6 Tips For Getting Through Email Fast

September 16, 2007

icon for podpress  6 Tips For Getting Through Email Fast: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

1. Limit the number of times you “do” email. Create a processing schedule and stick to it. Two or three times per day is sufficient for most people. Trying to reactively pick off messages as they arrive is a surefire way to waste time.

Instead, take a more proactive approach by only “doing” email during a few predetermined times each day. Keeping your email application closed when not in use is another great way to help break the habit of checking too often.

2. Be an email “processor”, rather than an email “checker!” What’s the difference? Checkers constantly interrupt themselves, looking for what’s new or interesting. This wastes time because email checkers tend to save most of their messages for latter. These “checked-but-left” messages have to be reread again, and again, and just when you thought I couldn’t get another, “again” in there … again.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Only open your inbox when you’re ready to process each message. So what’s processing? Processing is reading each message with the goal of identifying what your going to do with it (file it, respond, trash it, etc.) and then moving it right away.


Sorting message by what you’re going to do with them makes getting through the inbox fast and easy.

3. Process email by “what you’re going to do with it”, not by “what it is!” Spending too much time trying to figure out what messages are about doesn’t get you very far. Isn’t the more important question, “What do I need to do with it?”

For most of us, this means a dramatic shift in the way we think about “doing” email. Many of us open the inbox with the hopes of resolving actionable messages as they’re identified. Although this sense of urgency is admirable, it skips the very important step of prioritization. Without processing everything first, it’s impossible to know which messages are really worthy of your attention (and in what order).

A more productive approach is opening the inbox with the mindset of sorting everything first. This subtle mental shift helps keep you focused on the task at hand – getting all the way through your inbox. Try thinking about each message as if it were a multiple choice question with only three possible answers.

Example: When opening your inbox, process each item by deciding if you want to:

A) Task it

B) File it

C) Trash it.

The protocol is a simple two step process, “Sort, then Act.” Sorting everything first ensures you’re not misallocating your attention on less important items.

4. Keep file structures simple. Elaborate file structures make filing more difficult. Here’s a good test to know if your file structure is too detailed: You feel the need to file a message in more than one folder. If that’s the case, you have too many folders.

The more folders you have, the more places you have to consider before filing messages away. That’s one of the primary reason inboxes get bottlenecked - there’s too much to think about when files messages away. When it comes to file structures, less is more.

File structures with fewer folders and more information contained in each folder, make filing faster and easier. Does that make you worry about being able to retrieve messages? It shouldn’t. Download a desktop search tool like Windows Desktop Search or Google Desktop Search and you’ll never have trouble finding messages again.


Desktop Search Tools are THE fastest and easiest way of retrieving information on your computer!

5. Use a Desktop Search Tool to find messages faster. Desktop search tools aren’t just for lost messages. They’re best used as THE primary tool for retrieving all the stuff on your computer. They’re just like an internet browser, but rather than searching the Web, they search all the documents on your machine (including email). Read more about search tools here. Oh, and the best part is that they’re free.


6. Name your most used folders with numbers to “force prioritize” them to the top of your file directory. Most email programs sort folders numerically, then alphabetically. That means that a folder named with a “1” will come before a folder that begins with the letter “A.” For instance, you might label your folders “1. Customers”, “2. Projects”, “3. Management”, etc.

Again, the fewer the folders the less you have to consider when deciding where to file something. Investing a few minutes numbering your most used folders conveniently places them atop your file directory. Using the Pareto principle, it’s likely that 80% of your message’s will be contained in 20% of your folders. It’s the latter 20% that should be named with numbers – making them much easier to access.

Want more FREE PRODUCTIVITY TIPS from Nate? Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


5 Responses to “6 Tips For Getting Through Email Fast”

  1. Joe Allen on September 17th, 2007 5:20 pm


    Your three simple steps are great. In the future, I will be asking myself: “Do I task it, file it, or trash it?” Your pictures on this post was also very helpful.



  2. Lisa on September 18th, 2007 7:54 pm

    What a smooth talker you are! I love your words of wisdom, spoken like a pro! Keep up the good work! :)

  3. natejust on September 19th, 2007 6:15 am

    Thanks Joe & Lisa :)

  4. Lisa on September 19th, 2007 10:43 am

    You are most welcome, Mister Just! I’m finally getting a chance to take a closer look at the blog. Very nice! And a Podcast too? Who knew? ;)

  5. Sacha Fernandes on June 9th, 2010 12:25 pm

    This was excellent. Thank you. I’m motivated to become a processor !!

Got something to say?