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How I Manage My Email

tcr! · Nov 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm

All my email is hosted through one of the domains I own. I don’t use Gmail, Hotmail or any of the other free web-based emails for email anymore.1 I don’t trust 3rd parties with my sensitive data, I ‘spect I’ve grown senile and paranoid these last few years. As more and more people use the “cloud” the less and less I want to do with it.

Since I don’t use webmail, I need a good desktop app and Postbox is this editor’s current pick. It does everything I want, the search is almost perfect and the keyboard shortcuts are to die for. It does have its quirks but that’s for another time.

Email folder structure - Figure 1

My Inbox is set to fetch email from the server via IMAP.2 I don’t use POP3 because I want my Inbox to be available from any device, at any time. The IMAP folder3 structure is simple. Gmail taught me to search, not sort - see Figure 1.

There isn’t a client folder or a project folder or a vacation folder or a whatever folder. The biggest time sink I’ve found is to file emails based on this or that, rules that aren’t universal. I barely want to think about which folder an email should go into. The whole client/project folder structure breaks down as soon as more than one project/topic is discussed in an email. Then I’d need to think about which folder the email should go into and I don’t like doing that.

I go through my new email first thing in the morning (about 60) and keep up as the day goes by. I don’t ever let email pile up for more than a few hours and maybe for a few days if I’m on vacation or so. Luckily my job permits/requires me to keep my email open all day.

When an email comes in I make a decision after skimming the contents almost immediately:

Q: Is it a forward

A: Yes? I skim or read further depending on the amusement level. Then I delete or archive it to the Current folder with Postbox’s single A keystroke. Simple and fast.

Q: Is it directly to me and needs a reply?

A: Yes? I either respond4 right away or flag it with a ToDo topic.5

Q: Is it to me but doesn’t need a reply?

A: Yes? I either flag it with a topic or archive it immediately.

Q: Is it spam or something I don’t want in my Inbox again?

A: Yes? I flag it as Junk, unsubscribe, whatever so I don’t ever receive similar emails again. This is a critical step - email overload often comes from getting a bunch of crap I don’t want. Many people never do anything about this. Do something.

After marching through the Q/As above, the only emails I have left in my Inbox are the ones that I either need to take action on or am waiting on an action from somebody else. This is how I want my Inbox, this is bliss. I don’t care about “Inbox Zero” because there’ll be more tomorrow as soon as the sun comes up.

Note: the Current or archive folder is somewhat special. It only contains the current year’s archive of email. All email before this year lives in a local account and kept in yearly folders. If you want your email set up like this, grab your nearest geek, they can help.

Email folder structure - Figure 2

This structure helps keep the IMAP sync speedy and the local folders organized. This is more efficient than the client/project method above. See Figure 2.

Each day I try to spend an hour or so acting on and responding to emails that have been flagged ToDo. I set dedicated time in my schedule for this and don’t pay attention to Twitter or Facebook. I think of this like bill paying time, it has to get done. People need answers just like the utility company needs to get paid.

With personal email, I might not respond for a week or two if it’s not urgent. They can wait.

“We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I met you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master.”

I can be quite obsessive with email but the goal is for me to be the master and email the slave, not the other way around. I have no problem finding that one email sent two years ago about such and such. I also delete 3/4 of the FW:s I get before I get two lines deep.

It’s my email, I run it my way.

Of course, the entire Postbox profile is backed up nightly to a separate machine and weekly to a third. Your nearest geek can help with this, too. There will come a time when your computer dies. Be ready.


1 I still have the Gmail and Yahoo accounts but I use them mainly for throw-away stuff and just in case somebody sends something there.

2 The downside is that IMAP can be slow when syncing between my computer and the server for the first time.

3 The “Sent” folder only exists because my phone refuses to put sent emails anywhere else. If you’re writing email software, please let users specify all folder locations.

4 Email sent from me automatically goes back to the Inbox. Both the original and my reply email are then archived to the Current folder.

5 Single keystroke, color-coded topics I use:

1  ToDo  emails I need to act on.

2  Waiting  emails I’m waiting on a reply on.

3  Watching  emails I’m interested in.

The last topic generally has conversations between other people that I’m CC’ed on. If these aren’t critical emails and nothing happens with them after a bit, they get A.


Update:

• I’m running Postbox 3.0.1 on a Mac but the concepts will apply to any email program. However, your mileage will vary with regards to Postbox shortcuts and settings.

• To create topics as mentioned in 5, open Postbox’s Preferences, click “Display” and then the “Topics” button. Add, edit, delete as you like.

• To use the A shortcut, open Postbox’s Preferences, click “Accounts”, expand the email account and choose “Copies & Folders.” Under the “Archive” section, choose your archive folder and any high-lighted email will auto-magically move there.

Archive folder setting

Postbox also lets you move emails by pressing V.

As a note, you cannot change the keyboard shortcut bindings from within Postbox itself.


Update 2:

I’ve gotten a few emails about this post (imagine that) and this piece is more about how I manage the emails themselves. I’ll write a follow up that is more in-depth on how I use all of the neat things you can do with Postbox.

Also, I manage seven fairly active email accounts with it for those wondering.


Elsewhere:

#email

edox edox · Nov 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I use Postbox as well and love that thing. Got myself a family lifetime licence. I use Google apps for my hosting as it is easy and I really don't want to worry about running a server or using something on my domain. (plus the price is right. Free.) I use double authentication with Google and so far have had no issues at all.

I am gonna use a couple of these things in my schema for email. I setup all my email accts now with an All Mail/Archive folder and dump stuff in there to keep my inbox clean. I like the single keystroke folders and am gonna implement those now. Thanks for sharing this.

tcr! tcr! · Nov 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Yep, keyboard shortcuts are a must-have for any email client.

edox edox · Nov 16, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Thanks man. I have not started using topics in Postbox yet but am gonna start. Thanks for the great ideas. If I stumbled across any good ones ill let have know.

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