Why email sucks and how to work your way around it

Emailing has been pretty much the same for the past 20 years and, frankly, it is an outdated system. It is supposed to help you work, but using itself can be an added task. It requires far too much manual handling. I'm ready to switch to a better system if there is one. Here is a description of my dream email system. 

A program that collects data in a systematic way

I'd like a program that works just like a survey form where there are fields which senders must fill out, such as:

  • Action required by the recipient: yes, no

  • If action required, requested due date: YYYYMMDD

  • The due date can be imported to the recipient's calendar by clicking a button.

  • Description of the action item with a built-in grammar and contents checking. Must include detailed info on what needs to be done and how. Items can be imported to the recipient's to-do list.

  • The option to export the entire message to a database. 

  • A "done" button, by clicking on it sends an automatic reply to the sender to let them know that the task is completed with an option to attach a document or a link to a storage where the documents are stored. 

  • An automatic follow-up if the task doesn't get completed by the due date. 

Well, unfortunately emailing is stuck in the 90s, so it's up to us to make it work. 

Here is how I do it. You will need to have a system in place for both sending and receiving messages. 

Sending: Write messages that communicate quickly

Write a descriptive subject line

Summarize what the message is about in seven words or less. The recipient can get the gist of the message even before they open it, and they can decide if they want to read it now or later. 

Only email when necessary

It's nice to be courteous, but refrain from sending messages that  merely say "thank you." It will clog the recipient's inbox. The fewer the messages you send out, the fewer the messages you will receive, too. 

Occam's razor

Do your best to write the shortest possible message. Get to the point and take out any fluffs. Less is more. 

Try to include only one main point in a message

It will be hard to miss the point of the message if that's the only thing included. Bold the keyword if necessary for increased readability. 

Make a list

If you have to include more than one point, make it short and use a list. Don't include more than three points. 

Follow-up

If you don't hear back from people, follow-up after a week for a non-urgent matter, and one, two or three days after if you need their reply sooner. Include the original message, so they will know what you're referring to.

Receiving: How to manage your inbox 

Use Trello, Google Docs, etc. to manage projects instead

Email is good for a quick update but is a lousy tool to manage projects. If you're working on a task that involves others and takes more than a couple of email message writing, I recommend using a project management tools. 

Many such tools are offered for free. I like using Google Docs and Sheets. Trello also offers limited functions for free and is intuitive to use. Using these tools will help you keep your inbox free of clutter. 

Create a folder or a tag to organize messages

Delete or file/tag as soon as you receive the message. Don't keep more than 50 messages in your inbox. 

Unsubscribe from newsletters

Do they add value to your business or are they taking precious time away from your business? Stop signing up for them and giving out your email address at stores. 

Create filters to delete emails from some senders

If you don't read messages from certain people, filter by their email address, domain or other criteria and move them straight to the bin. 

Disable notifications on your phone

Hearing that ding on your phone every time you receive a message can be disturbing to you and those around you. Disable it, and dedicate certain time during the day to attend to your inbox. 

That's all I have. Do you have any other tricks you use to keep your inbox under control?