Email Workflow

Earlier this year Matt Griffin wrote a great piece on how he deals with email, and he explains how he sets up rules for himself to make email a little more bearable.

I like Matt’s approach, and of course everyone’s workflow is different. So I thought I’d share how I handle email. Here’s what I do (which is I guess a loose interpretation of Inbox Zero):

  1. Keep auto-check on and destroy junk – Unlike a lot of folks I know, I keep the never-ending stream of email close by. I like checking in on my inbox from time to time, even if I’m not in a position to answer it. I just don’t like having a panic attack when I open my inbox and seeing 192 new messages. I’ll remove the crap that I don’t need to address to keep my inbox clean.
  2. Start drafts immediately – If the email is short enough to reply to on the spot, I do just that. But often times I’m not in a position to give a thoughtful reply. But I start a draft regardless. I’ll say “Dear Jane,” hit save, then archive the message.
  3. Set ’em up, knock ’em down – The goal is for me to kill all email in my inbox. My drafts folder becomes my to-do list. Every couple days when the drafts folder reaches 20 or above, I roll up my sleeves and tackle them.

Of course this doesn’t always happen. I just got back from a month-long trip loaded with work so I’m now staring at 60+ drafts I have to tackle. Such is life. And of course there are legitimately urgent emails that I will tackle as soon as they come in, so this process is a bit more a suggestion than hard-and-fast rules.

Ultimately this approach to email seems to work pretty well for me. I reply to anyone who emails me, and normally I’ll get back to people within a week, irrespective of the urgency of the email. I think that’s acceptable.