-up action, either as I have free time, or in a time slot just for that purpose.

  2. January 27, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Can I ask what tags you use? Do you use something similar (that fine-grained) or do you have 2-3 tags that you use. So far it’s been ok (I still have to clean my work inbox which is where this is really going to make a difference), but I’m wondering if I have too many tags. So any other experiences of what others are using is really helpful. Thanks!

  3. Russell Dickenson
    January 27, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I have deliberately created only a few:

    * Needs action
    * Needs reply
    * VIM (Very Important Mail)

    “Needs action” and “Needs reply” are quite similar but for slightly different purposes. “Needs action” is anything on which *I* need to do something (other than a reply). “Needs reply” is for anything to which I need to reply. It’s for the “Needs reply” items for which it can be useful to schedule time in your schedule.

    “Very Important Mail” is for anything which I want to be able to find easily. There are other ways of dealing with these, but I am testing this method. Another option would be to convert the individual email into a PDF and store it somewhere.

    I think starting with a simple approach gives the best chance of success. If you have to spend too much time thinking about which tag works “best”, you need to simplify your system.

  4. January 27, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for that Russell. You make some very good points and they’re definitely worth thinking about. I think the @WAITING and @FOLLOWUP will end up merging sooner rather than later. They’re too similar to really have them as separate things.

    And I agree about having a simple system. If it’s too complex, you spend more time managing the system than having it save you time and make you more productive.