Going from inbox chaos to zen in one fell swoop.
One of the biggest illusions of productivity in the modern workplace is email.
Emails are notoriously good at making you think that you are getting work done when instead, it’s just another “infinity pool”.
Swiping through emails — most of which are either newsletters or promotions — gives you the false impression that you are actually doing meaningful work. More often than not, you are not.
There’s one disclaimer I want to add though before we get started — there are jobs and roles that are entirely based on emails. This blog post won’t apply to these roles.
On the flip side, this post is perfectly suited for people with professions that require “deep work”. If you are one of those people, keep reading.
Three Types of Emails
There are a multitude of ways you can categorize emails. Different email clients group emails differently. The definitions are not set in stone.
I put emails in 3 buckets:
Let’s take a moment to talk about each of these.
- Important: Work emails that require some action.
- Newsletters: Typically informational emails that do provide value, but not when you are consuming during work hours
- Promotions: Freebies or other discounts that you signed up for.
Needless to say, “Important” emails are ones you cannot compromise on. These are emails that have something actionable. You either take the action immediately or ingest it into your task management system for future processing.
When it comes to “Newsletters” and “Promotions” things become more vague.
As mentioned before “Newsletters” can be important. They are one of the best ways to consume information.
At the same time, there are “Promotion” emails in the clothes of “Newsletters”. These are emails that are fundamentally promotions — selling products, subscriptions, services — but they don’t want to make it obvious.
Another problem with “Newsletters” emails is they can become infinity pools. What are infinity pools, I hear you ask?
These are content types that involve infinite scrolling. If you are subscribed to enough newsletters, and they are all coming to your primary email, you can go down the rabbit hole and keep scrolling, even if your initial intention of going to your inbox was to scan for “Important” emails.
If it’s not evident already, these different categories of emails require different strategies to be dealt with most effectively.
The most important strategy, and the one we will talk about in this blog post, is compartmentalization.
The idea is simple: you find ways to divide your inbox in ways that separate each of the email categories.
The goal is to reduce the inbox noise and make “checking email” as intentional as possible. Whenever you go to the inbox, your system should only surface important emails. This way, you eliminate even the potential of going down any rabbit hole of infinity pools.
There are three approaches you can take to implement this strategy. Let’s look at those now.
Approach 1: Different Emails for Different Purposes
The first approach is the most straightforward, albeit requires the most amount of work.
You keep three different emails — one for important, one for newsletters, and one for promotions.
Not only do you have to create three accounts, but you have to remember their credentials, and also be mindful of what email you are using when signing up for different websites and services.
For all your newsletter emails, you will have a dedicated inbox. However, when you are in the mood to consume them, you will be essentially reading through emails. Not a pleasant reading experience, if you ask me.
So, even though this is a fine approach, and it will work for most people, the inconvenience of going through an email inbox when I want to consume newsletters, turns me off.
Approach 2: One Email, Different Aliases, Email Filters
If you have a Google Email (@gmail), you will love this approach.
You can use one email account but use aliases to segment the different categories of emails. What does it mean? Let’s walk through an example together.
Say, your primary email is email@example.com.
You want all your important emails to go to this inbox.
For your newsletters and promotions, however, you want different inboxes.
How do you achieve that?
You create 2 new aliases for the same email:
Now, all the emails will end up in the same inbox, however, they will have a different To: field.
That means you can set up email filters to segment emails into different “folders” or “labels” based on the value of the To: field.
How is this approach different from the first approach?
Now, you don’t have the overhead of maintaining 3 separate accounts.
However, you still have some similar problems:
- Easily get distracted given all your emails — important and newsletters — are in the same inbox
- Bad reading experience if you are consuming newsletters
Just like the first approach, this should also work for most of you folks.
However, if you want to know what approach I use, keep reading.
Approach 3: Email + Readwise Reader
I use two apps — Spark Mail (or any other email client) and Readwise Reader.
All my important emails go to my primary email, which is connected to Spark Mail. When I need to check my email, I go to Spark Mail. There are no potential distractions there waiting to steal my attention.
The next category — newsletters.
All my newsletters go to Readwise Reader.
Readwise Reader is a “read-it-later” app unlike any other!
You can of course do everything you can do with other read-it-later apps, like Pocket and Instapaper, but you can also do so much more!
When you sign up for Readwise Reader, you can a randomized email. You can use this email to subscribe to any newsletter you want.
Now, all my newsletter “emails” will come to my Readwise Reader feed. When I want to consume newsletters, I just open my Reader app.
Even better, I can highlight, annotate, take notes, and do everything else I can do with other articles and blog posts saved in Readwise Reader.
If you are reading keenly, you must be wondering — what about “promotions” emails?
I don’t sign up for anything that promises “free stuff”. Also, I don’t provide my emails when shopping online or in-store.
Being so intentional with giving out my email means, my inbox is clutter-free. If, by mistake, I end up on some promotional email list, I quickly unsubscribe.
There you go, folks!
These are the 3 different approaches you can use to transform your email productivity, while not missing out on important newsletters you want to read for personal growth.
I hope you found this helpful.
If you want any help setting up either one of these approaches, please comment below. I would love to help out!
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