Are You Winning The E-mail Battle?

by Tarek Beram

How do other people organize their working lives? Did you ever wonder about that? I mean, how do others manage the endless flow of incoming emails and on-going flow of things to do? In the time of apps and after the arrival of the cloud, how does a modern person stay in control of own time and efforts? I believe most people get so used to the way they operate they don’t stop to consider alternatives.

Messaging is still dominating the business live. Then electronic calendar is the norm now. Then you have your own thoughts and ideas that you want to do something about. Then comes up the tasks or errands as a result of discussions or interactions. It’s a vortex of to-dos that you choose to spend time and effort on and either you’re on top of the vortex or you’re not.

I always wondered how others are managing this between their computers, phones and tablets. I am specifically interested in the clever, effective, practical and pragmatic ideas that you are currently using because it works for you and helps you stay on top of your productivity. There are countless ideas over the internet and rarely when I stumble across a great new way of doing things. I thought I use this space to intrigue you to share some of the best ideas that worked for you by sharing some of mine.

Perhaps a good start is emails. I’m still heavily dependent on them. I have four accounts connected to my computer, iPhone and iPad. These accounts are iCloud, Hotmail, Google and work.

I have each of these accounts for a reason. Hotmail because it’s my first. iCloud because I use Apple products. Google because of YouTube and Maps. Work for work.

These accounts include emails, calendar, contacts and sometimes notes and reminders. I use all accounts for email. For calendar, I only use iCloud (for personal and family) and work calendar for obvious reasons. I also use notes for my thoughts and the list of to-dos that is not in any email. I only use iCloud for notes because it synchronizes the best between my different devices.

These three programs (email, calendar and notes) have everything I want to spend time and effort on and I need to keep track of.

I use the zero-inbox method for managing my emails. I simply have four sub-folders under my inbox that are named: urgent important / urgent not important / not urgent important / not urgent not important, I believe I got that from Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Each email I receive must go immediately to one of these four mailboxes or to my main archive system where I put the emails that I don’t need anymore. That’s how I have zero-inbox. It doesn’t mean I don’t have emails but it means that every email I have now is put in a priority order. This system helped me tremendously to know what I should be working on now and next during at any moment during the working day.

My ultimate target is to have all four mailboxes empty but that never happens. However, I manage to have my “urgent important” and “urgent not important” mailboxes empty sometimes and it feels great! The other two mailboxes are never empty and I believe that’s how it should be. Because they represent the near and far future and that cannot be empty.

There are two other folders/mailboxes that I have and use. One is called “tickets & bookings” that includes all emails related to travel plans or restaurants reservations or event tickets. It enables me to find quickly these emails when I need to dig them up. I only put in there active emails. The used ones I put in the main archive I mentioned earlier. The other is called “to read” where I keep emails that includes articles or snippets of knowledge that I want to read, when I have time.

One of the best ideas that’s very easy to do and has big impact is disabling the alert for all emails. I only receive alerts from specific people that I want to know immediately when I receive a message from. Doing this requires a leap of faith but on the other side awaits you much less distractions and much better focus. You check your emails frequently anyways so you’re not going to miss anything important, especially if you customize your alerts properly, and the value of working uninterrupted is surely worth it.

Naturally, I use this system for all emails I receive, personal and business. It works on outlook and mail. It also works across all my devices. It works all the time, at work or at home or on holiday. Most importantly, it integrates well with my calendar and notes which I’m happy to share some ideas about but first, it’s your turn!

I hope you find this pragmatic and useful. In any case, I hope this encourages you to share with me and others what you use and working for you. Please feel free to drop me an email at and I will be happy to share in this space the best ideas I received.

Now as a small reward for reading my borderline OCD article, here is a link to an interesting TED video that talks about the power of procrastination.


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