One of my favourite productivity hacks relates to email. We’ve heard a lot about the battle to do away with email, and many organisations have successfully replaced it with other, more collaborative and transparent tools (such as social intranets and the likes of Slack or HipChat), at least when it comes to internal communications.

But far from going away, email is very much still ‘a thing’. Although the new(ish) generation of collaboration and messaging platforms work well on an intra-company basis, when it comes to communicating with folks outside of your organisation, email still wins.

So how can you deal with it, before it even reaches you? The answer lies in email rules and labels.
The premise is that you can predict how you’ll want to handle the vast majority of the messages you receive, and that you can in most cases find a reliable way to route them. Therefore, why not automate the process of filing, labelling, categorising, or even deleting them?

Here are some scenarios where you might benefit from setting up from rules…

Any messages from a particular client get labelled with the project name. You can do this by full email address, or just the domain name part to capture messages from everyone at that company.

Messages with your monthly electricity, broadband, or SaaS bill get labelled accordingly, and maybe even auto-forwarded to your accounting system.

Messages containing ‘your order number’ get labelled ‘online shopping’

Messages containing the words ‘Pinterest’ and ‘boards you might like’ get labelled ‘social’

Messages from ‘notify@twitter.com’, also containing ‘is now following you on twitter’ get labelled ‘social’ and are deleted after a week.

Anything received from my mum label it ‘Friends & family’

You get the picture (and note, I’m generally using labels/categories instead of folders). You can be quite creative with these rules, but remember that your rules should stand up to scrutiny and avoid false positives as far as possible. Note also, that not all email tools are created equal. There may be some things you can do in Outlook, that you can’t do in Gmail (or vice versa), for example.

Once set up, you’ll find that there are messages that you were dealing with before, that simply require no action now. They file themselves! They can even bypass the inbox altogether. This particularly applies to ones that you want to keep, but don’t necessarily need to read, like monthly subscription bills, maybe.

There are of course messages you do need to read and interact with, but the benefit of setting up rules is that you no longer need to think about how to file them. It’s more a case of removing/archiving them, so they no longer appear in your inbox (but they continue to exist in your archived mail).

A good, final step is of course to go through and totally unsubscribe from all of those messages you simply don’t need, in any way, shape or form. That’s a large chunk of email hell dealt with!

You are now handling email ‘like a boss’. Any time a new scenario comes up that needs a new rule, just invest the one minute it takes to set one up, then forget about it, forever.

How to do it: Gmail – https://support.google.com/mail/answer/6579?hl=en

See also: https://support.google.com/mail/answer/118708?hl=en&ref_topic=3394656

How to do it: Outlook – https://support.office.com/en-gb/article/Manage-email-messages-by-using-rules-c24f5dea-9465-4df4-ad17-a50704d66c59

See also: https://www.michaellinenberger.com/blog/use-categories-instead-of-multiple-folders-when-filing-mail-in-outlook/

Can’t be bothered to invest time in setting up rules? Remember this:

”Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Paul Meyer