How to Stop Hating Your Email
Email is both a blessing and a curse. I love receiving emails from friends and community members who want to reach out or ask for advice. These are the highlights of my week some weeks. However, my email volume is high enough that it used to be difficult for me to sort everything out by priority. A few years ago, I felt like I was drowning in email without making progress so I did some research and came up with some rules to prevent email from being a major source of stress in my life.
Here are some email tips which have served me well.
Remove Email from Your Phone
Feeling my phone vibrate because I received an email notification and felt the need to check it was a micro source of stress for me. I made the decision a few years ago to delete my email accounts from my default email client and that all went away.
If anything is a real emergency, someone will SMS or call me directly and email won’t matter. I still have an email client installed on my phone so if I need to send a quick reply while I’m mobile, I can use either the Gmail or the Airmail client to fire off a quick email. Neither are setup to automatically check email for me, though. I go months between needing to use either of these apps.
Bonus tip: This also improves your phone’s battery life by quite a bit.
Set up a Few Time Blocks Each Day to Check Your Email
I try to check my email a few times a day and avoid it the rest of the day. Jessica Hische’s Productivity Quest: Email article changed how I process email. I made it through an entire DjangoCon US conference cycle (when I used to receive a few dozen emails a day) by following her technique.
After reading Jessica’s Email Organization tips section, I re-organized my Gmail categories and subcategories so that I get a better feel of my priorities when I look at my inbox I can tell at a glance. Here are my high-level categories:
- 0 Inbox Zero - Ironically this is a category where everything that doesn’t get answered/sorted goes into.
- 1 Django - Anything DSF, DjangoCon US, DEFNA, or committee based goes here
- 2 Python - Same as Django but for PSF / PyCon related emails
- 3 Life
- 4 Work
- 5 Notifications - All the social notifications (which get deleted)
- 6 Unsorted - There’s not much in here but junk gets sorted from time to time.
Ola Sitarska’s How I manage my emails is a good read too. We both are fans of Jessica’s technique.
Vacation Reminders Aka “No-Tifications”
When you take a vacation, set up an out-of-office reminder letting people know that you are gone, how to reach someone who can help them, and that you are deleting all of your emails while you are gone. Deleting your email might sound extreme, but what’s worse than returning from vacation, only to spend a few days trying to catch up on emails, most of which are out of date. If it’s important, they’ll follow up when you are back.
I was recently on paternity leave, so here’s an example of what mine looked like:
Thank you for your email. I am currently expecting my first child and at BabyCon until after September 25th, so I’ll be taking a few weeks break from everything until life settles back down. If your request is urgent, please email the following:
- For REVSYS work requests, please reach out to Frank Wiles <email removed>
- For DEFNA requests, please reach out to the DEFNA Board <email removed>
- For DjangoCon US requests, please reach out to the organizers <email removed>
Otherwise, please email me again when I return as this email will most likely be deleted.
And they were. I even had a few people follow-up after I was back to compliment me on doing so.
For more tips, check out Arianna Huffington deletes every email her employees receive while they’re on vacation.
Know When to Use Short Replies
I try to use the shortest reply possible for emails. Most of the time a two to five sentence reply is the right level of response. I personally dread opening long emails and I am guilty of sending them in the past. Not every email can be this short, but when possible, I try to send concise replies.
Boomerang has so many great features but scheduled messages and canned responses made me an instant believer.
I use scheduled messages when I reply to something late at night which I know doesn’t need an immediate response but I went to get off of my plate. I have also learned over the years that sending late night emails to clients or volunteers at 2 am sets a bad example and helps contribute to unhealthy work culture. Every time I email someone after midnight and they email me back minutes later, I feel bad. Now I schedule replies for non-emergencies for 9 am the next day.
I use scheduled messages to set reminders for meetings, events, or other random things that need to be followed up on. Some people add these to a to-do list or to their calendar. I use Boomerang to get it off my plate.
I under-utilize Boomerang’s canned response feature, but a few years ago when I was running two conferences I adopted several default responses which saved me tons of time.
Tracy Osborn’s How I run a bootstrapped marketplace with eleven different properties and 5,000 vendors — by myself. has a few Boomerang tips worth checking out too.
Dealing with Guilt
Ola Sitarska wrote an excellent How I manage my e-mail guilt trips post which outlines how to deal with email guilt. Most email guilt is self-imposed. Once I realized this, most of my guilt went away.
My Favorite Email Clients
Kiwi for Gmail is my hands down my favorite Gmail and Google Apps client. I have many Gmail accounts (personal, work, and non-profits) and trying to check them in a browser along with juggling different Google App accounts for Docs and Spreadsheets is a challenge. Thankfully, Kiwi was made to solve this problem and handles notifications and customs settings with ease.
Airmail for iOS is my favorite iPad email client hands down. While my goal is to never check email on my phone, I do write longer form emails on my iPad from time-to-time because the writing experience is great. Airmail has great support for threaded emails and even highlights each thread in a different color which makes reading them preferable to any desktop client I have ever used. This is one of the few times I can recommend using an iPad/iOS app over a desktop Mac app.
Airmail 3 is their Mac version and it’s great for checking non-Gmail accounts and replying to long threads. Airmail just works.
Thanks to Lacey Williams Henschel for advice on and corrections to a draft of this article.