Some Thoughts On Email After Dealing With 500 Emails

I just spent four hours going through my inbox and taking it from 500 emails to zero. These were old unanswered emails, not spam (which I delete regularly in the ordinary course of business).

My email routine, now that I am solidly on gmail and loving it, is to quickly check off and delete all spam in my inbox at least once and ideally twice or three times a day.

Then I scan my inbox for emails from my top priorities; wife, family, partners, colleagues, portfolio, etc. I try to get to all of those at least once a day and ideally twice or three times a day. Gmail knows who these people are and I can't for the life of me understand why they don't build a tool to source up all of those emails automatically. Please build that feature google.

I let the rest build up in my inbox and try to get to it on the weekends. That's how I get to 500 unread emails and that's why I spent my sunday mornings in my inbox.

So for those of you who email me from time to time, here are some suggestions:

1) Be patient. I do try to respond to all legitimate non-spam email and do a pretty good job at it.

2) I am not perfect. Sometimes in my haste to delete spam, I delete a few legit emails. If you have not heard back from me in over a week, please resend your email.

3) Short and sweet gets a faster response than long winded.

4) I like to have conversations via email. If you send me an email looking for a meeting, expect a few questions back from me first.

5) Just because my reply is short does not mean I have no interest. It simply means I've got 500 emails to get through.

6) I've largely given up on responding to anything other than urgent emails and disqus comments on my blackberry. I do scan a lot of email on my blackberry.

7) I still would like a send and delete button from gmail. Send and archive is so awesome but I do a lot of send and delete too.

8) Gmail is life changing. Thank you google.

That's it for now.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Guest

    Why is Gmail so life-changing vs. a regular POP3/IMAP account? Doesn’t Gmail goes down a few times a year?

    1. adamwexler

      when your Fred, it doesn’t matter if Gmail goes down from time-to-time as long as they’re ready to go Sunday morning :)I think one of Gmail best aspects is it’s search capabilities. I remember an old boss used to keep up with his clients using a MS Excel spreadsheet to track events, interests, etc. That’s what Gmail is for me. I can just go back to prior conversations to get a good feel for what we have discussed in the past. If it’s not all in writing, it’ll still give you a good idea.

      1. fredwilson

        exactly, its the archive and search paradigm that is game changing

      2. Jamie Flinchbaugh

        I think that’s a great feature, and it is game changing. However don’t over-rely on it. Just because you can go back and find anything in a big pile of stuff, doesn’t mean you’ll remember to. Search isn’t a replacement for an organized list of actions.

        1. Bret Piatt

          If you don’t have great threaded search for your inbox you don’t know what you’re missing. For a person in a VC/BD/external community facing role you interact with thousands of people a year and while you’d like to remember every detail of all conversations it isn’t possible at least for me. The good news is I don’t have to, with Outlook/Xobni (Gmail gives this same experience) the phone rings and in 10 seconds I can have my whole communication history with that person pulled up. If I get a new mail from somebody I don’t recognize I can easily see if I’ve ever exchanged messages with them before.This is a completely separate activity from having an organized list of actions — much of the e-mail I answer isn’t directly tied to anything on “my list of actions” but the people that sent them expect an answer and they expect if they reply 3 months later that I still remember them.

      3. pphector

        For me the best aspect of Gmail and the reason I still love it after all these years is the way it treats e-mails as “conversations”. Trying to keep up with a long chain of e-mails in which a lot of people contribuite was a nightmare in other e-mail services, my inbox was full of “FW:FW:RP:….”, but thanks to Gmail all of those mails get grouped into a nice single “conversation” in which you see the emails in the chronological order they were sent and you only see the new parts of each mail, the rest is hidden.

        1. fredwilson

          yupi hated it for a long time until i got used to itnow i love it and could not do email without this feature

    2. fredwilson

      it’s life changing because it allows me to get through emails faster thanany email application i’ve ever used and i’ve used about a dozen to dateincluding pop/imap clients

      1. John Minnihan

        Funny on two counts – I’d sent one of the emails to which you just responded ๐Ÿ˜‰ and RE: Gmail – I’ve just recently switched back to self-hosted after 2 yrs on Gmail. Why? I noticed that I was losing important business messages. They would get sent & just vanish.I modeled a test in which I could see this happen. Isolated? Perhaps. Is one or even half dozen lost messages a big deal? Usually not, if the sender resends & alerts me. What I worry about are the lost ones that I *never* hear about, yet cost me business or create some other problem because I didn’t respond.

        1. Chris Varenhorst

          If this is really happening, speak up, show your evidence! Unknowingly missing email is a scary thought.That said, at the moment I trust google more than myself for delivering/receiving email reliably. (especially if its through google apps and your company is paying for it).

          1. John Minnihan

            Hey Chris,yes, it really happened. It started out as a subtle “hey, did you see my message…” over a period of a couple or three weeks. Then a final “I just sent you my reply” from someone sitting 10 feet away; never arrived. Tried again, multiple times… and nothing.I then modeled tests to/from my Gmail account to/from other accounts I own, including two where I can watch /var/log/maillog live. The messages destined for my Gmail account never arrived, but are still in my maillog showing as having been sent & delivered (and throwing no errors, transient or otherwise).I mentioned this on twitter as it was happening & checked Gmail’s status page; no indication, formal or informal, of any known issues. That’s when I decided to go back to self-hosting.

