How I stay on top of my email

June 21st, 2012 Posted by Uncategorized, Wellness 0 thoughts on “How I stay on top of my email”

I’m an email ninja.

It comes in, I respond, I’m done.

I was one of those work people who couldn’t leave anything unread in her work inbox.  At the end of my day, I had to 1) have read every email, 2) respond to everything I could repond to, and/or 3) make a note in my notebook telling myself what information I needed to gather to answer the email and make a plan to respond the next day.

I lived for the zero unread status.

After I left my job when Kate was born, I applied the same principles to my personal email.  On any given day, I’ll get bunches and bunches of emails from the ladies in my mom’s group, friends, family, blog readers, editors and sources for my freelance projects, billions of 20% from Old Navy emails, and other random stuff.

I use Gmail as my email system, and Gmail’s Priority Inbox saves me from the embarrasment of forgetting about emails, loosing important stuff, and all other sorts of email travesties.

Here’s my system:

I observe a one-touch system.  Actually, I do this with everything.  But it works fabulously for email.  When an email comes in, I deal with it right away.  I’ll respond back immediately or flag it/star it (Gmail on my computer lets me “star” things, and if I’m on my iPhone or iPad, I hit “Flag” under the “Mark” button within the email).  When you “Flag” something on your iPhone or iPad, it will show up as a starred item in your desktop version of Gmail.  Seamless, that Google.

At the end of each day when I’m ready to be done with email (usually around 7:30 p.m.), I take a look at my starred items and bust through them.  I don’t let myself pick and choose.  I just run down the list and answer each in turn.  This system keeps me on track and prevents me from running out of steam.

Another trick: emails don’t have to be novels.  In fact, they shouldn’t.  Just the facts, ma’am.  People appreciate reading as little as possible.  If your pal emails you asking to get together, you could send a two-sentence response with a date, time, and place.  You don’t need to say, I’m NOT free X day and time.  That’s not useful information.  Your friend doesn’t care when you’re not free.  He or she wants to know when you are free.

Some productivity experts suggest limiting email usage to certain times of day.  That would never work for my personality, job, or schedule.  I want to know immediately when a source emails me back or there is a sale at JCrew or if someone needs a sub in one hour for their 5:30 p.m. step class.  I need to be on top of things.  And I limit it as needed.  If something hits my inbox after 7:30 p.m. (unless it’s some sort of Step Class emergency), I just flag that baby and answer it tomorrow.

Answering email right away may sound daunting, but once you’re on top of your email, it will be easy to maintain.  And if you’re currently downing, I suggest carving out an hour or two to combing through your inbox and answering and starring things as needed.

How do you stay on top of your email?  Any time-saving tips?



  • These are great tips, Sarah! I don’t take advantage of the Priority Inbox and I really should. I wish Outlook ran like Gmail, though… my work email gets so crowded and overwhelming that it’s ridiculous. Do you archive or file away emails when you’re done with them?

    • After I respond, I unstar and consider them archived. I love Gmail because I can easily search for something if I need to pull up an email for reference. Love gmail!

  • Before baby, I was exactly like you. Email in, email out. Read, respond (if necessary), delete. People made fun of me for being so prompt with my responses, but I knew if I let them sit, then I’d forget about them. After I had a baby, I started reading more emails on my phone. Generally, I don’t respond to emails there. So, I read and delete, where possible. And then, when I’m sitting at my computer, I respond to any emails remaining. Of course, when I’m at work, the email in, email out method still holds true. For the most part, this strategy works for me.

    • People made fun of me/still make fun of me for email promptness. I would never want someone to think of me as rude, so I make responding ASAP a priority.

  • I am the same way — I cannot stand having unread emails. I have like 19 email accounts now (work, personal gmail, old personal gmail from before I was married and changed my name, a hotmail junk account, blog email, etc.). I have almost everything related to purchases, coupons, stores, etc. go to my hotmail, which I admittedly don’t check that often and miss deals. But I don’t really need to be shopping …

    I use gmail’s filters a lot and have things automatically labeled/filed so I can stay organized and know what to respond to. (And for some reason it doesn’t bother me that much if I have an unread, but filed, email — as long as it’s not in my regular inbox.) Changing my name and email actually helped get off a lot of junk lists and things that I don’t really need anymore. I am also a big fan of the starring/flagging feature, for both work and personal emails.

    • Ah yes, filters and labels in Gmail are great! Ha ha, yes, I remember switching my name over and the grief associated with that 😉 But I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates unread email!

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Hi! I’m Sarah, I am passionate about creating community, building deep connections, and the power of creativity. I live in Northern Virginia with my husband, our three kids, and our golden-lab mix.

I believe in leggings as pants, and I drink my coffee black. I love shopping at Costco, teaching group exercise classes, and, athleisure.

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