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  • Episode 6

How to manage email

In today’s episode, I talk about how to make email suck less.


Hello, hello, hello. This is the ADHD for the win podcast. I’m Chris Ferdinandi, thanks so much for joining me. Today, I’m talking about how to make email suck less. Let’s dig in. So, for a lot of developers that I talk to, with and without ADHD, email is the stuff of nightmares. Just this endless torrent of stuff that piles up.

Today, I wanted to share some tips and tricks for making email easy and pain free. So, uh, for me, I think the crux of how I handle email is Inbox Zero, but not really. So, uh, nearly 17 years ago, Getting Things Done evangelist Merlin Mann gave a talk at Google about a concept he called Inbox Zero. And I will drop a link to that down on the show notes.

The idea was that people could Every time you check your email, you should immediately deal with it. The stuff that’s in it, uh, with the goal of getting it down to zero items before you move on to something else. In later years, he said that it was more of an ethos than a hard goal and admitted that his own inbox was cluttered as fuck, but there’s really.

Some great stuff in his talk, most notably his tips on how to actually manage email when you process it. He has a, um, like a five step kind of kind of run through that he does. So he’ll delete it. If it’s junk, just delete it immediately. Uh, if it’s something someone else can do, he will delegate it or forward it to them.

Uh, if he can respond quickly. He’ll do that immediately. If it’s a bigger ask, he’ll defer it until later, but archive it out of the inbox. So it’s not just sitting in there because your inbox is not a to do list. Uh, and if it’s a task that you can do now, I’ll just do it in my mind though. Respond, delegate, and do are all just variations of the same thing.

So I’ve simplified this down to just three items. Delete, defer, or do. I delete ruthlessly. Honestly, a majority of the emails that you get are bullshit. So you can just delete them immediately. Delete them without even reading them. Just delete them. Get them out of your inbox. Feeling overwhelmed? Declare inbox bankruptcy.

Delete everything. And start fresh, maybe double check before you delete everything. There might be some important stuff in there. Um, I’ve heard people say that an inbox is a to do list that someone else controls, but I think that’s absurd just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it, which.

Brings me to my next point, which is that your inbox is not a to do list at all. When you defer something, do not keep it sitting in your inbox. This is where that, like that clutter and that sense of overwhelm comes from. So if you get something in your inbox, uh, add a to do item to your second brain, whatever software you use for that.

If your email client lets you link directly to emails, include the link in your to do item so you can quickly get back to it, star it or bookmark it in some way, uh, and then archive it so it’s out of view. Emails in an inbox are digital and visual clutter, and if you have a bee filled ADHD brain, that clutter increases the information overload and makes email feel like an increasingly daunting task.

When you eventually do the task later, delete the email, or at least un star it or bookmark it or whatever so that it’s not kind of sitting in that. Secondary folder. Uh, I’ve also found that canned responses are my best friend. A lot of emails require the same kind of responses or links frequently. Over time, you’ll start to identify some of those common responses and you can pop them into a text snippet tool and use them heavily.

I’m on Mac. Uh, so I use Alfred for that, but there are a lot of options for nearly every operating system, including like your mobile phones. If you can respond quickly to something or put it off entirely, Do it. Uh, the other thing is to check your email way less often. You only check your physical mail once a day at most, so why is email different?

Check it just a few times a day, maybe morning, midday, and evening. Turn off push notifications, turn off alerts, turn off noises, turn off the icons that tell you your unread email account. Hell, just close your fucking email app altogether. It’s a tool. It’s not an overlord. If someone at work really needs you for something urgent, they should have other ways to get in touch with you.

The other big thing I want you to take away from this is that I fail at this constantly for all of my big talk here. Uh, at the time of recording my email inbox currently has 72 items in it, 12 of them on red. Most of them are deferred tasks that I just didn’t properly star or archive. And after recording this, I’m going to go deal with all that.

Okay. Uh, but every now and then I just, I get annoyed and I go through and delete a bunch of stuff and start fresh and that’s okay too. Anyways, that’s it for today. Uh, if you feel like your ADHD is holding you back, I send out a short email each weekday on how to unlock your neurodivergent superpowers and thrive as a developer.

Head over to adhdftw. com to sign up. That’s ADHD for the win. That’s it for today and I will see you next time. Cheers.