No Snoozing Allowed: Better Ways to Deal with Email

(Jeff Porten) #1

Originally published at:

Email management is, for most of us, a constant battle to deal with an uncontrollable number of messages in a finite amount of time. Many email apps try to “help” with tricks to hide email messages until later, but these are counterproductive. Take Control of Your Productivity author Jeff Porten suggests better methods.

(Scribblings) #2

I find snoozing e-nails really useful. When I get a shipping notice e-mail I can easily snooze it to the daily of delivery - Inbox provides this option - ditto flight confirmations or hotel bookings. Snooze to the day before. Then they appear back in my inbox like magic just when I need them.

There are e-mails I need to get back to people on but I know I won’t have the information until Friday so I snooze until Friday. That way I don’t forget to get back to them and it is out of my way until then.

All this is really just simple GTD techniques.

Snoozing everything to empty your mailbox, yeah that is just fooling yourself and making the situation worse.

(Jeff Porten) #3

Yes, I see that as a modified version of “save this Amazon email until after work.” The problem is, some snoozing techniques make it difficult to find the message until it reappears, so good luck if you need your confirmation number three days before your flight. (I particularly hate searching for a message and having it buried in marketing material from the same company.)

Or worse: you read a message and think “I don’t need this until Monday,” but there’s something you missed and it’ll bite you on Thursday. It’s definitely going to do that if you don’t see it at all; if you come across it while checking another tagged email, maybe you’ll have a chance to catch it. Mailtags has a feature that’s effectively a snooze, and I use it for weeks in the future or scheduled events, not hours or a few days.

The Reference folder is my recommendation because it enforces intentionality. But like I said, you should adapt these as suggestions, not rules.

(Jeff Porten) #4

I’ll add: since I don’t empty my inbox, it wouldn’t do me much good to have a message “reappear like magic” if it’s #542 and I have to scroll down 25 screenfuls to see it. When Mailtags brings back a message, it’s in a today’s reminders smart folder.

(Doug Miller) #5

FWIW, snoozing an email in the Gmail app (or on the gmail website) returns the message to the top of the list when the snooze period runs out, and it also includes a message on the list of messages telling you when the message was snoozed. The Google InBox app is better; it marks the message unread and puts it into your primary mailbox.

I believe that apps like AirMail and Outlook do the same thing with messages.

As for finding snoozed emails, all of these apps that I have used - Gmail, InBox, Outlook - have a special mailbox label or folder for snoozed or scheduled messages. They are easy to find.

I use snooze in a way that I think the author would approve. I process my bills on Mondays, so I snooze all bills, invoices, etc., for Monday mornings. I snooze delivery notices for the day of delivery. I snooze travel notifications for a week before the trip. Occasionally somebody will ask me to do something at a future time and I will snooze the email until that time, rather than manually creating a timed reminder. I don’t use snoozing as a way to fake an unread mailbox, though.

(Scribblings) #6

I concur with @ddmiller pretty much. I only snooze the unimportant (for now) until a date when they are important, there is a snoozed filter in Google Inbox. Stuff that I need to read - but no urgency (mailing lists etc) - go into my “to be read folder” pretty automatically using e-mail rules. Stuff that I really have to deal with go into my “work” folder. Still that folder won’t be empty because some work projects can take months.

Anything that I really must follow up or get done that is actually important gets an entry in my ToDo App (Things) as that is where my workflow lives. I can hot link the e-mail to the ToDo entry so if I need to refer to it I can.

In essence my e-mail Inbox is not my workflow, it’s just one of many ways things come to me.

Do I snooze things in my ToDo List app, of course. That is part of GTD.

Inbox Zero is nice but I’ll never get there because when I get down to one message left it’s a photo of my kids. I smile, and move onto the next task at hand.

(Ray Kloss) #7

A variation on the snoozing is what you have been trying to do with my emails that I want to follow up with. I have been trying to see if there is a shortcut to put the mails in a ToDo list, whether it be proper To Do or the Notes app, so I can get back to it later. I never thought of a snooze function, though getting back to things is more a geographic trigger than a time trigger.

I have created a Home email that is only active on my home computer. I usually send links or gift ideas there and get to them later. Made a shortcut for it but getting to that seems to take as many touches as just sending the email.

(Robert Brenstein) #8

I used to use zero-inbox approach when Eudora was my mail client, but when I had to switch from POP to IMAP, I switched the approach to pretty much what was described in the article. I do no use snoozing as such. My mail client (MailMate) has a nice integration with ToDoIst, so anything that needs to be taken care on a specific day later on, I just insert as a task into ToDoIst and when the day comes, I see it. Those tasks have a back-link to emails, so with a simple click I can open those. In ToDoIst, I can easily look ahead and reschedule if it is overdue. At the same time, I use tags in the mail client to mark items to-answer, to-do, to-do-urgent, to-read, to-print, to-discuss, is-reference, etc. Smart mailboxes allow me to handle them as needed. MailMate allows me to use icons for tags, so I can quickly see what is what in any list. The use of tags across devices, as others pointed out, is limited to mail servers that support user-defined IMAP labels. I also use flags, but only to mark items that I need a quick lookup for on a short-term basis, like tracking pending orders. I also have a smart mailbox which shows me “unsorted” emails, basically an equivalent of zero-inbox, that is mails that do not get automatically recognized by the person- or task- or project-specific smart mailboxes. It took some effort to set this up, but works great for me. It takes some discipline, though, to keep it so.