  2. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    Email can be a big pile of stuff that clutters not only your screen but your life. Here’s a couple rules I use. First, I use Mac Mail client, which works well for me particularly because I do a lot of email when not online such as on a plane. But whatever the client…1. Use color coding to sort out stuff from family and team, etc., so that you can spot it at a glance. Mail and Outlook have this capabilities (I don’t know about Gmail).2. If you look at it but aren’t going to respond, just send it to a follow up folder. Then it’s out of the way, simplifying your incoming scan and sort times.3. All those emails that are carrying information such as to-do reminders or calendar information, get it out of email and onto your to-do system and calendar. Leaving it in email makes it harder to manage.Jamie Flinchbaugh

    1. fredwilson

      those are good suggestions

  3. Bora Celik

    I can’t get myself to like Gmail for some reason. Must be the interface. Not sure.I happily use Mac Mail and created 3 folders to stay organized. To-Do, To-Check, Archive. If I can respond to an email in 30 seconds, I do it immediately. Otherwise, if the email requires an action from me, I move it to the To-Do folder. No action, but needs some looking into, move into To-Check folder. Otherwise I delete it immediately or archive it.I want to try Mozilla’s Raindrop when I get a chance:…Have a great Sunday everyone!Bora

  4. Brian Hogg

    Michael Hyatt had some good thoughts on e-mail handling, has saved me a ton of time…

    1. fredwilson

      thanks, i’ll check out his post

  5. Perry Evans

    I’m curious how you (or do you) connect action-needed email/followups to a To Do list?I love Gmail, and I’ve found Google Calendar great but I hate their to do list. I’ve tried Evernote, etc, and (so far) seem to be settling on Toodledo, but only because Gmail’s To Do listing is so limited in functionality and display control.

    1. fredwilson

      i’ve never used a to do listit’s not part of my routine

      1. stevehopkins

        That’s really interesting – how do you manage yourself to make things happen then?I also don’t really work with a to-do list, but tend to flow with whatever task seems to be required on any given day – this is not always just being at the back and call of “high priorities” but more what feels like it needs to happen.

        1. fredwilson

          I use email and calendar as a to do list

  6. Elie Seidman

    I’ve tried and have not been able to get used to threading. FWIW, search in Outlook has improved dramatically and I find that the combination of folders and improved search in Outlook makes search in Outlook nearly as good as Gmail’s search.

    1. Aaron Klein

      Same here. Google makes enough threading mistakes to irritate me. I wish I could turn it on and off, which I think Outlook 2010 is going to let me do.The search is great now.

      1. fredwilson

        the threading mistakes happen because of similar or identical subject linesit used to annoy me but now i love threading so much that i put up with itgladlythreading turns dozens of emails into oneit’s awesome

        1. Aaron Klein

          I agree – it’s a very cool feature. It just doesn’t work well all the time. I do the equivalent of threading in Outlook right now by clicking the subject line header – then I can easily delete or archive the entire thread in one action.I live in Outlook because I can’t live without tasks. Do you just have great short term memory and you don’t forget things to do? Or is it having an assistant to keep that stuff on track? I’d love to not have a task list, but I’d never make it.I blogged about my system for getting to Inbox Zero here, which you might find interesting:…The minute Gmail allows me to organize tasks better, and link e-mails into the task (as a large number of my tasks involve doing something and then responding to the e-mail), I’d love to be on Gmail. It definitely does rock.

          1. fredwilson

            since i don’t use a to do list and never have, that’s not an issue for me

          2. jedc

            Not using a to-do list is probably worth a post in its own right! It’d be interesting to hear how you keep track of things.

          3. fredwilson

            Email ๐Ÿ™‚

          4. Aaron Klein

            I’m not trying to convince you to use tasks, but rather figure out if you’ve discovered some amazing way to do this. ๐Ÿ™‚ My problem with using e-mail as a task list is that I’m wasting major brain cycles reinterpreting these e-mails over and over again.For example: I had an e-mail from a high-level customer with a subject line “hey there” and the e-mail is three or four paragraphs long. Upon reading the e-mail, it’s clear the customer is trying to report a bug in the software, but is confused. I need to grab a few screen shots, write a few instructions and reply back. Then I need to come up with a way to simplify the screen and forward that to the engineers.I don’t have time to do that right now, because it will take about 10-15 minutes to do. So I create a task, ctrl+drag the e-mail as an attachment to the task, and write “Respond to customer and brainstorm new UI design” as the task title and hit save.If I hadn’t have done that, I’d have to re-read and reinterpret the e-mail multiple times. I also have no way to prioritize which ones are most important to deal with. Multiply this x30 or x50 and it became impossible to manage by memory.So do you just have a super-human memory and the rest of us are doomed? ๐Ÿ™‚

          5. fredwilson


          6. Aaron Klein

            This definitely needs a blog post from you, Fred…I’m intrigued ๐Ÿ™‚

          7. Carrie

            I too would love to hear more on your lack of a to-do list.

