For a couple of years, I used a starred-email system to tackle my inbox. It worked well for me at first — the first draft of this post described the system — but came to feel unnecessarily complex. Inspired by Matthew “Glyph” Lefkowitz’s essay, “Email Isn’t The Thing You’re Bad At,” I’ve since simplified my approach. These are my new imperatives:
Don’t treat your inbox as a to-do list. That’s what to-do lists are for. Keep a to-do list.
Once a day, clear out your inbox. Respond to things that need responding, make to-dos of things that you can’t answer yet.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t use special filters (other than to divert mass-mailings), stars, or flags. You’ll spend more time tweaking the details than answering emails.
I’ve been following this approach for about six months. I’m happy with it; the simplicity clarifies my relationship with my inbox. But I’m also curious: Will this still be how I handle email a year from now? If not, then how?