After many years of drowning in unread emails, I changed the way I deal with my mailbox. I managed to have 0 unread emails (most of the times) and being more productive on dealing with emails and real tasks.
Here is how I did it:
- Your mailbox is not a task management tool. Most likely you have plenty of unread emails. I guess that most of them are not really unread. You've opened them, read them and then marked them again as unread because they include an action that you don't want to deal with at the moment. Postponing it's ok. Having your tasks living inside your mailbox is not. Choose a task management tool. It may be your email's client embedded task management, it may be a dedicated tool, a hipster pda, or just a .txt file on a
dropbox/owncloud/sparkleshare folder. Create a task. If this involves replying to the initial email, don't worry. It will be there waiting for you.
- Archive. Create an Archive folder where you move all the emails that you want to keep. Emails that you think are important and you may need them in the future. On your filter folders leave only emails for current stuff and on-going discussions. It's easier to have to search only one folder when you're looking something from the past.
- Your mailbox is not a storage service. Say for instance that I sent you an email, attaching a pdf. If you want to keep that pdf for future reference, then keep it. But not inside your mailbox. Create an archive folder, or a more detailed (eg. per project) file structure, on your
dropbox/owncloud/sparkleshare, save the attachment and delete the email.
- It's ok to delete emails. I know. Shocking. But why do you need keeping all these emails that you'll never going to read again. Searching and "browsing" through your emails would be mush faster and easier. Just let go.
- Don't postpone quick replies. Many emails require just a quick reply. You don't have to create a task for something that needs no more than 10 seconds of your time. And don't you dare mark it as unread.
- Email is a mean for things. This is a general productivity rule. The goal is to keep your projects and tasks going. Don't look at your email every five minutes and don't use notifications for every incoming email. Make a personal rule that you'll check your mailbox once per hour (or any other time arrangement seems reasonable to you). Checking constantly at your mailbox is a distraction and it will cost plenty of minutes to concentrate again on what you are working.
My current setup begins with Evolution desktop client. Since I moved away from Google less than a year ago (I leave that story for another post) I had to use a desktop client (although I have a roundcube instance just in case) and surprisingly it seems that this also helped me in being more productive at processing emails. I like Evolution because it comes ready with all the basic things I want (email, contacts, calendar) and it integrates great with my desktop envireoment (Fedora/Gnome). It also has some simple task management functionality, that syncs fine with OwnCloud (where I also keep contacts and calendar), but for now I'm using Evernote because it works also on my Android tablet and I like that i can easily create a note or task by simply forwarding an email to a unique evernote email alias.