Experimenting With Email

Like many of you I get a lot of email, and like many of you I often struggle to keep up with it in the context of everything else that is going on. Recently I have been trying a few little experiments in adjusting my email workflow to see if I can be more productive. I am seeing some good results and just wanted to share a few small changes I have made that have impacted my workflow in the interests of them possibly being useful for you too:

  • Using the GMail web interface – I back-end all my mail in GMail and traditionally use IMAP to access it via the default email client in Ubuntu (e.g. Thunderbird). While I love Thunderbird and Evolution, unfortunately GMail IMAP access is a touch slower than I would like (I have talked to Chris Coulson about this issue in Thunderbird who has looked into it) and the small delay in loading messages makes the email experience feel a little less sleek. Using GMail directly removes this slight lag, and it has made the email experience feel more satisfying (obviously for those of you who don’t have this lag, such as POP users, should be fine). Importantly, if you use GMail too, check out the GMail labs split pane view which makes GMail act like a traditional email client; I find that it makes GMail useful for me as opposed to the traditional view.
  • Top posting – I realized recently how anal I am about laying out my messages and replies. I hit reply, say hi to the person, respond inline, make sure there is space between my response and the quoted text, add my name etc. For most 1-on-1 conversations this level of layout is not really needed (although on mailing lists I still bottom post), and just hitting reply and typing without all this laying out makes email feel so much more efficient.
  • Don’t star mails to reply to – my traditional email workflow is that I wake up in the morning, grab my tablet, and while I wake up I read my email and star all the mails I need to respond to. I then grab breakfast, do all my calls, and then get to the starred emails to respond to. Instead of starring I experimented by marking emails unread that I need to reply to. For some reason this makes the urgency of replying more amplified in my head. I think that I just don’t like seeing unread emails, and it flips a psychological bit that makes me want to reply to them quicker as opposed to starring and my email just being another list of things to tend to. I know sounds a little strange, but this small change also affects how I handle my email.

Of course, while these things work for me, many of these won’t be of interest or work for you folks, but some may, and I just wanted to share them. I am sure there are lots of little tweaks to your own email workflow that you have found useful, and I would love to hear them in the comments. Happy emailing!

  • Alexander Larsson

    Inline posting does unfortunately tend to cause people to reply by nitpicking each paragraph, rather than reading it all and composing a though-out reply that is a response to what the poster meant, rather than the details of how it was written.

    For some technical discussions this is necessary, but I think in many cases it causes communication problems in the community.

  • Alessio Fattorini

    I use gmail interface for my personal mail and Thunderbird for work. You can use label (like “todo”) if you don’t want let mail unread 😀

  • Anonymous

     That is a really good point about the nitpicking in inline posting; I never really thought about it this way, but you are absolutely right.

    Thanks for sharing. :-)

  • pinky0x51

    For many years I used the “Geek-approach”. Basic text based clients such as Emacs/Gnus and mutt. But since about 1 year I started my journey  to discover a more productive set up. Especially searching and all the stuff you don’t do every day was really hard with mutt and gnus (since I only remember short cuts if I use them on a daily basis). I ended up using Thunderbird which to my surprise has a really nice user interfaces good searching capabilities and more advanced futures like support for Mail-Followup-To headers. About a few months ago I started using the tagging system which increases my productivity a lot. I can tag a mail on my laptop as “todo” and will have the same tag on every other machine thanks to my IMAP server who stores this tags.

    At the moment I can’t think about anything which could improve my productivity regarding emails

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think you like the normal Gmail mail view, which this somewhat mimics, but I’ve found that the “Thunderbird Conversations”  addon makes dealing with huge amounts of email in Thunderbird much more manageable.


  • Help me

    Please,senor,how i get my family back? my family killed by zeta boss because i install unity like you say but it uninstall MiguelSoft. I very angry at you!

  • http://www.metairievets.gardnerrealtors.com/ metairie real estate

    i find it’s quicker to be anti-anal about e-mail in that it slows me down to delete old emails or mark those that have been read and such.  and i also like to read emails as soon as i get them.

  • https://status.saz.im/ sazius

    OTOH, it’s very annoying when you ask two things and people who are top-posting only answer to that one thing they happen to remember. An inline poster would not miss things as easily :)

  • Nigga Tyrone

    Dats whack!

  • Nigga Tyrone

    I find dat yo momma cums fastest when I be usin’ my anti-anal missile.

  • Nigga Tyrone

    True dat! When I is emailing mah homeys I tells them to make sure to not top post or I is gonna bust a cap in deys ass!

  • Martijn Weisbeek

    In the Gmail Labs this split pane is named “Preview Pane”. At first I could not find it in the list of Labs until I searched for just the word “pane”. However, in the Gmail user interface it is indeed called “split pane”.

  • Martin Wildam

    I use a simplified GTD approach. I have some special tags I attach when first reading an email:

    1-Important 2-Next 3-Later 4-Hold 5-Waiting

    So I avoid reading the same mails in my inbox again and again. And: I try to look into my mails only when there is also a little time left for immediate replies. Only the replies taking more time (eg testing) gets the labels listened above.

    Waiting is for those I am waiting for replies so I can check who to remind.

  • http://adamwill.id.fedoraproject.org/ AdamW

    I’ve never found a way of marking a message for later follow-up that really works. So I don’t do it. If a mail needs replying to, I reply to it immediately. If I can’t be bothered replying to it immediately, I figure, it probably doesn’t need replying to at all.

  • http://adamwill.id.fedoraproject.org/ AdamW

    That by extension is really my whole email philosophy – don’t get too clever, don’t try and ‘manage’ it. Just read the damn stuff and reply to it. It’s the first thing I do every day, all else comes after. Also, always filter properly.