You need one filter in your email.
“Not addressed directly to me”.
Every other decision you make with your email should be taken care of through a (daily) decision-making process of do, defer or dump — my internet friends and I call that process the 2pm project (which is Jason Downs‘ idea).
I used to have a whole swag of rules in my email client. Rules for mailing lists, for keywords, for students. Then I scrapped them all and created the “not addressed directly to me” filter. The One True Filter.
Why is this the One Filter To Rule Them All?
- It lets you scan for bear attacks. If something is going to change your day, it’s pretty likely it’ll come direct to you. Anything dramatic that’s not coming directly to you can wait for #2pmproject. It even lets you put off the #2pmproject if you’re swamped. Any announcement coming Not Directly To You is probably going to come again. You’ll see it.
- Consequently, it takes care of mailing lists, announcements and the inevitable reply-all disasters by quarantining them out of your inbox. This has the fantastic by-product of making decisions to delete emails far easier as most of the not-addressed-to-me are probably not something you need to hang on to.
- It keeps you focussed. I once tracked the work-related email I got over a week and the vast majority was Not To Me and was, at best, only mildly and peripherally relevant. Seminar announcements, changes in the guts of IT policy, new funding scheme deadlines announced six months out. All of these things don’t need immediate attention. On the other hand, email from PhD students, from colleagues and from in-progress infrastructure changes that require my OK are all things I want to deal with and that people have justifiable expectation of timely replies.
A further tip
If possible, you want this filter to reside on your organisations’ email server, not just live in your mail client. Why? Because who has just one email client? If the One Rule lives at the server it’s applied to email before it lands in any of your inboxes. This means that you can flip through you email on your mobile device while you wait for the next inevitable meeting, safe in the knowledge that you’ll only see things that actually require immediate attention.
Try the One Rule
Of course, the One Rule makes some assumptions about how you “do” email. You need a trusted system. You need to deal with things that come Directly To You in a timely manner. You probably need the One True Archiving Scheme, too, but Merlin’s got you covered there.