(David Weintraub) #9

I’ve found that many of the things I used to manage my inbox actually have made things worse. Instead of immediate triage, I would delay the problem. Then, I would experience an even worse backup as more and more emails get managed to look at later. Sooner or later, I realize that many of them are too late to handle, but I’m too embarrassed to delete them, so they now live forever in my triage folder.

I discovered this using the default Apple email program. Not the Mac version, but the even less powerful one in iOS. That has become my default email program. Using it with minimal features has trained me to handle quickly and efficiently handle the barrage of email.

This came accidentally. I am constantly running around and most of the time, away from my computer with all of the wonderfully powerful email programs I use on it. This meant using my iPhone as my primary email system.

Doing this, forced me to actually handle emails rather than setting them aside for later. If I do need to respond at a later time, I can use Reminders to prompt me to handle it when I can. Or, I can flag the email. Since iOS only has a single flag, I’ve learned that you cannot flag emails as a way of delaying handling them. Otherwise, you end up with hundreds of flagged emails.

I’ve also turned off notifications on emails. In emergencies, people text me. Email is more for, here’s the detailed description of the issue, can you help? type of situations. Again, I can use Reminders to help triage emails that I may be unable to handle for a few days.

It’s amazing how many times I’ve discovered the very tools that were suppose to make my life easier have actually contributed to the problem. I no longer empty my Inbox. Instead, I just mark mails as read and handle them immediately if possible. If not, I’ll flag it or set a reminder.

I’ve learned that not all emails must be handled, and many times I can figure that out by just looking at the first few sentences (Hey, Bob’s birthday is tomorrow, and…). In that case, I can swipe right or left to delete it or just mark it as read.

I’ve learned to fully appreciate Siri and the Reminder app. You can use that to pull up a particular email at a particular point in time or place.

I’ve learned to live without notifications screeching at me that something important and urgent must be handled right now! No one in their right mind emails someone for something that has to be handled RIGHT NOW THIS VERY SECOND!

But, most of all, I’ve learned the best way to keep your emails under control is to actually handle them and not sweep them under the carpet hoping that you’ll have some sort of free time later on. You won’t.

(Jeff Porten) #10

I’m in favor of all of the techniques here, because the main thing is to think about your process and apply a cognitive filter to using the snooze button. Since my book was published, I think the biggest problem I’ve heard is that most people have their work methods on autopilot (and maybe they weren’t that great to begin with).

If you’re giving it some thought, and evaluating your outcomes for refinements, no arguments from me!

(GV) #11

I have used the same email system since I began using Eudora a zillion years ago: Designated mailboxes and rules/filters. (Rules in GyazMail are the equivalent of Filters in Eudora. GyazMail also has a Rules feature but I never use it. . .) Only email from unknown senders wind up in my Inboxes and they don’t stay there long. I can take a quick look at my mailboxes and know immediately what requires my attention and what I can ignore until later.

Since I was finally forced to give up using Eudora I have used GyazMail. I used to have multiple email addresses but now I only use two on a regular basis: my personal address and a “public” address. is my email provider of choice; I also have a GMail address but I don’t use it anymore, mainly because of privacy concerns. (My Google account is essentially dormant.) Runbox has excellent spam filtering and the rare message that makes it through its filters is caught by SpamSieve.

I resist using my email client for anything it isn’t designed to handle. Calendar events and To Do lists are handled by BusyCal. My wife and I share everything but our personal To Do lists via iCloud. (If you have many personal and business contacts BusyCal’s sister app BusyContacts is worth demoing. The apps work together seamlessly. While BusyCal has an iOS version, BusyContacts syncs to Apple Contacts on iOS devices.) All I need to stay up on what needs doing are the BusyCal Dated and Undated To Do lists. If something doesn’t get done it’s only because of my own procrastination. I have yet to find an app that cures that!

This system is as K.I.S.S.-based as I have been able to make it. I realize that everybody’s needs are different but this has worked well for me since 1995. I haven’t found anything that makes me think that I need to move to something else.

(Tommy Weir) #12

I’d say most TidBITS readers have a developed system for email, interesting to see how others have managed.

For me it’s all about attention. Which emails deserve it?

I process my inbox with various smart mailboxes in Mailmate. The shopping emails, flight and other travel emails, newsletters and subscriptions, media emails (including TidBITS!) are all pulled into their own folders, and marked as read and archived after various durations. The shopping ones are tagged PrintMe and I clear that once a month.

I have four Colleges in my life at the moment, including one I teach in, they all too get pulled into folders. The ratio of emails to actionable emails in any College is absurd, so I have one subfolder for my immediate team of colleagues that remains unread, the rest gets marked read and archived.

My inbox is much depleted after this, I can quickly process to Inbox Zero. I tag emails I send which I want to follow up with FollowUp, which has its own smart folder, I clear that weekly.

Emails to act upon are added as tasks in Things, from there it’s BusyCal.

(Jeff Porten) #13

Realizing I have an AppleScript that might help people here. Highlight any message in and it creates a message:// URL that can be pasted into any other app, and will be clickable in most of them. Also works on iOS for apps that sync data to it.