Why you need to split processing and replying to email
In this chapter, I'll explain why it's important to split processing and replying to emails and how to set up the process to do so.
Let's start with an example. An inbox is sorted by the time emails arrive to the inbox. Here's an example. It's hard to pick out the important emails. That's why
Adding a fictional priority score
Emails are sorted based on the time received, not on urgency. If you work through email top-to-bottom, you might not have time to see email #25 that is super-urgent AND important. For this reason, you want to process emails first (without working on emails from top to bottom).
In the thought experiment, I've added a priority score (that's fictional and I've added manually). When we go over the inbox now, it's much easier to spot which 3 emails we have to respond to first. Half way down the inbox is an email with a 100/100 priority. Our Google Ads have been paused. I need to respond to this immediately.
If I would've started at the top (16:40) and worked my way down the list of emails, I would have seen the important email much later. Replying to 8 emails with tasks inside them takes, let's say an hour. So we would lose 1 hour of ads not running in the example. That's why it's important to process all emails so you can sort them (in Gmail labels) based on priority.
Replying to emails based on priority
With all the emails processed, this is how you should answer the emails - from the highest priority to the lowest priority. The only issue is that this priority scoring doesn't exist in Gmail. That's why I use Gmail labels with action steps. The labels are buckets based on the next step taken.
How to process your inbox
- Skim all emails
- Decide on the most important email
- Work on that email first
- Repeat and work on next most important email
The goal is to go over emails as quickly as possible, to catch important AND urgent emails. You want to assess all emails to prioritise them first and only then start working on the tasks inside emails.
After you’ve processed all emails, you know which has the highest priority. Although an empty inbox “inbox zero” feels great, it’s not a goal in itself.
The goal is to get grips on the priority of emails and respond to the most important email first. Here’s how to do that.
Step-by-step instructions to process email
I’m borrowing heavily from the Getting Things Done methodology.
Step 1: if it’s not actionable
If it’s not actionable, follow these steps:
- Archive email. If you’ve read the email, simply archive it as Gmail has an excellent search functionality
- Move to the ‘Reference’ folder/label if you need it later for reference. An example is the newsletter inspiration folder. You don’t need the email now, but want to save it for later.
- Snooze to date if it has to be delayed (only expectation to touch an email twice)
- Move to the ‘Someday/Maybe’ folder/label if you think you might do something with it later.
- Delegate it (forward email with instructions + add to folder ‘waiting for’)
Step 2: If it’s actionable
- Less than 2 minutes? Do it now
- More than 2 minutes?
- If it’s a time-based task, snooze the email or add a task to execute the task on the given day. Give the person that has requested this from you a heads up that it’s on your list.
- If you need extra information, send an email with a request for more input and add it to the ‘Waiting for’ list.
- Add the label “Action for me” and/or add tasks to your to-do list.