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How Not to Hate Email

How Not to Hate Email

I know, I know, I know – people hate email. And honestly, so do I. There are moments when I get frustrated that my inbox keeps filling up no matter how hard I work to clear it out. It’s a never ending battle. There are thousands of posts and videos online teaching us how to wrestle email to the ground, because it can certainly can be a massive time suck. But we need to learn how not to hate email.

But the truth is – particularly for someone who travels as much as I do (and for millions working from home) email is a still a fantastic way to communicate. It’s flexible, and people don’t expect immediate responses like they do with calls or texts. But the key is making it simple, easy to use, and most important, use it according to YOUR terms, not everyone else’s terms. I’m by no means an email expert, but to help make your email life a little easier, here’s a few suggestions on how not to hate email:

How Not to Hate Email

1) Pick the best email program that works for you.

I have Apple Mail, Spark, Outlook, and Mimestream on my computer right now and I’ve tried plenty of others like Airmail. I’m constantly experimenting to see which app works the best for my processing style. Here’s a few thoughts about each:

Apple Mail – Although it doesn’t play well with Gmail, it’s my overall favorite. It’s simple, easy to use, and the keyboard shortcuts are easy and fast. But it’s incredibly slow with Gmail, and often drives me crazing waiting for email messages to arrive.

Spark – I love Spark because it has a messaging feature so you can text directly to someone you’re emailing, it has a clean look, and has a great feature for managing pre-written template responses. The only reason I haven’t switched is because the keyboard shortcuts are awkward – and keyboard shortcuts help me fly through email.

Outlook – That’s the 400 pound gorilla out there, and it’s nice to have so many features in a single app. But the truth is, I don’t need all those features. If you’re a power user, then God bless you, but I want simple, clean, and fast.

Mimestream – This was created by an ex-Apple engineer, so it’s the closest to how Apple Mail operates but it also works MUCH faster with Gmail.

2) Get your folder system down.

In the past, it was common to have 20, 30, or more email folders as people tried to sort their emails by project, event, clients, personal, family, or other topics. However, as email search has gotten so much better, there’s really no reason to have that many folders. In fact, I would say that constantly searching through a long list of folders for a particular email takes more time than simply doing a search of your entire email archive.

The “Stack System” is the current folder system I’m using and I really like it. For me, I’ve cut back to a handful of folders like Current Projects, Travel, Speaking, Reference, and a few other temporary folders I use for immediate issues I’m working on right now. There’s a million possible folder combinations, but my only advice is to do your best to limit the number – otherwise, scrolling through a long list of folders defeats the purpose of finding emails quickly.

3) For email processing, there’s nothing like keyboard shortcuts.

This is the most important reason I keep using Apple Mail. Aside from its shortcomings (like not working well with Gmail) by using keyboard shortcuts, I can process email far faster than with other apps.

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Phil Cooke, Ph.D, is a filmmaker, media consultant, and founder of Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles, California. His latest book is “Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking." Find out more at philcooke.com.