Several colleagues have asked me to put up a short blurb on how I manage email. Much of this stuff is adapted from GTD and some I made up myself.
- Gmail Multiple Inboxes
- Gmail keyboard shortcuts
1. Create a set of labels to represent priority
Personally, I use six:
- – 0 EMERGENCY –
- – 1 Do Now –
- – 2 Today –
- – 3 Soon –
- – 4 Weekend –
- – 5 Someday –
‘Emergency’ is rarely used. It means that the sh*t has hit the fan and I’m prioritizing everything below my response to this particular thread. Meetings are cancelled, other email is ignored, etc. ‘Do Now’ represents email that I will respond to between meetings and other commitments. ‘Today’ contains email that must be responded to before I go to bed that night. ‘Soon’ and ‘Weekend’ are self-explanatory.
- Be sure to include the dashes and numbers in the label names. The dashes ensure that the labels appear at the top of Gmail’s alphabetized label list, and the numbers are useful for sorting email using keyboard shortcuts. (see below)
- Set a separate color for each of your labels to assist with visual cues.
2. Create a set of Status Labels
I use two:
- – Waiting for Response –
- – Scheduled –
These labels provide additional information, beyond priority, about the current state of the thread. Waiting for Response should be self explanatory. The Scheduled label is used to indicate that a meeting has been scheduled, or that I’ve booked time on the calendar to complete a task related to or mentioned in the thread.
3. Set up Multiple Inboxes
Go into Gmail settings and enable Multiple Inboxes within the Labs tab. Refresh, and a new tab titled “Multiple inboxes” should be available. Fill out the form, adding in the labels such as label:–0-EMERGENCY– and setting the positioning to “Right side of the inbox.” (Note that dashes replace spaces in the label field.)
4. Use keyboard shortcuts to make processing email vastly more efficient
If you haven’t already done so, enable Gmail keyboard shortcuts. This allows you to do things like:
- Label a message quickly. Three keystrokes will allow you to assign a priority. For example, to assign a ‘Do Now’ status to an email, simply type: l, 1, enter. (Label, 1 Do Now)
- Move between priorities: g, l, 1, enter. (Go, Label, 1 Do Now)
My days in both Engineering and Finance trained me to NEVER touch a mouse. So, processing my email using keystrokes only is important. A typical series of keystrokes could be: j,enter, l, 1, enter, y, j, enter, l, 1, enter. Starting in the inbox, this translates to: move down one message, open message, label Do Now, Archive (remove from inbox, still shows up in the prioritized inbox to the right), <automatically moved back to inbox>, etc.
There are still some things that aren’t perfect yet. For example, I wish that I could set a filter to remove the Waiting for Response label when someone responds, or move a Scheduled email back to my inbox once the calendar event is complete, etc. (Anyone know how to do this? And, no, I don’t want to pay for Boomerang.)