          8. Jordan Dobson

            You can already do this with Gmail. It’s pretty handy actually.Here’s a screen shot of my setup. ๐Ÿ™‚

          9. Aaron Klein

            That’s awesome that the related e-mail functionality is there. Thanks for the screen shot.Now they need FAR better tools than that little pop-up window for organizing tasks. In an effort to limit my time managing tasks and focus on the work instead, I want to hide stuff I don’t need to do right now.Thus, I’ve got three buckets of tasks: (a) stuff with a specific date to work on it…(b) stuff that I need to work on but no specific date…and (c) stuff I want to do out in the future at some point but I don’t want it cluttering my task list every day.I see (a) and the (b)s from today or before on my main task list…the (b)s for tomorrow or beyond don’t bother me until it’s time…and the (c)s are totally hidden and I scan them once a week and might move one or two into the (a)s if need be.Perhaps I’ve made this sound complicated, but to me, it’s simple. I only want to see the stuff I should be working on today. I want to keep everything else out of my brain and my system won’t let me forget it at the appropriate time.

        2. Elie Seidman

          for email conversations – which I do a lot of – it really is a great feature. But I need it selectively.

  7. Adrian Bye

    you do a good job with email communication.

  8. Scott Yates

    Will Google Wave help with this?(I know the answer right now is no, because Wave still doesn’t work. But what if Wave could combine the best of RSS, Blog comments, Email, Twitter, etc.?)I’m still holding out hope.

    1. Druce

      gmail creator on Wavehttp://paulbuchheit.blogspo…2 problems I have with email- really want a single inbox for mail, IMs, SMSes- intelligent threading – I get a lot of clutter on useless threads. gmail threading declutters the headers but the bodies themselves still have lots of junkWave might be a step in the right direction in terms of being real-time and trying to re-invent threading

      1. Aaron Klein

        It’s going to be interesting to see whether Google Wave succeeds. I think people have different needs. So far, I’m not a fan.I limit IM to just key people I’m giving permission to interrupt me.E-mail is for everyone else. I don’t want to deal with it more than 2-3 times a day (although I probably scan it for important stuff every 15-20 minutes or so).I also like a clean inbox, which Wave doesn’t seem to want to help me out with. ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Mark Essel

          They have changed the interface some. The unfollow and how to delete/archive options got a quick developer response.If you so decide to look at wave again. Check the wave guide I planted the seed for (it’s a collaborative/curated wave that has plenty of howtos)do a search on with:public wave guide or check the voted page

          1. Aaron Klein

            I’m still on it – I’ll check it out! Thanks.

        2. fredwilson

          I agree with these observations

      2. Shannon Ferguson

        You may want to try out to consolidate and archive all your messages across platforms, and allowing you to search via filters/contacts. We’re still in private beta, so cover only emails, Google Contacts, Facebook contacts, and Twitter, but are working on Skype, FB messages/chat, other IMs, Skype and SMS. Happy to send you an invitation if you want to check it out.

  9. Andrew J. Rosenthal

    Fred – I’d love the “Send and Delete” button for gmail too. It would save a lot of time and help keep my search history clean. Also, thanks for sharing your email guidelines. I think that people who tend to get lots of unsolicited email (where the sender genuinely wants a reply) should do their best to publicize how they handle email. This helps set expectations on the sender side and underscores that accessibility is genuine, but not necessarily immediate.

    1. fredwilson

      yup. that’s the idea. set expectations and people will understand

  10. Chris Selland

    check out PostBox – works great with Gmail and has really sped up sorting through my mail (much more so than Apple Mail)

  11. whitneymcn

    The email convention that I use with a small group of people, but would love to see happening on a large scale, is the “no reply expected” header on an email.By adding “No Reply Expected” as the first line, or “NRE” to the subject line of your email, you signal that you don’t need or want the “thanks” email or the “great, I’ll read the article/take a look at the service/whatever when I get a chance” email.The recipient certainly *can* reply to an NRE email, but it’s clear from the outset that the sender doesn’t expect any follow up.

    1. kidmercury

      yes. i often think of adding NRE, and my objective is to be courteous, but i am often afraid it will sound off putting or cold, like i don’t want correspondence. i hope people embrace NRE and it becomes a cultural meme and understood as a courteous gesture.

    2. Mark Essel

      hadn’t seen NRE before, I love the time respect built in to such a tag.I can see how it could be off putting to folks unfamiliar with it though as Kid suggested.

      1. whitneymcn

        Yeah, that’s why it’s (unfortunately) limited to a group of people that I already know well. I’ve never used it in an email unless I’ve already talked about NRE with the recipient beforehand and they were enthusiastic about the idea.

    3. Eric Friedman

      I like this idea a lot and the more it gets talked about and accepted the better – have to start somewhere.

    4. Ro Gupta

      I feel like “FYI” was originally meant to convey this sort of thing but now is used even when people do expect a reply. We also sometimes used “No Action Required” in my consulting days, but unfortunately it didn’t really stick. Maybe it needs to be a button or tag, sort of like the Importance level indicator in Outlook.

      1. fredwilson

        I use FYI in this way

      2. Will Franco

        We end FYI emails w/ ‘no action required’Thanks for helping us move from IntenseDebate to Disqus comments on our blog as well.

