E-mail processing is your job

By johannatime On July 14, 2013 Under Getting Organised

How awesome would it be if e-mail processing could be automated? For many, e-mail is the most distressing element of their work flow. You also, may feel overwhelmed by your e-mail. Processing requires skill and discipline, too, so finding a work around could be worth the effort:

  • Most e-mail software has a spam filter, keeping your inbox free from indecent offers as much as possible
  • Rules in Outlook allow you to automatically move messages from certain senders, or messages where you were cc’ed, into assigned folders so they won’t clutter your inbox, and Outlook rules has some more smart applications
  • G-mail recently launched a smarter inbox, where you’ll find your messages sorted by tab (important; deals; notifications; etc)
  • Sanebox selects your most important messages for you based on your own previous processing behaviour

And you probably have your own favorite examples, too. I’ve tried a few and I was excited about how well they work, yet I have uninstalled all (except the spam filters). Let me explain why:

E-mail processing, like any inbox processing, is at the very core of your work architecture. If you do this well, you are in control and you are heading towards your goals. Essential ingredients for succesful ‘in’ processing are:

  • Your intuition based on previous experiences
  • Your conscious, action based decision on each and every single item in ‘in’

By designing your work well (i.e. by making the right decisions about actions and priorities), you create focus and peace of mind. You have a realistic plan to move forward with your project or ambition, and you trust yourself because you made a conscious decision that felt good, about every single item. This way, your subconscious brain will leave you at peace and you will experience flow in the things you do.

Now what would happen if this process is automated?

  • You would save time, agreed!
  • You leave the intuition to your software of choice
  • You become lazy and you’ll probably only take conscious decisions on an arbitrary selection of items

You need the sense of urgency that any item could be important, to keep your intuition working and to keep making truly conscious decisions. The x% (x = anything between 1 and 99) important messages are the fuel for your motivation to do it right. To improve your gut feeling for future decisions, and to train your decision making to become faster and more accurate. This cannot be automated, unless you settle for your subconscious brain to bug you with worry and stress, because you may have missed something important.

Have you tried any e-mail processing software? Please share your experiences in the comments below:



  • […] involves making decisions to follow up on and writing down your actions, projects, and ideas in a trusted system. Or discart […]

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    2 Trackbacks

    1. The e-mail diet | Time Mine
      February 22, 2014 9:42 AM
    2. Habit of the month July: Inbox zero | Time Mine
      July 1, 2014 9:09 AM

    2 Comments Add yours

    1. Brad Patterson
      July 22, 2013
      9:19 pm #comment-1

      Enjoyed this read. Thank you Johanna.

      I agree that most “inbox processing automation” isn’t smart enough yet to do my job 😉 That being said, I do use “filters” or “rules” regularly, and enjoy using sanebox and unroll.me to move all my newsletters/BACN to a daily wrap-up email.

      From there, I rock it out on my own and tend to process twice a day— replying immediately if it’s quick, starring for longer tasks, or deleting, archiving or boomeranging for a better time.


      • johannatime
        July 25, 2013
        12:21 pm #comment-2

        I realise that people (not you of course!) who don’t go for inbox zero & peace of mind anyway, will benefit greatly from any automated e-mail processing tools, including rules, filters and boomerangs. They’ll miss less important stuff, so win win.

        Life and work are complex. When approached with a too simplistic tool, they get even more complicated, because it will not fit reality. So the tool or method needs to be compatible with the complexity of life and work, or it will not help. That’s why I apply Getting Things Done 😉

        I appreciate your comments nonetheless!

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