Wrestling With Email

Back in the Sixties, there was a movie called The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. It’s a very funny movie about a Russian submarine that runs aground on an island off the New England coast. The shenanigans and chaos that ensue are hysterical.

One of my favorite scenes has Jonathan Winters standing in the midst of the chaotic panic of the island’s residents saying, “We’ve got to get organized. We’ve got to get organized.” Of course, no one pays any attention to him.

Maybe that scene was the start of my OCD? Not really. It only confirmed it.

email iconEven before becoming a full time writer, I was something of an organization guru at home and on the job. Although I’m sure some would call me an organization freak.

The tools I’ve developed over the years have helped me stay on top of projects, learn new information, meet due dates, and function more efficiently.

I’d like to share a few these tools in this blog. Periodically, I’ll add an article on other organizational tools or techniques.

Today, let’s look at email. This can grow into a monster that seems uncontrollable. How do we stay on top of all this information flooding our inbox? How do we clear out the clutter that seems to grow like weeds? Just the appearance of all those emails can be overwhelming.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A lot of that stuff is from blogs, newsletters and websites we’ve subscribed to.

The first step is to take a look at all these subscriptions and decide which are crucial to my family, my church, my finances, and my work. Which ones do I read every time? Which ones do I skim more than read? Which ones do I delete without reading? Unsubscribe from any in the last two categories. If we’re not reading them, we don’t need them.

The next step is to look at the emails we’ve decided we want to keep. Not all of them need to be addressed immediately. Set up folders by immediacy. Which ones do I need to look at now? Which ones can I deal with later? Are there some I only need to read? Are some responding to an email from me? Here are some possible folders:

Action needed.

Read later.

Response pending (from someone else).


timeEstablish a specific time to take care of email and a specific amount of time to spend on it. For example, I look at my email at 6:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. for half-an-hour each time.

I will take no more than five minutes deleting the email or assigning it to folders. Once that is done, I attack the action needed folder first, then the response pending folder, and the read later folder last.

My goal is to empty my inbox by the end of every day.

One other tip: I turn off all notifications that I have received an email. If the notification function is active, the temptation is too great to stop what I’m doing and check it out. Then the email is controlling me rather than me controlling it.

What other techniques do you have for keeping your email manageable?


3 Responses to Wrestling With Email

  1. Amelia March 2, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    Ooooh, I like these tips. Thanks, Henry. I look forward to other entries in this series. Organizing is such a huge part of successful craft.

  2. Henry March 2, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    Hi Amelia,

    I’m glad you found these helpful. I’ve found that even a little disorganization can sometimes frustrate me to the point where I have to stop and straighten it out before I can continue.


  1. Managing Our Work - Official Website of Author Henry McLaughlin - March 23, 2016

    […] a month ago, I shared a blog on Effective Ways to Organize. That focused on managing our email Wrestling With Email. This week I want to focus on another aspect of getting organized: our […]

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