        1. fredwilson

          thanks for joining the disqus network!

  12. lauraglu

    Have you read Paul Buchheit’s recent post? http://paulbuchheit.blogspo…”While developing Gmail, we implemented a lot of features that were either not released, or not released until much later. Some of the most interesting ideas (such as automatic email prioritization) never made it out because we couldn’t find simple enough interfaces.”Laura

  13. artyowza

    Leo Babauta of Zen Habits is using this system.…1. Iโ€™ve set up an autoresponder for my email that explains what Iโ€™m doing and how to contact me and for what reasons. (Btw, feel free to test out autoresponder: email zenhabits (at) gmail dot com.)2. Twitter will be my main form of communication.3. For longer conversations, thereโ€™s IM or Skype chats.4. For collaboration, Iโ€™ll use Google Docs and/or wikis.5. Friends and family can call me. ( Leo has six children! )6. A few types of emails will get through for now. My filters allow emails for advertisers, interviews, refunds, and people who want to hire me, to get through to my inbox. Iโ€™ll be checking this once in awhile (every 2-3 days), but Iโ€™m working on automating these processes via the web โ€” people would get a link to schedule an interview with me, or a page to buy an ad, or do a refund, etc. This will eliminate the need for these emails.

  14. Arturo Servin

    To filter e-mails from your family and friends you can use the filters provided by Gmail.May be you or somebody mentioned and I just did not see it.Filters are easy to make, you can use a source e-mail address to create one (your wife for example). The filter can label an email, so it is easier to spot in the inbox. Also, because all in gmail is labels, you can just go to the “family” label and you will see all your new e-mails from your family.

    1. fredwilson

      the problem with filters is they have to be created and are not dynamicgmail knows who i reply to most actively, what mails i open first, etcthey can and should build and manage my “most important” list and make thatavailable to me as a filter

      1. jamiequint

        Paul Buchheit commented on this too in his article:”Some of the most interesting ideas (such as automatic email prioritization) never made it out because we couldn’t find simple enough interfaces.”

        1. fredwilson

          yeah, i saw that after writing this postmaybe i can lobby google to add it to labs

          1. Mark Essel

            There are some methods for doing this with if you know of a feature or bug, find a comment to it, multiple users can all vote up a fix or feature.Have done it a few times with Wave already.

        2. fredwilson

          I don’t understand how an email prioritization filter has a complicated UI

      2. Steve M

        True, but it takes seconds to create a filter in gmail, and it’s a lifesaver. I don’t know what I did before it.If you are capable of monk-like restraint, some suggest only checking email once or at most twice per day and “batching,” much as you have done. And notify people with an out-of-office that says, “I will be checking email daily at 4pm only. If you have an urgent request, please contact my office.” People will be less inclined to send you trivial, unimportant items.Also, if possible for you, I would create a separate account that you use when signing up/registering for things to avoid getting over-spammed on your “real” account (yes, we have entered the era of real/faux email personas–decoys, I say!) I have one that is basically my spam email. I get virtually no spam on my “real” gmail account. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. ksrikrishna

    Just this last week, after a year off Gmail, tried to switch to Thunderbird (don’t even ask). For the first time in 20 years of using various clients (most recenly (and longest)) Eudora and Outlook, I found gmail had spoiled me rotten, esp. with their keyboard shortcuts. Still braving Thunderbird in imap moe, but will have to come back to gmail I suspect.By the way Yahoo, as now the feature of your “friends” and other so designated to auto float up and show their mails even in the dashboard (without having to go to inbox). Alas one good feature amongst a host of others missed (for some reason their spam filter is no where as powerful as Gmails).Feeling some what good with less than 10 mails in my inbox (for nearly two weeks!)

  16. Simon Mackie

    I think part of the problem with email is that many people expect near-instantaneous replies, while a lot of folks actually use it more like mail, batch processing emails when they have the time, like you do.Have you seen AwayFind ( Helps you to keep track of important emails without constantly checking your inbox — might be worth checking out. We published a guest post from its founder on his email processing techniques last week:

  17. Mark Essel

    Thanks for catching up on email. I appreciate the asynchronous nature of it. It’s non-invasive and filters help me bin things so that I can handle them at my convenience.You have a list of most contacted, it should be simple enough to have folks that aren’t on this list filtered into a waiting folder/label. Great feature request for Gmail, I’d love it and I don’t have anywhere near the inbox bandwidth you do.

    1. Aaron Klein

      The asynchronous nature of e-mail is exactly what I’m disliking about Google Wave right now. They are trying to kill that. The last thing I need is an e-mail client that forces me into IM conversations I don’t have time for.My feelings aren’t set on Google Wave, but I’ve yet to really see the value yet.Speaking of which, if anyone wants an invite to check out Google Wave, feel free to e-mail [email protected] and glad to send you one, but they seem to be freely available now.

      1. Mark Essel

        Aaron, I think this is an issue with expectations. I have both syncronous and asyncronous communications on wave. They are a function of my availability and interest. You set/control your availabilty (or prevent forest fires ;).

