Essential: Email (Part 1)

TL;DR

Email is obviously essential to our communication and this success in our digital age. Email is great for sending and receiving information but not so great to organize tasks. I have learned to process my email to Inbox Zero as often as possible and get the important information out to a dedicated task management system. Challenge your thinking and strategy to handle email.

 

Let’s go way back, shall we? I’m a senior at Pewaukee High School. I’m getting ready to go to college and so I’m spending more time on the computers doing bigger writing projects. My friends who are already in college are telling me it’s all about writing papers. In the high school library things are changing. They’re expanding the computer lab, computers are increasingly using a mouse (connected by a wire of course – 1995 people!), and for the first time we have an opportunity to sign up for electronic mail. I think it is safe to say I was the first one in my class to have an e-mail address – very cool! Except that I’m the first and the only so I have no one to write! If only there was a sad-face emoji in 1995…

The next year as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin I was required to have and use my University-issued email address. It was a confusing time because I was on the verge of being “cutting edge” at my high school and now I’m one of 20,000 other freshmen with an email address I was expected to use daily to communicate with classmates, advisors, and professors. And ever since that first semester as a Badger I’ve been expected to communicate personally and professionally over electronic mail.

Fast-forward twenty years (gulp). I cannot imagine a world without email. I know you’re in the same boat, but where our journeys may differ is that I’ve come to peace with my email inbox. In fact it’s not an exaggeration to say that I actually enjoy email. I can make this claim because over the years I have developed a system to process email (HT Inbox Zero by Merlin Mann).

I’m going to start at the end, meaning where I currently sit with email. I have tried all kinds of apps and different practices to handle the digital communication that is email.

I can’t imagine running a business without email. At the same time most of us are sick of email, buried in email, and probably don’t “do” email well. We all know that it is one of if not the primary mode of communication in business. For us to succeed, we better figure out how to be an email power-user if we are going to keep good relationships with our clients. We need to quickly and efficiently follow up on leads, adjust workouts, schedule sessions, and check with clients at week’s end.

On iOS most users will default to the built-in Mail.app. To be fair, Apple is continually updating the features in Mail but I still believe it lacks the power and efficiency for a professional with my needs; namely, it doesn’t have a share sheet. The share sheet allows you to send parts or all of an email to other apps. For me, this means saving files (attachments) to Dropbox or Google Drive, adding an email to my task management system, or creating a PDF from an email. If you’re asking yourself “why would I have to do these things?” you’re probably not alone. Let me explain.

I use email to communicate (i.e. exchange and share information); I do not use it as a task management system. There’s a difference. We all get emails that require us to do something. When you get these, do you organize it in your mail app? Do you print it off so you can do it later? Do you flag it or put it in a folder? For me this doesn’t work. I use a dedicated task management app (2Do) when I have specific things to do. That means I need to get things out of email and into 2Do. If it’s not a specific task, I need to copy text into the appropriate project file – anything to get it out of email.

I use Airmail on iOS because it offers the easiest way for me to send a task to 2Do (my task management app of choice) and to Snooze an email so it comes back to me at just the right time and so that I don’t forget it. If those two reasons seem small or insignificant to you, then examine how you use email. Maybe Mail and copy/paste is good enough for you. Maybe you use email (tags, labels, folders) to keep your tasks and reminders organized. Let me be clear: do whatever works for you. But in my experience, email is for communicating with people and getting information. A dedicated task manager is for getting stuff done. I don’t want to have to retrieve information in my email system because inevitably when I’m looking something up I’ll either see another message that needs attention or some new message will come in and distract me from the task at hand.

How do you process email? Have you ever thought about it? Do you think your system could be more efficient?

If you’re looking for more details about Airmail, read Federico Viticci’s review on Macstories.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

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