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How to be an email ninja 🥷
Wonder Tools to reduce inbox overload 💌
Messiness comes in many forms. An unmade bed, dishes in the sink, a cluttered desktop... or an overwhelmed inbox.
350 billion emails a day flood our digital mailboxes. Some require immediate attention. Many don’t. Coping effectively with the onslaught is crucial. Read on for tips and tools for streamlining your inbox.
Because I struggle with massive email pileups, I’ve adopted a workflow and toolkit to save me from drowning. I’m sharing in case they’ll help you too.
The 5D framework
I take 30 minutes 3 times a day for an email sprint. I pick from 5 actions:
DELETE or archive if no action is needed
DEFER to a later date if I can't do anything now
DELEGATE or designate someone else if it's not for me to respond to
DEPOSIT the key info into my digital notebook for reference
DO something if it'll take a minute or less, like a quick reply of thanks or yes.
Sprints over squirrels
Responding to email all day whenever an alert pings— like a squirrel 🐿️reacting to a nut 🥜 — blocks your mind from deeper focus.
Schedule email sprints instead. Try slating these bursts of email activity in 30-minute blocks midday, late in the day, or whenever your peak creative energy isn’t available for deeper work that requires creativity.
Knowing you have time blocks set aside for email frees up mental space for deep work blocks, with notifications silenced and email closed.
See Georgetown Prof Cal Newport’s excellent books on deep work and email overload for further research and insight on this subject.
What would you do with an extra hour?
Most modern email services have keyboard shortcuts crucial for efficiency. If you get 1,000 emails a week — which is common— you’ll save an hour each week by shaving 4 seconds off the time you spend on messages by quickening the completion of your actions. How? By using keyboard shortcuts that are much faster than moving your mouse to click a button or file something.
Speed up your email with keyboard shortcuts
The big 4 = C for compose, R for reply, A for reply all and F for forward.
The next 4: E for archive, L for label, V for label + move, S for star.
To see the rest of the shortcuts, press [SHIFT] + [?] within Gmail
What’s your email tip, tool or tactic? Comment 👇
Boomerang = handle email whenever you want
Tools complement tactics. To cope with email, sometimes you have to postpone messages until you’re ready to act. Boomerang helps, for instance, by adding a little button to your inbox so when you're reading an email, you can quickly pick a time to have that message returned to your inbox.
Boomerang can also deliver a message for you at a future time you designate. Pick the optimal time, which isn’t always right now. ⏰
It's free for basic use, with premium plans for pro features. Works with Gmail and Outlook on iOS and Android.
MixMax = add useful features to Gmail
Mixmax is another useful Gmail add-on. Before I switched to Superhuman to read and respond to my Gmail more quickly, I used Mixmax daily. Mixmax has lots of free features. You don’t need a paid plan unless you want to use it for sales tracking or to send a sequence of emails to a large group.
Helpful free features include: scheduling message delivery, templates, polls & surveys that work right inside email messages, and quick meeting scheduling.
Send a message to your future self or to someone else you love.
Remind yourself of who you really are, or what it felt like to be where you are right now. Or give a loved one the gift of a note from the past.
Send your child or partner a note they'll receive when they reach a certain birthday or life milestone.
Your notes are private by default, sent only to the email addresses you input.
One of the most creative new email startups, Shortwave, designed its app expressly to make email more efficient. It works with your Gmail address on desktop, Android and iOS. The team moves quickly, launching new features and capabilities every month. Check out their smart method for email efficiency.
Email summaries with AI: Even without signing up for Shortwave, you can forward any article link — or even a long email — to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get back a short summary for free. Or forward an email with meeting info to email@example.com and get back a calendar invite. Pricing: free to try and for 90 days of searchable email history; $9/month for full use.
Features: Designate emails you want to automatically resend if someone doesn't write back after a few weeks. Pricing: free to try out for 14 days, then $18 or $29/month for professional use.
I use Superhuman as my daily email tool now because it lets me move through messages more efficiently than Gmail. Note that Superhuman works with any Gmail address, so you don’t have to change your email address to use it. Here’s more on how I ended up using Superhuman.
My favorite feature: keyboard shortcuts that let me act on messages quickly. With a quick touch I can defer any message until a future date or send a message later. I’m also looking forward to testing new AI features launching soon.
Magic follow-ups: Superhuman lets you mark an outgoing message to resurface later if the recipient doesn’t reply within a designated period. Or have it resurface the message at a designated time regardless.
Why this is useful: No need to manually file messages in a “waiting for” folder, because they’ll automatically return to your inbox if you don’t get a reply. That means less scrambling after forgotten follow-ups.
Pricing: As an educator, I pay $10/month, a steep discount on the usual $30/month pricing. Because I spend so many hours a month on email, I'm willing to put up with a hefty price tag.