        1. Aaron Klein

          I agree – that’s the scenario I’ve been using it under. But now it feels like a buggy e-mail client without many advantages. ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. ShanaC

        mee too, I have 20, shana dot carp at gmail blah blah blah you suck spammers (I do do that on purpose, it destroys the string)

  18. Spencer Fry

    I use gmail also (with MailPlane). I find using labels to work best to help ease my email overload. I label everything that comes into my mailbox even sometimes before I respond. Here’s a screenshot of the labels I use in gmail:

    1. fredwilson

      i use labels for some things but not everything

      1. Spencer Fry

        Curious. What don’t you use labels for besides stuff you’re trashing…?

        1. fredwilson

          I use labels for all sorts of things. I’ve got about a dozen right now

  19. Chon Nguyen

    Are you using the Gmail App on your blackberry so you can archive, label, etc. or are you using the BB email client?

    1. fredwilson

      still using the BB clienti want to move to gmail but we really need to move our entire firm ontogmail and that hasn’t happened yet

  20. Louis Adekoya

    For those who like me still have to use MS Outlook for work, you may want to try the GTD plug-in from Netcentrics. Now if you find GTD a bit daunting (like I do), don’t despair. The three features I find most useful are not so much GTD as they are just plain useful email organisation hacks:1. I have set Outlook to NOT store sent items and the plug-in to default to “Send and File”. So for all those “thank-you” emails I just do Send only, so they don’t get saved. Any sent mail I want to keep I’m then forced to file away there and then. It is brilliant!2. I can turn email I send into to-do (task) items as I send them – either for myself or for other members of my project team.3. I can assign email (and tasks) to projects and sub-projects as I send them.

  21. ShanaC

    Gmail of all the meail clients I used, has deinfitely changed my life. That being said, I’m still dorwinging in email after email after email. I’m on way too many mailing lists (som eo fhwich I feel like I have to be on)I get a lot of emails that I have to be informed about that I don’t have to reply to. And they all go to my impox. I still can’t figure out hopw to automate my replies, or figure out whta to reply to. And that’s what I need. A system of figuring out how to clear out gutter. So I can see the important stuff. And have it colorcoded and labled as it comes in.(Because I have far more than You Fred, and I don’t know why, I think I have over 970 in my inbox alone dating back to 2008 that I’m just not sure where they go or how to process them.)I feel bad, because now I’m getting more email, and I can’t process them any faster. This post makes me feel better, but I still am in desperate need of just how to get through my email addresses to get stuff done.Where do you learn that. Who has the ultimate guide of getting through your email. I’ve spent days recently just deleteing old Dailycandies that are getting put to the side because I purposely archive them, even though I like reading them, because I can’t figure out how to get to them and my regular stuff. Help?

    1. fredwilson

      Archive all that old email and start clean

      1. ShanaC

        in process, certain things I am finding I didn’t even know existed. Plus I want to delete things (I think)Part of the problem is redundancy when I combined my school and general email. The school one is so messy and so useless that starting in a year or two they are officially offering cloud hosting not buy the school: primarily by gmail.Effectively to get rid of it all I would have to log in elsewhere to delete it. I hate school email…..

  22. Nate

    Email doesn’t scale. Software features can help, but you have too much inbound attention. You’ll never “catch up”.Can you delegate your inbox to an assistant? Let them do the sorting, filtering, deleting, replies to non critical requests?

    1. kidmercury

      yup. could probably crowdsource some of it too

      1. Mark Essel

        Hell yeah, let the people filter my inbox hehe.oh wait, I have to control that input channel, or at least lay out the ground rules for collaborative filtering ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. kidmercury

          yes def need to have lots of control over what email gets assigned to the crowdsource queue, as well as who is a part of the crowdsource team.

    2. fredwilson

      i have resisted that idea for years and continue to do so. if someone sends me an email, i’d like them to get a reply from me

  23. Tim

    Sounds like you want the “Sort by Magic” feature that reader has. Or alternately the ability to use filters on contact list groups – kinda mystifying why Gmail does not have that function.

  24. Merijn Terheggen

    GMail is great in sourcing certain mails together. Comments might have already explained it to you. Reading through them to find out if so takes me longer than writing this comment though.Create labels for the groups you want to use (Family, etc). I use ‘News & Info’ for news letters, ‘Social’, and some others that I can check once every couple of days at a time of MY choosing. After opening an email, click on ‘More actions’ and choose ‘Filter messages like this. A search result list displays if the filter works correctly. Adjust when necessary (add words to calibrate). Go to the next screen and check the checkbox for the label that you want AND check the ‘Archive’ checkbox. The last one is important. It makes the email never land in your inbox in the first place. The Label ‘menu’ will just show there is a new message (organize it to your needs too). I keep adding filters as new mails arrive to make sure that over time, all mail gets directed correctly. The stuff that ends up in your inbox is what you can apply great methods like 30 second rules etc to.

    1. fredwilson

      Google can and should autocreate those filters given what they know about me and the mailers

  25. Andrew Badr

    Suggestion: turn on keyboard shortcuts and force yourself to use them for a day. It will change your life all over again.

    1. Graham Siener

      I did this a few weeks ago and it rocks. Select an email, hit v, start typing your label and hit enter. Voila — your email has been labeled and archived. Next…

    2. daryn

      +1 for keyboard shortcuts. j,k,x,#,s and / FTW!

