How to process email

Learn how to process emails to get grip on your inbox and never miss an email ever again.

Process emails based on priority, not top to bottom

Emails are sorted based on the time received, not on urgency. If you work through email top-to-bottom, you might not have time to see email #25 that is  super-urgent AND important. For this reason, you want to process emails first (without working on emails from top to bottom).

  1. Skim all emails
  2. Decide on the most important email
  3. Work on that email first
  4. Repeat and work on next most important email

The goal is to go over emails as quickly as possible, to catch important AND urgent emails. You want to assess all emails to prioritise them first and only then start working on the tasks inside emails.

After you’ve processed all emails, you know which has the highest priority. Although an empty inbox “inbox zero” feels great, it’s not a goal in itself.

The goal is to get grips on the priority of emails and respond to the most important email first. Here’s how to do that.

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Step-by-step instructions to process email

I’m borrowing heavily from the Getting Things Done methodology.

Step 1: if it’s not actionable

If it’s not actionable, follow these steps:

  1. Archive email. If you’ve read the email, simply archive it as Gmail has an excellent search functionality
  2. Move to the ‘Reference’ folder/label if you need it later for reference. An example is the newsletter inspiration folder. You don’t need the email now, but want to save it for later.
  3. Snooze to date if it has to be delayed (only expectation to touch an email twice)
  4. Move to the ‘Someday/Maybe’ folder/label if you think you might do something with it later.
  5. Delegate it (forward email with instructions + add to folder ‘waiting for’)

Step 2: If it’s actionable

  1. Less than 2 minutes? Do it now
  2. More than 2 minutes? 
  1. If it’s a time-based task, snooze the email or add a task to execute the task on the given day. Give the person that has requested this from you a heads up that it’s on your list.
  2. If you need extra information, send an email with a request for more input and add it to the ‘Waiting for’ list.
  3. Add the label “Action for me” and/or add tasks to your to-do list.
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About Ewoud

Ewoud Uphof

Ewoud Uphof is an experienced Growth Hacker, certified funnel optimiser and investor.

In the past decade he has co-founded multiple companies. As Head of Growth he has helped grow 50+ companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals. He has worked for Camptoo, NU.nl, Sophia Mae, Koffievoordeel and many more.

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