Managing incoming email

Darren Rowse at ProBlogger explains how he deals with the large amounts of email he gets in Blogging Rhythms - Clearing the Inbox. There are some good tips in his post, and I deal with email pretty much the same way Darren does (though I don’t get quite as much email as he does):

  • Junk: Most junk mail is taken care of by the ruthless filters at my ISP. All but a very few of the rest are immediately trashed by the Junk Mail filters in Apple Mail. Some time ago I asked my ISP to turn off the spam filters since I thought I wasn’t getting a lot of spam. I was very wrong. After one day of being flooded by spam I asked them to turn the filters back on.
  • Respond now: Messages that only require a quick and easy answer I try to deal with right away.
  • Respond later: Messages that will take several minutes, or maybe half an hour to respond to (because they require research and/or testing) I deal with when I have some time to spare. Unfortunately, this means some messages can take very long for me to respond to.

I get a lot of email, but I do try to respond to everything that isn’t spam. If you have sent me an email that I haven’t replied to, it’s most likely not because I’m ignoring you. Your message may have been caught in a spam filter or got lost in the email flood. If I don’t get back to you, please try sending your message again. That’s what I do if I don’t hear back from someone within a couple of weeks (or a few days if it’s urgent).

Maybe there are better ways of managing incoming email and keeping your inbox clean. How do you do it?

Posted on December 11, 2005 in Productivity, Quicklinks


  1. December 11, 2005 by Michael Odden

    It helps a lot to organise your emails in such a way.

    I would just like to make an addition to the list.

    When it is a mail which I don’t have time to answer, maybe not until the next day or something, I prefer to send a quick notice like “I’ve got your mail, but I don’t have tome to answer it until “.

  2. Depending on your setup the ways you can protect yourself can vary. If you have a dedicated/shared server, and your e-mail is hosted on it, you can setup Spam Assassin.

    I’m sure you heard of it already so I won’t go deep into its description, however it works great. You can set a sensitivity level on how the program compares the e-mail its screening to its different heuristics and if it seems to be spam, it tags the e-mail with a bunch of stuff that (once your e-mail client retrieves the message) can be filtered out as spam by using your e-mail client’s “rule” setup. Again, I’m sure you are familiar with the gist of this so I won’t go into any more.

  3. I have a lot of message filters set up that automatically sorts my mail into appropriate folders if they’re from known sources. These are mostly for the many mailing list subscriptions I have (W3C, WhatWG, WSG, etc).

    Spam Assassin seems to be doing a very good job of tagging spam on the server, though I haven’t set it to automatically delete yet. I may do in the future. For the rest, Thunderbird’s spam filter catches 99.9% of all spam, with only a few false-negatives and even fewer false-positives. I then skim the subject lines before immediately deleting them all.

    Blog comments get read quickly, any trackbacks/moderation queue get dealt with immediately before anything else to get rid of the spam from my site ASAP.

    The few remaining e-mails in my inbox get dealt with in due course and remain in the inbox until I’ve dealt with/responded appropriately. It’s not uncommon for a few of these to be left for about a month. Once read, all non-spam e-mails get permanently archived in appropriate folders, never to be deleted.

  4. I almost deal with it like Lachlan, though I rarely archive e-mails.

  5. Wow. Taken straight from the “Getting Things Done” book.

  6. I took an idea from 43 folders and modified it. I have all my email lists sort into folders for each one in a “groups” folder that i tend to keep collapsed. Spam to the Spam folder via Spam Sieve (beats apple’s filter in my experience).

    Then i have five folders: Action, Archive, Defer, Respond, Waiting.

    Action means “get this into the to-do list as one or many action items and get it done”

    Archive is where old messages go to wallow in their misery until I need them again.

    Defer is generally for non list specific stuff that I’ll read later (e.g. forwards, etc.)

    Respond is teh beast. Must. Reply.

    Waiting: tends to get messages where i send out for something. E.g. i’ve got a draft going or I’m waiting on a reply before i can deal with it. I don’t use it that much, so I might just drop it.

  7. January 12, 2006 by Emily

    I set up a folder called “Inbox - CC” (so it appears directly under my normal Inbox.) I then set up a rule so that anything I was Cc-ed in on, was sent directly to this file. The majority of mails people were Cc-ing me in on were just FYI, so I check this inbox at the start and end of the day, that’s it. It has cut down the amount of traffic through my inbox by over a third, so I can just focus on the items I need to deliver on.

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