      1. fredwilson

        That’s a funny comment

    3. fredwilson

      I use some but not all of them. Adding a few every month to my repertoire

  26. Disqus_ted

    Seriously…You’re a VC and you don’t know how to use Filters in Gmail?EmbarrassingGreat tips on productivity, I think you should reconsider how you’re making use of your time. I’m sure you receive a lot of emails but there are so many ways to increase your productivity with gmail.I know i’m sounding like a jerk, but it seems outrageous that you literally wrote the worst post of email productivity on the web.I subscribe to your blog, but I’m thinking of removing the feed after this terrible post.I’m not a huge fan of Tim Ferris, but it’s worth looking into modifying your system so that you can be a more productive VC.

    1. kidmercury

      check the comments made well before you made yours, filters has been suggested and replied to. might need to up your productivity if you are going to keep pulling amateur moves like missing previous comments and not being able to follow the conversation.

    2. fredwilson

      First of all I do know how to use filters. I have a bunch of them set up to filter out spamBut filters are hard codedI want dynamically created filters that change as my key groups changeGoogle knows who these senders are due to my engagement with them in my inbox. This is right up their power alley. They should do itAnd yes you do sound like a dick. I would be ecstatic if you removed this blog from your feed reader

  27. Larry M

    Have you tried Multiple Inboxes in Gmail Labs?It’s increased my gmail productivity immensely.In my setup, all my starred msgs show up separately from my other msgs based on a filter (yes, you still need to create the filter and/or star the msg) See screenshot: complaint is that keyboard shortcuts don’t work with the additional inbox.

    1. Mark Essel

      I like the look of that, but I’d like some more macro level feature/filter controls to guide Google in the curation of my input stream (I have hundreds of filters).It’s part art, part technical. There’s wonderful opportunities for improving asynchronous communication utilization. This is the equivalent of Fred’s call for entrepreneurs/hackers to save him time/improve his efficiency and likewise improve an entire user group’s communication efficiency.

    2. fredwilson

      That’s not what I want. I’ve tried that approach in the past. I want a single inbox that is smart

  28. Jason L. Baptiste

    I’ve always wondered if a “tweetdeck interface for email” would make sense. Basic column for white listed important people, add columns for filters (search terms, groups of people,etc.) and other parameters. People can write longer emails, but the form factor enforces things to be shorter when they can. Integrate in some simple plugins for media sharing (pictures, video, large doc attachments). It would also know when notifications came in from facebook,twitter,etc. since each service usually uses a certain email address. This is my killer email app. If someone builds it, name your price, and ill be your first customer.

    1. kidmercury

      i agree. i thought google was going to go down this path when they bought jaiku. i think the soc nets might be better positioned to create such an email service.

    2. Stian Tรธnnesen

      I use Gmail’s multiple inbox feature along with starring, filters and labels to achieve something like this. Works pretty well for me.

      1. David Fraga

        Wow, just enabled multiple inboxes and it is a game-changer. Thanks for the suggestion Stian!

    3. fredwilson

      Great idea

    4. Hutch Carpenter

      Like this idea Jason. Gmail’s labels seemingly could help here. You could create labels for the different people to create the separation of different emails. But I like the column approach, great visual for the latest across the different lists.

      1. Jason L. Baptiste

        I’ve always found separating people out to be a necessity. You can do it with multiple inboxes and filters, but that’s a pain and after 2-3 columns on gmail, things look awkward. I’d rather have a column for family, company, people working on a certain project,etc. Labels could work too, but I’d make them more like tags and have columns be the purpose of what labels are now.

  29. desmondpieri

    Fred, I agreed with all you suggested, until you said that Gmail was “life changing.” I find having a client gives me things you asked Google for (like emails from my family being given priority) Plus I can plow through email quickly. And keep it organized.I do think that the suggestions you made are good, whether someone uses Gmail or not.

    1. fredwilson

      Why do you need a client to do the things I want?

  30. grepfruit

    For the “ordering by contacts’ importance” part you can try out Gabor Cselle’s experiment called reBoxed at… , which does just that and integrates with gMail.

    1. fredwilson

      Sweet. I’m going to do that today. Thanks!

    1. fredwilson

      Don’t know. Will click on the link when I get to a real computer and check it out

  31. Peter Kaufman

    Fred – It seems there as many people who love a client like outlook (which is very resource demanding) as there are who like gmail. There’s a lot of info on the web preferring one against the other. Why do you like gmail better than outlook? You wrote your firm still uses a client – why?While I have the same email problems you complain of, a bigger concern for me with a legal practice is easy access to archived emails. I should not have to keep a 5 gig file of emails on my computer or office server. I should be able to file my emails with my client’s documents in ONE file folder on the server just as I would with a hard copy file. Instead, the client’s emails and work product are held in seperate files and often handled by different clients.Thoughts?Kind regards,Peter Kaufmanwww, (blog)

    1. fredwilson

      So many reasonsFirst I have a huge mail archive. Exchange and its clients have not been able to scale with me. Gmail hasSecond, folders don’t scale. Archive and search doThird, I do email on many different devices. Gmail is more easily available on them than outlook, etcI could go on and on but I’ll stop there

  32. Jamie Lin

    Fred have you tried to use filters? Gmail has this “filter messages like this” feature. It’s a lot easier to setup than Outlook. It took me some effort but now only my top priority emails get into my Inbox.

