Five Realistic Ways to Use Email More Effeciently

Gretchen Rubin on creating your own personal happiness

Email. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. I’m trying to be smarter about how to use email so that it makes my life easier, not tougher.

I’ve read a lot of advice about email that, although it sounds helpful, just isn’t realistic. For example, I’ve read that you should deal with each email as it comes in. I just can’t do that.

I also commit the classic mistake of having a “miscellaneous” folder, which you should never do – though in my case, the miscellaneous folder happens to be labeled “Worth saving.” It’s full of emails that having nothing in common except that they are, well, worth saving.

But I do try to follow these strategies:

1. Keep it brief. Writinig shorter emails is a resolution we should all embrace! Easier for the writer, easier for the reader.

2. Stay focused. I used to write round-up emails, where I’d include several matters in a single email. I thought this was efficient, because I was sending fewer emails. From my own response to receiving those kinds of emails, however, I’ve changed my habits. Now I write multiple emails, each on a single subject, with an appropriate subject line. I realized that those round-up emails made it hard for me to keep track of different sub-issues, and I also tended to delete the email before everything was addressed. I’m sure I bug people when I send five emails in a row, each on a different subject, but I think it works better.

3. Keep a sense of proportion! Don’t flag an email as “urgent” unless it really is urgent! I know someone who has flagged every single email to me as urgent! Not acceptable!

4. Unsubscribe. As a newsletter writer, I’m always sorry to see someone unsubscribe from my monthly newsletter, but from a happiness-project perspective, it’s a smart thing to do if you’re not reading something. Sure, it may take only a second to delete it when it arrives, but seeing emails flooding into your in-box is so unpleasant; take a few extra seconds to stop those emails at the source.

5. Manage your notifications. When you set up a Twitter account, a Facebook account, a Goodreads profile, a YouTube channel, and the like, pay very careful attention to the notifications. Do you really want to be notified when X, Y, or Z happens? Maybe not. And if you realize later you’re getting notifications you don’t want, take a minute to change your settings. As in #4, while it’s true that deleting takes less time than changing your settings, in the long run, it’s worth it to take steps to control this clutter.

What other strategies help you to use email more efficiently? I need more ideas!

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. Each Wednesday is tip day on her blog.

2 comments so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    I find myself blessed.  My dearest, most loved friends are scattered to the four winds . . . and yet, sometimes daily we are brought together through e-mail.  Thinking about this, I would say that I find them beautiful writers, sharing their thoughts with great insight, love, and caring.  Quite often I find the writing and the content in the realm of a masterpiece – deeper, even better than reading the books I love so.

    When my heart is touched as it so often is, words flow out of me in return, letting the friend know that I understand.  But my heart will not let me press DELETE on what amounts to love shared.  And so – with a cast of 10 to 20 writing me very often – those letters, much read, mount up.  I am told that it makes my computer run slower to have saved those special letters.  So be it.  I call them “pieces of my heart” and just knowing they are in there somewhere makes me know that I have treasures more valuable to me than material things.

    Unlike the personal letters, most days I am dealing with letters that are in my business realm.  I answer them promptly, never letting anything pile up if I can help it, but if I do save any, it would be for a short time only.  

    My pet peeve (as we all have at least one):  nice people surprising me with inane downloads that are a waste of time from the first moment.  I don’t have time, I don’t have patience for that.  The exception on downloads:  I will read anything, anything about Antarctica — and will send you a million thanks! 

  2. avatar ann penn says:

    I’ve found having many separate folders to be a blessing. It lets me find the appropriate email when I need it and quickly delete those that are no longer needed.

    Last year I added a “calendar” folder that holds info related to specific dates in the near future. I found that I was often searching for such things as flight times of arriving children, etc.