Useful email management tips are flying around like crazy these days. Guy Kawasaki posted a great list of tips for writing effective email messages, and Merlin Mann just posted a big list of email tips that he’s posted at 43 Folders.
It seems like most hints for dealing with email are targetted for people who get tons of email and for people who can’t seem to tear themselves away from their inbox. That’s not me. I generally don’t have a problem dealing with the email messages that are important, it’s that I tend to let the ones that are not critical languish. My usual pattern was to deal with only the email that was important and maybe half of the rest, and leave the rest in my inbox unread for months. The next thing you know it’s February and I still have unread email from September sitting there in my inbox. The most common types of things I’d find were mail from mailing lists, automated messages from version control or issue tracking systems, and other computer generated email, like marketing messages. I’m only diligent about getting rid of spam and taking care of actual mail from real people who might be upset if I don’t respond.
Recently I have resolved to deal with all my unread email every morning before I do any other work, and that has worked remarkably well for me. No longer do I have 250 threads in my Gmail inbox that I’m just going to archive anyway. I check my email throughout the day as well, but I have tried to build an email tending habit and have actually had some measure of success. That’s remarkable given my history.