Manage Email Like a Boss

Email is a necessary evil that isn’t going away, at least not until Paul Graham’s request is fulfilled. In the interim, my advice is to manage email like a boss. Well, like a good boss that’s savvy and effective.

Here are some tips to manage email:

  • Use Gmail (yes, especially for business) with the web interface as the primary means and the Microsoft Exchange emulation for IMAP support on the iPhone
  • Install the ‘Send and Archive’ button from Gmail Labs so that when you reply to an email it is also removed from the inbox
  • Install the ‘Auto-advance’ Gmail Labs option so that whenever you act on an email it automatically takes you to the next email
  • Install the ‘Hide Unread Counts’ Gmail Labs option so that you aren’t constantly distracted when new email arrives
  • Follow Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen and never read the same email twice in your inbox. Either reply right away if it’ll take less than two minutes or file it into the appropriate folder.
  • Don’t reply to every email — that’s right, if you get an email and don’t want to reply, archive it right away instead of letting it sit there and fester.

I’ve been doing Inbox Zero nightly for over three years with this approach and it’s worked great. Inbox Zero doesn’t mean you’ve replied to every email, rather, it means that every email is moved out of your inbox on a daily basis. Manage email like a boss and you’ll be glad you did.

What else? What are some other best practices for managing email?

8 thoughts on “Manage Email Like a Boss

  1. If they require a longer response and you file them away, when and how do you return to them? How do you remind yourself that you have unattended messages in a folder somewhere?

    1. Kyle, I had this same issue. I started starring messages with two different kinds of stars — one meaning “read later” and the other meaning “respond later” — and then using priority inbox to keep my starred messages visible.

      1. Hi Bradley – how do you use two different kinds of stars? I didn’t know it was possible…

  2. I have found my Sanebox a great gmail tool for productivity. It learns your patterns and also separates unimportant email from your inbox.

    Worth trying if you get too many group or low importance emails.

  3. Hey David – I posted “Gooru’s Top 5 Ways to Save Time in Gmail” this morning ( and a friend directed me to your blog post from yesterday. Great minds think alike!

    I really like your list and I’m sure your perspective is quite different from mine. I think my favorite in your list is “Send and Archive”, which I have never tried but I can see how removing that message from your inbox can be a big psychological hurdle to clear. And its archived so its not gone forever.

    I see an interesting correlation with the chapter in Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week where he discusses covering all potential scenarios in your emails, so that people can carry a task through to completion and not have to come back to you asking questions along the way.

    I just added the lab – thanks for the tip!

  4. Reblogged this on Robert's ideas and commented:
    I also have the rule that I reply to e-mail twice per day, unless I am in a project phase requiring immediate responses.

  5. Another piece of email management advice would be to elicit less traffic in the first place.

    Unsubscribe from unwanted lists.

    Politely request that people stop sending – and copying you in on – unnecessary emails that you do not want or need. Alternatively ask them what – specifically – they expect you to do.

    Use the telephone when appropriate.

    For 13 years Emailogic email management training has been changing people’s behaviour around email. After attending our training delegates cut their inboxes by 40%, reduce traffic by 25% as well as saving on average 31 minutes per day on the time they spend managing their email.

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