Managing Email

One of the areas that causes stress is managing email. It’s easy to make the mistake of confusing your email inbox with a “Getting Things Done” (GTD) style inbox. Despite the common name, they are very different things.

The email inbox is a secondary inbox, a holding place for the primary inbox. I’ve written previously about the various inboxes and the difference between a primary and secondary.

It is very easy to be seduced into trying to use the email inbox as a primary inbox. A lot of people will simply leave a message ‘unread’ as an indicator that they need to deal with it in some way. The problem is that there is no differentiation between reference material and action items. Worse than that, as you receive more email, older emails get ‘pushed’ off the main screen and end up out of sight.

The key to managing your email is to apply the ‘how much is this going to distract me’ rule (otherwise known as the two minute rule in GTD speak).


Simply send the email to one of your primary inboxes to process when you have the time and headspace to deal with it.

Note that both Evernote and Todoist allow you to send email to create notes and tasks respectively. Each service provides a ‘secret’ email address that you can simply forward email to. Set the email address up in your address book with a name that means something to you, and forward email as required.

Five Simple Email Management Rules

  1. Don’t let your email distract you. Check it when you are ready to check it, don’t let it ‘pop’ up and grab your attention
  2. Apply the ‘how much will it distract me’ rule to each email.
  3. Don’t bother filing. There is no point in trying to have ‘nice’ folders or labels. Use search to find emails. If the email is reference material then send it to your trusted library (I use Evernote).
  4. Don’t use your email as a defacto task manager. Use a real one.
  5. If you need to follow up on an email, BCC it to your task manager when you send it out. Then you can process it as a task as an when you need to.

Questions / Comments?

Feel free to contact Damian.