    1. fredwilson

      But how do you determine what and whom is top priorityThat changes for me quite a bitI want google to build that filter for me

      1. Jamie Lin

        But if Google were to build that for you, they can only base it on the (recent) frequency of communications, which is not a perfect indicator of priority either.Basically my approach is to filter emails I don’t want to read on my phone. This does take constant management, probably 1-2 times a week, 5-10 minutes each. But I find the productivity gain outweighs time loss. More importantly, I have full control over what gets into my Inbox.

        1. fredwilson

          Your approach has a lot of merit. But its like using an RSS reader. I can’t do that eitherI want a web service to do the work for me

  33. Deva Hazarika

    Fred, this problem has been my focus for the past few years via my work at ClearContext and with the Information Overload Research Group. You’ve identified some key techniques – managing your email in batches, effectively triaging, not scanning the same messages repeatedly. Over the past few years we’ve found those (plus one other feature you mention – automatically analyzing email activity to highlight email from your most important contacts) to be key elements in effectively managing high volumes of email. Gmail has done a good job innovating on email features to help with that. Here’s a post I just made about your system and how ClearContext has evolved to help Outlook users manage their email just like you do in Gmail:

    1. fredwilson

      That’s excellent. I hope some people get benefit from your post. I had to leave outlook to keep my sanity

  34. Eric Friedman

    I used to use labels and folders before Gmail and now I have one label “to-answer” which is a generic label just just means follow up later. This means I can scan my mailbox and quickly get conversations “indexed” in both my brain and inbox for dealing with later. I do not get the volume of email but I do have a few different accounts funneling into gmail and this helps get everything that needs an action or response sorted very quickly. My real inbox becomes the number of messages in the “to-answer” folder.

    1. jedc

      I use a variation of this that’s been useful. I keep an “Action” label for things I need to actually do something about, and an “Action-track” label for things I’m waiting for other people to do. Because of their names they’re always on the top of my list of labels, and I also use multiple inboxes to keep them up front.Definitely handy…

    2. kidmercury

      i used to do something very similar with the starring function in gmail. then i started starring too many things and it became pointless.

    3. fredwilson

      Great suggestion eric. I’m going to copy your “to answer” label

  35. Ro Gupta

    I think I mentioned this the other day, but I don’t know that Send & Delete would be that useful for most people. Seems like the act of replying to an email generally signals that the original message being replied to has enough value for the user to want to archive it. You and a handful of the other email factories may be exceptions b/c sheer volume can muck up search results or even start to flirt with storage limits.. My top Gmail wish list items on the other hand are to be able to selectively insert signature(s) and create a mtg invite to the recipients of a given thread more fluidly. If there ways to do these more easily that are staring me in the face, someone please clue me in.

  36. Leni

    Mozilla Messaging recently ran an experiment around a UI for prioritising messages by auto-inferred relationship:

    1. fredwilson

      Ooh. That’s nice.

  37. Chris Varenhorst
  38. Glenn Gutierrez

    Nice routine you have going on over here.

  39. Josiah Kiehl

    Mozilla Raindrop is planning to be precisely that: deciding what information is important to you based on how you use email (and other messaging).…Watch the video here:…”Rain drop intelligently separates the personal messages from the bulk”This is one project I hope takes off.

    1. fredwilson

      Yes. This is great

  40. Noam Lovinsky

    If Gmail changed your life, keyboard shortcuts will be your re-birth.If you hit ‘?’ in most Google applications (e.g. Gmail, Reader, Calendar, etc.) you’ll get an overlay with all of the keyboard shortcuts available.I’ve gotten in the habit of taking my hands away from the keyboard as little as possible and it’s amazing how much more quickly I get things done.

  41. ShanaC

    Now this has been a helpful thread…

  42. Sachin

    great information and lot of things to learn ..even from the comments….thanks

  43. kuldeepk

    Even I couldn’t believe when you kept our conversation on over the email let alone when you responded to my email. In the end that was only me who dropped out of it from the guilt of wasting your time. Most of the people we reach out to in valley never respond mails like this. I think you are setting a good example here.P.S. I also forgot to thank you to responding our emails.Thanks,Kuldeep Kapade,co-Founder, Redanyway

    1. fredwilson

      I believe what goes around comes around. Its very much a self interested behavior thing

  44. desmondpieri

    If Google listens and offers them as features, you’ll not need a client. All I meant to say was that there are clients today that (a) have the features you’re looking for and (b) also allow one to follow the “guidelines” that you suggest. I’m sure Google will get there!

  45. vruz

    against all odds, in true Google fashion, they redefined the turf that was Hotmail’s and Yahoo’s strong game.(just like they did in the business of Search)people love it, you use it, I use it, my customers use it.but I’m still curious how are they going to convert all those millions of 8 Gb inboxes into a substantial portion of their turnover, which is still largely dominated by the search’s likely going to be much harder than it was to build it and make users love it.

