Mail rules [updated]

Google’s announcement of the new Priority Inbox feature has got people talking about the procedures they use to filter, sort and otherwise act upon their incoming email. I get several hundred email messages per day across several accounts, gigs and points of reference.

I don’t use a single rule. I have one inbox. I treat them all the same way.

When an email message arrives, I ask myself the following:

  1. What is it? Meaning, is it actionable, reference material or junk?
  2. If it’s actionable, I then consider: Can it be completed in 2 minutes or less? If so, I do it RIGHT THEN. If no, it’s either A.) assigned to an open project, a new project or a single-action task as is appropriate; B.) assigned to a context like “@computer”; ┬áC.) delegated to the appropriate person. If delegated, I make a note of the task, person and date of delegation on a @waiting list for later follow-up. In all cases, it’s processed appropriately to Omnifocus and then deleted. 1
  3. If it’s not actionable, it’s either reference material (stored in Simplenote and then deleted), junk (deleted) or a date-specific item that either will happen in the future (added to calendar and then deleted) or could happen in the future (added to Someday/Maybe list and then deleted).

This process is basically David Allen’s GTD methodology applied to email, and takes about an hour per day. Plus, it’s super simple. No rules. No color coding. No custom inboxes. No scripting. Just observe, decide and act. That’s it.

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Update: Brief follow-up and clarification.

  1. Every email message is deleted after it’s been processed. Your email client is not a filing cabinet. I’ve stood patiently by people’s desks while they scroll through hundreds of messages to find a single bit of information far too often. If it was appropriately stored and tagged in a reference system, life would be much easier.