Jan 102013
 

I hate distractions while I am at work – especially those which come by mail. For some reasons I get over hundred mails a day – notifications, internal and external mailing lists, group mailings, gigantic discussions via mail threads and important mails directed to me or my team.

As I work in a cross function for the engineering team and have to respond to developer issues in an appropriate time I keep a close eye on my inbox. Concepts like checking mails only to specified times or not at all during the day don’t apply to my work flows, filtering mails into various sub folders makes them forgotten or unseen as I actually want to read all the mail – just not all the time. 

These days my mailbox contains these folders:

  • Inbox: I usually try to keep the total number of mails in there below 100, only mails I have to follow up on or that are related to future events or where I am waiting for response in a mail thread are in there. I have notifications for my inbox active as I want to be notified if there is an important mail. Up until this Monday I got all the clutter of updates, mailing lists etc. in there too which was pretty distracting. 
  • Now what I have setup now is a new secondary inbox and a filter that filters all those mails I don’t need to pay attention in-time. The filters are defined conservatively to ensure that I won’t miss an important mail. The immediate effect is that I got less than 20 new mails in my Inbox over night, 40 more I found in the secondary inbox.
  • {Notifications}: There are a few tools and platforms I receive notification mails from I can’t configure so all status updates about everything is fine go directly in there – I couldn’t care less about. I only worry about something went wrong which stays in my inbox.
  • {Projects} + subfolder: contain mails related to certain projects and initiatives I am working on.  
  • {tech mailing list}: all mails to an internal mailing list – a very valuable source of information which I regularly use to look for answers as I usually remember having seen a related question before, but I never seem to remember the answer.
  • Unsorted: all other mail that is either unrelevant, resolved or any other information. I used to have a much finer granulation, but at the end I don’t really care about threads that are out of date and hence I don’t need to make the effort to sort them.  

This might be common sense, but years of creating massive filters, creating no filters, having smart mailboxes, reading about suggested workflows I never found a solution tailored to my needs. Now it’s simple: I check the inbox as soon as I got the notification of a new mail, I check the secondary inbox 2-3 times a day.

Btw, while writing this I noticed that Gmail actually tries to do something similar with the Priority Inbox which seems to be the reverse approach of the above. 

For my private mails I took a different approach a while ago. For private mails I use Gmail which comes with a different set of features than the chosen mail server of my company. In the past I had a lot of subfolders, rules and configurations which ended up in a massive inbox with over 10.000 unread mails, tons of unread mail in other folders and I never really noticed if I had new mails or not and where they ended up. So one day I archived all mail and marked it as read disregarding if there was something I wanted to follow up or not and started with a clean Inbox – 0 mails. I removed all filters: all mail to my private mailbox gets delivered to my inbox, I delete it, read it and/or either archive it straight away, answer it or leave it for follow up. Goal here is to have less than 20 mails in the inbox and to have a clear overview of whom I owe an answer.

So long story short: Simplicity rules, automated filters and folders suck.

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