  46. Angus Neil

    Thankfully 500 emails don’t grace my inbox on a weekly basis and this is partly due to the combination of filters, labels (carefully selected & using Folders4Gmail script), and multiple inboxes which ensures google does the hard work with my email initially.Can highly recommend this approach as some small time upfront (with occasional maintenance) in setting your filters to route important mail (gothamgal, jessicawilson, emilywilon et al) to one inbox, necessary mail (work), to another inbox, and spam (those which can be defined by “newsletters / daily digest / special offer / v1agra” etc. in the subject lines) to the bin makes attending to the inbox a much lesser committment. Precious time can then be spent dealing with important matters such as the ‘important inbox’ with much less noise.

    1. fredwilson

      You and others have been fairly convincing on this approach

  47. Clare Evans

    I ran a workshop today and email, as usual is always a challenge. The multiple scan approach is a great way to clear an email backlog (especially after a few days break) or just to deal with a bulging inbox from hundreds of daily emails.

  48. NICCAI

    Labels are the key to gmail nirvana….absolutely love them. I auto-label my key contacts/clients, and I star items that need response or follow-up (it acts like a sort of “to do”). Be sure to color your labels also – very handy.

  49. BigDoorBlog

    I found gmail unusable until I did these three things:1. Turned on keyboard shortcuts2. Used this search in my search query: is:unread in:inbox3. Turned on Quick Links through Labs and saved that search as my default viewThat simple little query turned gmail into a truly useful email tool for me – not sure how anyone can get by without a view that filters on only unread emails.–Keith

  50. peytonstafford

    I would recommend a few simple changes in your use of Gmail.1. Do not send and delete. If you want to send and be done with something, use the Labs Send and Archive feature. If you run out of room on a free account, chuck up the $50 per year for a paid account. It’s a small price to pay for the convenience and the record keeping. I say this because anything you send may have legal ramifications in the future, so it is best to keep your own record of it. Personally, I never send and delete. I don’t want someone coming back at me over some bit of advice I gave them in the past. Neither do I want to lose track of any business opportunities. Most of the messages I send to people that I don’t expect a reply from, I mark as delegated and give them a due date a month or two in the future. If I haven’t received a response by then, I mark the thread as finished and archive it. Occasionally, someone gets back to me after a considerable period of time, and since I have saved the thread I am able to bring to mind whatever we were corresponding about.2. Add a few simple filters so that messages to and from your family and key business contacts will be starred or labeled as urgent. This takes only a few minutes and saves a lot of visual scanning for them. I use filters to that messages to and from certain domains (@…) are automatically labeled according to the project they go with. This saves a lot of manual labeling and keeps my workflow organized.3. Use Gmail’s labeling system to set up a simple GTD-based system for labeling each email thread according to its actionable status, such as Next, To-Do, Delegated, etc., according to your preferences, and its relevance to a business or personal project, as well as according to its due date. I created 43 labels (I’m sure you know the concept) so I can assign a due date to each thread, rather than depending on searching through old threads for tasks and projects that I have neglected. I also try to keep my tasks and projects in email as much as possible, rather than maintaining a separate task and project management system. This saves me hours of duplicate work every week, simplifies my weekly and other reviews, and eliminates the need to manually associates tasks and projects with email threads. Since the tasks and projects are in Gmail, the association is automatic. This is a paradigm change. One of my clients,, is spearheading this. If you live in email (and it sounds like you do), then make email the central platform for your workflow, and bring your projects and tasks into it in a controlled and manageable way.4. Try to process your email more regularly so you can spend Sunday morning with your family or doing something else of your choice. I process mine whenever I move from one project to another during the work day. This assures that as I move into the next project I will not have missed a communication relevant to it. While I am working on a project, I go back to my inbox between tasks, whenever I see that a new message has arrived (if I am not 100% focused on the task at hand). Using keyboard shortcuts, all I have to do is press gi, and there I am. I scan the subject line and sender of whatever has come in. If it is irrelevant to the project at hand, I press *ax which selects all messages in the inbox, and then I press letter e which archives them without opening them. When I make my next transition between projects, I search for unread emails and process these along with anything that may be in my inbox. That way I never lose any messages, but they don’t distract me from my focus on my immediate task.5. Ignore any subject line indicators about whether you need to read and ignore or take action or consider the email urgent. If someone sent you an email, then at least skim it. I use Evelyn Wood’s speed-reading methods so I can quickly decide whether I need to read something thoroughly, but I never ignore an email. If Gmail has classified it as spam, then that is a different story, but even if the sender thought that I would only read and archive a message, I may see in it a business opportunity that I want to pursue. I often know something or see a connection that the sender doesn’t, so I treat each message as incoming intelligence.6. Spam. Every morning, after I process my email overnight email (this may take several hours), I go into my Spam label and add key search terms to the Gmail search box, i.e., in:spam books, or in:spam investments. Gmail sometimes misclassifies important messages as spam, so I don’t want to lose those among all the ads for pharmaceuticals and imitation Rolexes. I incorporate these spam searches as part of my morning email processing, so that even though I may get several hundred spams each day, I attend to them all without spending more than a few minutes at it.All the best,Peyton Stafford