Managing Emails

Email is part of what I do on a regular bases. I have multiple accounts: beside my work account, I have my personal email account, and a family account. My personal email is configured so that any email that is sent to it is forwarded to my family account. This way I have a single place to check for emails. Moreover, I have an organization account (Ratio Christi) that I need to check regularly for any updates or news. To access them, I have to visit Gmail and the organization mail website. For my work, I have outlook client setup on my machine.

Over the months and years, I have noticed that emails take a long time to process for multiple reasons: First, emails take time to read. It is not easy to determine immediately that I should read the email, or if it is merely news that does not affect or concern me. To determine that, I do have to open each email, and read through it. If I don’t, the email will stay unread and I would not know if I should process it or not.

Second, emails take time to respond to. Sometimes it is from friends who want to see if I am free to meet with them, have a breakfast or lunch with them. Sometimes, it is an event to celebrate something. Sometimes, it is a question directed to me. Sometimes, it is an update email that might require a response. In each case, I need to respond, and responding takes time.

Third, emails take time because they interrupt. I have my phone notify me of any email in my inbox. I also check emails multiple times during the day. This interruption and context switching takes time from what I do, which is a distraction in of itself. Thus checking emails has been a distraction.

Fourth and finally, reading emails is distracting. Emails might have links to websites, attachments, etc. These could be distracting, specially with links. I found myself visiting the link to a page in a website, and then from there visiting multiple different pages on that same website; reading the about page, and different articles posted. Reading about the author, and seeing the different categories existing there. The same with the attachments. I open the attachment if it is save and visit every link in it. I try to find the original author of the attachment if it is not the author of the email, etc. Emails are distracting.

For these reasons, I decided to use some techniques or tools to help me avoid wasting my time. These might not apply to you, which is fine. These are not meant to apply to every person. I found them, however, working well for me.

First, I decided to unsubscribe to everything I can. If I usually don’t care about an email from a source, I unsubscribe. I do not want to clutter my inbox with emails I rarely read. This saved me many many emails to go through. If I cannot unsubscribe because no unsubscribe link is provided, or broken, or that unsubscribing somehow does not take effect (even though it is generally required by law to provide unsubscribe link), then I email the company to unsubscribe me, and if they do not, I mark them as spam.

Second, I archive every email I am done with. This helped my inbox to be clean. Clean inbox helped me focus only on the emails that requires my attention, and helped me not be distracted by emails that has been responded to. When I am done with reading an email, and if it does not require a response, or if I have responded to it, then I archive it immediately.

Third, I respond to the email immediately if I can. If it is an event that I cannot attend, I respond to it and then archive me. There is no reason to me to wait for later. Delaying the response means that I will need to read the email again later. Because of this, I usually check my emails when I have time to, because otherwise I will not respond quickly and delay it to later, which will require that I read the email again. However, not all emails I can respond to immediately. Only these emails I leave in the inbox and return to them later.

I decided to use an email client to get all of my emails. However, for this task I am using mutt. Why mutt? Because it is the least distracting one I can find. It takes time to setup at first, but mutt help me not be distracted by other content in the email. I found myself less distracted by the links or attachments, and more focused on the text. I now open my client in the terminal quickly, read through the emails one by one, archive them as needed, and then exist quickly. With mutt, I have less points of distraction during the whole process. The only email account that I do not have in mutt is my work email account, but that is done for other reasons.

In general, I found that if I can find the pain points in managing emails, then I can fix them. It is all about knowing them.