What's Your Email Style — Plain or Fancy?


There’s no shortage of articles published about how to take control of your email; we’ve contributed quite a few ourselves. This week, I’ve seen the extremes of email management approaches, from very simple to incredibly complex:

Plain. Gina Trapani of Lifehacker offers Empty Your Inbox with Gmail and the Trusted Trio. With Gina’s scheme, everything that needs some action in the future goes into Follow Up (messages you need to take action on) or Hold (where you are waiting on something or someone else) with the rest getting archived. Voila! Clean inbox.

But remember you might want to transfer to do items from your email into your task manager or you might forget all you need to do. Out of the inbox can mean out of mind, as you may have discovered after you labeled a bunch of emails as Follow Up and then never looked at them again.

Fancy. Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek says you might want to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again. Tim suggests you hire a virtual assistant to process your email, which would involve too much overhead of time, money, and hassle for most people. But if you’re an Internet celebrity who receives thousands of emails a day, it could be just the thing to free your time from email processing for higher value work.

What’s your email processing personality? Plain or fancy?

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Matthew Cornell

Hmmm – we’re mixing a few dimensions here, I think. One is *message* complexity/style: Do you write short, crisp ones, or longer, prose-style ones? (Guess what: The days of the latter are *very* over. Instead, write a short email summary, call for specific action, and attach the doc or point to it on a server, better yet.)

The second dimension is complexity/style in *managing* your email. Spectrum: Bill Clinton – Tim Ferriss – me and you :-) The issue is who does the thinking – us or someone else? Someone else is great, if you can a) get away with it, or b) set it up.

Related to the left side of the spectrum, those folks can also get away with not keeping a schedule. This is the “Arnold Swarchenegger self-management approach” (sit outside his office and wait – the burden is on *us* to get his attention).

This works for high-fliers who can dictate such a policy, but not for most of us.


Similar to Peter, but I also use Gmails “star” tool to highlight the emails in my inbox that I need to follow up on. Then I clear my inbox a couple of times a week.

I also use a few Gmail labels to archive things like site registrations under a certain category.

Brent Hopkins

Intermediate. I use Gmail with a lot of filters and labels, plus I use Remember The Milk. Once things are labeled or tasked, I archive them. I color-code my labels too in order to make them stand out visually. I harldly ever open Outlook (Windows) or Evolution (Linux); I just use them occasionally for backup purposes.


Plain. Messages that I have read and/or acted upon are archived or deleted. Messages that I need to act on but can’t are kept in the Inbox as a reminder to do them. Messages that ask me to do something that I need more information from somone else are forwarded on to the other person asking for that info and then archived or deleted. When they send back the info I need the new email acts as a reminder.
This policy means I ususally have 10-20 messages in my Inbox.


I try to only check my email 3 times a day. The important ones make it into my task management system. Maybe one day I’ll hire that virtual assistant when I sell that first company :-)


Plain text ;) Using mutt as email reader helped me saving a great amount of time.


somewhere in the middle. I probably lean towards fancy. I use lots of rules in outlook, and nowadays XOBNI! Yaaay xobni.

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