Managing Email


It is easy to get sucked into reading email every time it beeps. But then we might not get anything done. I am continually reminding myself if I open email I have to do something with it besides read it.

In a Forbes article on how millionaires manage their email, I came across an idea called the “321 Zero Email System”.

1) Set a time to check and process email 3 times a day. That means read AND take action. Only reading your email is a procrastination tool and a way to get a little adrenaline kick. If you don’t do anything with it, it’s a waste of time.

2) Set a timer for 21 minutes try to get to inbox zero (no emails in the inbox.) Whether you get there or not isn’t the point. The point is to stay focused on doing something with the emails. The 21 minute timing can be fiddled with depending on how much email you generally get.

Some other email tips that I use:

  • If you use Gmail, get the priority email box so the important email is at the top.
  • Use so you can get a daily digest of newsletters and ads. A quick scan of one email is much faster than reading the emails one at a time.
  • When you are sick/on vacation/just behind on emails and are feeling overwhelmed by the backlog try doing it a day at a time. Monday do all the emails from the past Mondays. Tuesday do all the emails from the past Tuesdays (Or as much as you have time for.)
  • Create a next action email folder for things you have to do – but also put the action on your to do list.
  • Do at least one project before processing email or reading Facebook.
  • If you have a job that requires you do be more email available, make sure you do your task first, then check email. If you are constantly interrupting tasks to check email you will be much less productive.
  • Turn off the email notification on your phone.
  • Try to have all of yesterday’s email processed by the end of today. If you get too much regularly – start unsubscribing. ( is an easy way to do that as well.)
  • Keep your emails short, yet kind. Always read over before you send noticing if there might be questions the other person may have when reading it. If so, clarify your email.

Remember, email is a relatively passive activity. Be aware of letting the phone/email suck you in so you are participating less in the world.


Photo by Ian Lamont




  • Jess says:

    Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing the article and your advice. I switched to checking and actioning (the most important part!) e-mail twice a day and it has significantly improved my productivity.

  • K Thompson says:

    Thanks for your suggestions. It is true that I just let email accrue after checking it. I flag items that are more important than others so they catch my eye and can quickly be found later.
    I have a regular email account for my main correspondence, friends, family, anything that is important for me to know about, and alternate work contact outside of work. When I started signing up for newsletters, things of interest to me, for example:,food, genealogy, literature reviews, I started a second email address for those, which then don’t interfere with my “Action” type emails and I read them at leisure. They don’t clutter my email so I focus on the recent important ones in the first account. On my phone I can set it to “show all” accounts, or I can just check the one. It works better for me than filters; I know the newsletters are all in one place, and as you said in another article, they are searchable so I don’t put in folders.

  • Beth Dargis says:

    Very helpful suggestions! Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *