Narath Carlile in Articles · 5 minute read

How I process 1000 emails in an hour

Techniques to keep control of your email

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Finding time for flow requires some way to handle email effectively. In this video, you can learn about the techniques I use to keep control of email even while it builds up and how I process email rapidly (yes, up to 1000 emails in an hour) with a few simple techniques.

In a nutshell, the techniques I use to keep control of my email include:

  • not getting stressed out about reaching inbox zero all the time - because it is a Sisyphusian task. Being in control of your email is what matters.
  • give permission only to select people (your very important people (VIP)) to interrupt you
  • batch your email processing - that is, do it in consolidated blocks of time during the day (not throughout the day, which is more distracting and inefficient).
  • scan your email if you only have a short time or have an important project/deliverable that day. Scanning means only touching emails that seem important or needs a response and then quickly replying as briefly as possible). Ideally, do this standing up and using only your phone (these constraints will make it more likely that you are fast and concise).
  • process your email rapidly using the following tools
    • don’t touch email you don’t have to
      • use assertive spam processing (I use SpamSieve, others use SaneBox)
    • setup smart filters (aka Smart Mailboxes) and use the most helpful sort order (I order them by From)
      • VIP emails - your most important processing. Respond, then archive all.
      • 30 days and older - scan very rapidly, touch only those you have to (yes, sometimes you may need to check if there are newer messages/responses but only for your non-VIP list). Then archive all before moving on.
      • 7 days and older - scan rapidly. You may need to process more emails here. Then archive all.
      • 1 day and older - will likely need more processing. Then archive all.
      • (you will now be so close to inbox zero - get there if you want by processing the few messages left in your inbox).

I usually process emails once a week and scan emails the other days (which is much faster but still keeps you on top of important things - especially with your VIP email folder). I scan my emails only twice daily - in the morning after my deep work blocks (~11 to 11:30 am) and the afternoon before my shutdown ritual.

A quick note about VIP emails in non-Apple Mail systems: this is the “Important” email folder in Gmail. In Outlook, you will need to “favorite” contacts, and then you can see their email in the Favorites folder in your inbox. For other systems (like MailMate) which can’t access VIP from your contacts, I create a smart folder that shows emails from people I have emailed - this is a reasonable approximation.

It would help if you also considered using different emails for different contexts (I call these my smart buckets in the video). Most people have work and personal emails, which is very helpful. Consider also having an email for community volunteer activities or sports teams. These separate email accounts will let you more effectively batch your email processing to the time allocated to that context.

Some more advanced techniques are required to avoid becoming bogged down when processing your email. I’ll be working on these in order of most interest, so let me know which are most important to you.

We’ve also got a checklist you can download that describes the key steps you need to apply this yourself.

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