Workflow

What to do when an email arrives in my inbox?

It should be noted that the workflow I offer here is not a magic trick that will solve all of your issues with email. Adapt it to your needs, or use a completely different one if it works better for you! Always remain skeptical of the informations and “advices” you receive, especially if they come from some sort of “gurus” – and God knows there is plenty of those on email productivity…

graph TB; A(1. An email arrives in my inbox)--> B(2. I need to process it. What are my options?); B-->C(2A. Delete it); C-->CC(fa:fa-check-circle DONE) B-->D(2B. Archive it); D-->DD(fa:fa-check-circle DONE); B-->E(2C. Act on it and archive it); E-->EE(fa:fa-check-circle DONE); B-->F(2D. Defer it to my task manager); F-->F1(3. Add the email to the task manager); F1-->F2(4. Move the email to a Todo folder); F2-->F3(5. Manage the email/task in the task manager); F3-->F4(6. Once the task is completed, archive the email); F4-->FF(fa:fa-check-circle DONE);

  • When in 2D case, as all the processing is done in the task manager, the email residing in the Todo folder shouldn't be touched – except when the task is completed.

How to choose at stage 2?

What should guide my choice at stage 2?

Stage Option Decision criteria Examples
2A Delete it The email has no value for you Ads you're not interested with, notifications you didn't asked for, etc.
2B Archive it If the email has some informational value, but do not require you to act on it
2C Act on it and archive it Very similar to 2B, except that with 2C, you have to act a little bit on the email. For instance, by forwarding it to someone else, or to send a short answer Send an invoice to your boss to get reimbursed, acknowledge you received an email for an applicant, etc.
2D Defer it to my task manager 2D is what happen when 2C requires a lot of work Your boss asks you to send a report, that will take weeks of work

- If you need to delete a lot of similar emails (same newsletter, same notification, etc.), try to unsubscribe

Simplest folders structure:

graph LR; D(fa:fa-server Email account); D-->A(fa:fa-folder Inbox); D-->B(fa:fa-folder Todo); D-->C(fa:fa-folder Archive); C-->C1(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic 1); C-->C2(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic 2); C-->C3(fa:fa-folder Etc.);

When using an inbox triaging tool:

graph LR; D(fa:fa-server Email account); D-->A(fa:fa-folder Inbox); D-->A1(fa:fa-folder Secondary inbox); D-->B(fa:fa-folder Todo); D-->C(fa:fa-folder Archive); C-->C1(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic 1); C-->C2(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic 2); C-->C3(fa:fa-folder Etc.);

The secondary inbox is intended to receive less important emails (newsletters, notifications, etc.), in order to help you focus on the most important ones.

Inbox triaging tools can also be used to create more sophisticated hierarchies, for instance to have several inboxes in one single email account. Let's say you want to split your emails in two “accounts”, a professional one and a personal one.

graph LR; D(fa:fa-server Email account); D-->A(fa:fa-folder Inbox, used as Professional inbox); D-->A1(fa:fa-folder Professional); A1-->A11(fa:fa-folder Professional archive); A11-->A111(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic 1); A11-->A112(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic 2); A11-->A113(fa:fa-folder Etc.); D-->A2(fa:fa-folder Personal); A2-->A21(fa:fa-folder Personal inbox); A2-->A22(fa:fa-folder Personal archive); A22-->A221(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic A); A22-->A222(fa:fa-folder Archive about topic B); A22-->A223(fa:fa-folder Etc.); D-->B(fa:fa-cogs Unified inbox); B-.->A; B-.->A21; D-->C(fa:fa-folder Todo);

Thanks to smart folders, you can have some sort of “unified” inbox (smart folders are basically saved searches, which is why I used dotted lines). That being said, not all email clients offer this feature.

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  • Last modified: 11 months ago
  • by Olivier Simard-Casanova