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Email Management

Email can be one of the main aggregators of interruptions as it's supported by almost everything. I use it as the notification backend of services that don't need to be acted upon immediately or when more powerful mechanisms are not available.

If not used wisely, it can be a sink of productivity.

Analyze how often you need to check it

Follow the interruption analysis to discover how often you need to check it and if you need the notifications. Once you've decided the frequency, try to respect it!. If you want an example, check my work or personal analysis.


Each time I decide to go through my emails I follow the inbox processing guidelines. I understand the email inbox are items that need to be taken care of. If an email doesn't fall in that category I either archive or delete it. That way the inbox has the smallest number of items, and if everything went well, it is empty. Having an empty inbox helps you a lot to reduce the mental load for many reasons:

  • When you look at it and don't see any mail, you get the small satisfaction that you have done everything.
  • When there is something new, it stands out, without the distraction of other email subjects that can drift your attention.

Accounts shared by many people

On email accounts managed by many people, I delete/archive emails that I know that need no interaction by any of them. If there is nothing for me to do, I mark them as read and wait for them to archive/delete them. If an email is left unread for 3 or 4 days I ask by other channels what should we do with that event.

Use email to transport information, not to store it

Email was envisioned as a protocol for person A to send information to person B. The fact that the "free email providers" such as Google allow users to have almost no limit on their inbox has driven people to store all their emails and use it as a knowledge repository. This approach has many problems:

  • As most people don't use end to end encryption (GPG), the data of their emails is available for the email provider to read. This is a privacy violation that leads to scary behaviours, such as targeted adds or google suggestions based on the content of recent emails. You could improve the situation by using POP3 instead of IMAP, but that'll force you to only use one device to check your email, something that's becoming uncommon.
  • The decent email providers that respect you, such as RiseUp, Autistici or Disroot, are maintained by communities and can only offer a limited storage, so you're forced to empty your emails periodically to be able to receive new ones.
  • If you don't spend time and effort classifying your emails, searching between them is a nightmare. It is even if you classify them. There are more efficient knowledge repositories to store your information.

On my personal emails, I forward the information to my archive, task manager or knowledge manager, deleting the email afterwards. At work, they use an indecent provider, encrypts most of emails with GPG and trust the provider to hold the rest of the data. I try to leak the least amount of personal information and I archive every email because you don't know when you're going to need them.

Use key bindings

Using the mouse to interact with the email client graphical interface is not efficient, try to learn the key bindings and use them as much as possible.

Environment setup

Account management

It's common to have more than one account to check. For example, at work, I have my own account and another for each team I'm part of, the last ones are managed by all the team members. On the personal level, I've got many accounts for the different OpSec profiles or identities.

For efficiency reasons, you need to be able to check all of them on one place. You can use an email manager such as Thunderbird. Once you choose one, try to master it.

Isolate your work and personal environments

Make sure that you set your environment so that you can't check your personal email when you're working and the other way around. For example, you could set two Thunderbird profiles, or you could avoid configuring the work email in your personal phone.

Automatic filtering and processing

Inbox management is time consuming, so you want to reduce the number of emails to process. From the interruption analysis you'll know which ones don't give you any value, our goal is to make them disappear before we open our inbox.

You can get rid of them by:

  • Preventing the sender to send them: Unsubscribe from the newsletters you no longer read or fix the configuration of the services that send you notifications that don't want.
  • Tweak your spam filter: If you have no control on the source, tweak your spam filter so that it filters them out for you.
  • Use your email client filtering and processing features: If you want to receive the emails for archival purposes, configure your email client to match them by regular expressions on the sender or subject, mark them as read and move them to the desired directory.
  • Use email automation software: If you want to run automatic processes triggered by emails, use email automation solutions.

Use your preferred editor to write the emails

You'll probably be less efficient with the email client's editor in comparison with your own. If you use vim or emacs, there's a good chance that the email client has a plugin that allows you to use it. Or you can always migrate to a command line client. I'll probably do that once I set up the email automation system.