3 Tips For Controlling Email So It Doesn’t Control You

Email is the bane of my existence. I can’t live with it and I can’t live without it.

I receive hundreds of emails every day, and while I can’t imagine being productive without it, I also know that it’s a huge productivity suck.

That’s why I control my email consumption very carefully.  Here are 3 ways I control email so that it doesn’t control me.

One address per context

I have 3 separate email accounts – one for work, one for the public, and one for my personal life (family and close friends).

I check each one at different intervals. For example, my public address shouldn’t require an immediate response, so I only check it a couple of times per day.  My work and personal emails, however, are “always on.”

Automate prioritization and consumption

I use a tool called Sanebox to filter my email as it arrives. If Sanebox recognizes a recipient as important, it leaves it in my inbox.  If not, it will archive it and flag it for follow-up.

About half of my email is automatically flagged for later. I check those emails twice a day. Others are flagged as news or bulk emails.  Those I read at my leisure.

This automatic filtering keeps my inbox clean and my mind free to process only the most important emails.

Inbox zero

I try to keep my inbox clean, as in no email. This means everything is processed and responded to as quickly as possible. Any emails sitting there nag at me and take mental cycles.

To keep it clean, I use the following rules:

  • If it will take less than 2 minutes to read and respond, I do it right away.  Quick emails that require brief replies are the best!
  • If the email needs to be assigned to someone else, I send it along right away. Better to get it off my plate and clear my mind.
  • If I can’t complete it and can’t assign it, I try to schedule it for follow-up (using SaneBox).
  • If I can’t digest it quickly and decide what to do, I leave it in my inbox. Some people just aren’t great at crafting emails that are easy to digest.
  • Every evening I try to get my inbox back down to zero.

Being disciplined helps me ensure that I’m controlling email and it’s not controlling me.

It’s easy to be a slave to digital communications. Take charge and watch how much more productive your days will seem.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jake says:

    The headline on this, 90% of gmail users don’t know about this, is stupid, because gmail can flag and sort your email by all the parameters listed above, so you don’t need 3 email accounts. So it should say that 90% of gmail users don’t care about this.

    1. David DeWolf says:

      Great point. There’s no doubt that Gmail is robust enough to filter and handle all sorts of slicing and dicing.

      That said, I find it useful to contextualize my interactions. I want to be able to sit down and focus solely on my work email at certain points and the filters I set up at work may be different than those at home. At other points I choose to totally turn off my public email. I also delegate email administration to other people differently accross the accounts. There are certain things that I simply can’t do with the power of Gmail, and admitedly, those are things that 90% of email users probably don’t care about.

  2. Bob says:


    1. David DeWolf says:

      Bob, I’m curious – do you use the same address for work and your personal life? It’s very likely that your employer “owns” emails that are sent through your work email address and that they’d likely be fairly disappointed if they learned you were using a personal account to reach out to others on behalf of the company. What is your solution?

      For me, the three accounts help me keep things squared away. 3Pillar owns my 3pillarglobal.com email address and I conduct all business through it. My daviddewolf.com email address is likewise a “professional” account. While it’s personally one that I own, my blog is my public image and I receive hundreds, if not thousands of emails per week related to this “work. I treat it just as I would a separate business account. In both of these cases I delegate administration and have assistants that help me with managing my email.

      My third address is one that I give out only to my family and very close friends and only I have access to. It’s probably not needed (I could use my daviddewolf.com address and use filters), but, there’s something about having an exclusive and private address that I like.

      It sounds insane, I hear ya, but, it works for me.

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