The 5 Golden Rules Of Effective Email Management

How to tame your email monster

Adam Cairns
7 min readOct 7, 2019

Are you struggling to stay on top of your emails?

Here are five golden rules of email management that could help you beat your email monster.

1. Empty Your Inbox Regularly

If you can’t manage this every day, then at least once a week clear your inbox out. I use David Allen’s method:

  • If it's something you can deal with it right now with minimal time, do it now.
  • If you can immediately delegate it to someone else, do that now.
  • If it's not important and you don’t need it, delete it.

The emails left are the ones you’ve got to take action on.

Move actionable emails out of your email Inbox and into your task manager. It’s okay to keep actionable emails in your inbox, so long as you clear them out regularly. I find it’s easier if they’re in my task manager app.

I use Things, which works well with Dispatch.

If you don’t do that, your inbox will get clogged quickly. Then you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Here’s how to send an email to Things using Dispatch.

2. Never Email When A Conversation Is Needed

There’s nothing worse than a prolonged backward and forward on email. It’s okay to email asking for a conversation, but don’t have the conversation on email. Chances are you might miss an important non-verbal cue or you might misunderstand what you’ve agreed.

3. Limit You Email To 5 Sentences Or Fewer

If you need longer than 5 sentences to get you message across, you need a meeting. I put a statement at the bottom of all my emails, which helps maintain my accountability for doing this myself.

Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?

I’m trying to make email less of a burden. I promise not to email when a telephone conversation/meeting would work better.

Please use the subject line of your email as a to-list item (verb the noun with the subject) e.g. Prepare a report on Car Parking

The hyperlink is to a site dedicated to spreading the philosophy of short, focused emails.

To change your signature in Dispatch on iOS:

4. Always State The Purpose Of Your Email In The Header

Do everyone a favour and out the reason for email in the header. Don’t write

RE: Meeting On Tuesday.

That doesn’t help the recipient. Write something specific like this instead:

Can I add Project Finance To Our Agenda On Tuesday Please?

The formula to use is:

Verb->The Noun->Subject

You should assume that everyone has the same problem with just too many emails. If you make it a little easier for them by doing this, maybe they’ll return the favour.

5. Avoid Copying People In (If Possible)

One curse of my Inbox is that I’m continually copied in to emails. I’ve got a rule set up in Outlook to manage this.

The rule automatically puts copy emails into a folder marked ‘Copy Emails’. I then send an auto respond email message like this:


I get a lot of emails and I have set up a rule which automatically puts copy emails into a Copy Email folder. I give priority to emails in my inbox and will get to the copy emails later.

If you need me to take action urgently or you need a prompt reply, please email me directly.

Thanks for understanding.

This is a way of training other people who have poor email behaviour to change what they do, at least in relation to you.

If you need to email someone, send it to them. If you’re copying someone in, make it clear in the email's body what you want from the person you’ve copied in.

The worst email crime is to click on a reply all. All this does is to fuel the email fire. Just hit reply to the author and if you need to let other people know, send them an email directly.

Okay, I’ve got that off my chest. Let’s have a look at tactics for reducing the number of emails you get.

Tactics For Processing Emails

According to TechJury, we send 239.6 billion emails/day.

  • Over 90 percent of the workers admit they checked personal emails at work and 87 percent looked at business emails outside of working hours.
  • People spend an average of 6.3 hours a day checking emails, with 3.2 hours devoted to work emails and 3.1 hours to personal messages.
  • Nearly 80 percent say they look at emails before going into the office.
    30 percent said they checked their Inbox while still in bed in the morning.
  • 50% of people also monitor emails during their vacations.
  • More than a quarter of millennials also admit to checking emails while driving.
  • Forty percent say they had tried a self-imposed email detox, of which 87 percent lasted an average of five days.
  • When asked about the most annoying thing about emails, 28 percent say it is scrolling down too far to read the entire message.
  • Nearly 40 percent of workers also say they would prefer to get fewer emails.

OMG, right?

Here are a few ways you can fight back.

Tools For Email Management

1. SaneBox

SaneBox is a tool which takes a bit of getting used to. It uses algorithms to triage your emails based on your previous email management behaviour. The software provides some additional mailboxes which it adds to your email client.

SaneBox switches the first one on automatically for you when you sign up.

SaneLater automatically files incoming emails into this in box if it believes they do not need your immediate attention. The first time it does this you will receive an email asking you to review the way it has handled this process.

Open the SaneLater mailbox and decide whether these are genuinely ‘read later when I feel like it material’ or if they really belong in your in-box. If you conclude a message should be in your in-box, just drag it back into your in-box and next time SaneBox will remember what to do.

There are additional boxes you can switch on by going to the web-based SaneBox dashboard. These include:

SaneNews: Use this to file newsletters and circulars.

SaneNextWeek: Putting an email in here will remove it from your in-box and then make it reappear one week later.

SaneNoReplies: This is handy. If you have emailed someone, SaneNoReplies will keep any emails for which there are no replies. It keeps them for four weeks. It’s a useful way to track and chase responses you are waiting for. Just scan the box once a day and take action as needed.

SaneTomorrow: This works just like SaneNextWeek, only your email will reappear tomorrow rather than next week.

SaneBlackHole: This is brilliant. If you ever get an email from someone you never want to hear from again, put that email here. SaneBlackHole will then automatically put email messages from that sender into your email Trash. If you make a mistake, just visit your training page and alter the training.

Note: SaneBlackHole is not for Spam. It is for legitimate email from people or services that you don’t want to see or hear from anymore. Mark “real Spam emails” as Spam or Junk in your email client/webmail (usually that means moving those emails into your Spam or Junk folder).

2. Use A Good Email Client

Mobile: Dispatch

Dispatch is the email client I use on my mobile. It has swipe features and power tools that aid fast email processing.

This is my Dispatch setup.

Dispatch has several actions built in which will help to thin out your inbox.

These are available on iOS by using the Share Button:

Use this button on Dispatch to access the action list

The Action List includes:

Send to: Things, Fantastical, SMS, WhatsApp, Export as PDf and many more.

Open in: You can also use this button to translate the item, open Maps, create a reminder and lots of other useful actions.

MacBook: Postbox

On my MacBook I use Postbox. I fully use the Smart folders in Postbox to triage emails for me.

The Take Away

Use the 5 golden rules to govern your email practice. Then pick a good email client for your email on mobile and desktop.

Finally, consider using SaneBox to streamline your incoming avalanche.

What did I miss?



Adam Cairns

Exploring the intersection between good organisation and creativity |Blog | Digital Garden |