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An effective email routine

Peter F, 06 September, 2007 0 Comments

Email sucks. Ranging from a torrent to a trickle, it brings a never
ending series of chores directly to my inbox. The chores themselves are
not the problem. Managing them is. I’ve found an effective routine for
doing just that.

This routine is based on the key principal of doing as little as
possible. I am not in the business of managing email. I am in the
business of building great websites for great clients. Anything that
distracts from that takes me away from my purpose.


I did not sit down and think through the following principals.
However they are the key underlying reasons other email management
techniques have not worked for me in the past. This new routine embraces
these, and thus, works beautifully for me.

The fear of not knowing is the root of all fear. That which lurks forgotten in the pit of an inbox causes fear, stress, and mental noise.

My time is mine. Nothing is more precious than my
attention. I cannot possibly respond to all the requests for that
attention. That is not my problem.

Act only when it’s necessary. Assign my attention to
an issue when it is time for that issue to be handled. Minimize the
number of times an issue must be brought before my attention.

Use the power of my tools to work for me. Use search tools to draw out the information I need, when I need it.

Software Used

This routine uses a couple of Mac specific programs. There are Windows equivalent programs that Google can help you find.


* Gmail isn’t a technical necessity for this routine. However, I
recommend routing your email through gMail, so that you have an
automatic backup of all incoming mail.


Mail comes in to and is run through a series of rules. Email
from my workmates is coloured red. Email from basecamp goes into a
specific folder. Certain cron jobs generate a ton of mail, and those too
go into specific folders. The goal here is to minimize the number of
messages hitting the inbox, and to make those that need my attention
more obvious.

Going through my inbox, I use four options to deal with each message:

  • respond right away, then move to archive using my MailActOn key combo
  • hit F6 to send the message to iGTD
  • send directly to archive folder for possible future reference
  • delete it

See what I’m doing? I take anything email that requires action
and either respond to it immediately, or move it out of and
into my action manager, leaving my inbox free of unknowns and hidden job

Once in iGTD, I can assign the email a priority, a due date, add
notes and files, and link it to a project. Everything I need to do
is kept in one place. iGTD imports the content of the email, and better
yet, links directly to the message, regardless of where in
it’s stored. This gives me single click access to the original message

iGTD will in turn sync my actions with iCal, which can in turn sync with my portable device du jour.

I lean heavily on’s search function to help me find specific
messages from my archive. While this is occasionally tedious, it’s much
less so than organizing thousands of messages into an ever growing tree
of nested folders. It’s possible to save searches as smart folders if
you need to access the same group of emails more than once. Just save
the search, then trash it when you’re done.


This routine is fast, dependable, and clean. It requires the minimum
of thought, and more importantly, puts all my actions into one
container. I have the ability to prioritize my responses, and even set
due dates. Keeping my inbox empty is simple and automatic. I hope you
find this useful.

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