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12 Rules for Getting a Grip on Massive ProBlogger Email

This is a guest post from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, a blog about simplicity and productivity.

Darren has told us that his ProBlogger email inbox can often be overwhelming, and with a couple of extremely successful blogs, running a large ad network, and multiple other projects, it isn’t hard to imagine why.

If most people have a hard time managing email, Darren would have the same problem but on a different order of magnitude.

However, from my experiences at Zen Habits, with dozens of emails coming in all the time, I’ve found that getting a handle on email and keeping an empty inbox is definitely possible. I thought I’d share my advice for Darren as a way to illustrate smart email practices for bloggers and others with a lot of email.

The following 12 rules are customized specifically for Darren, but I believe they can work for most bloggers.

Before he starts, however, I suggest he take all the emails in his inbox, create a folder (or label) called “Temp” and go through those when he gets a chance — that way he starts with a clean, fresh inbox.

1. Check only one inbox. If you get email from different blogs and projects, redirect them all to one inbox. I highly, highly recommend using Gmail (yes, even if you are on a Mac) — in my experience, it’s by far the best email tool for keeping your inbox empty. Even better than Mail.app.

2. Stop stuff at the source. The best way to deal with email is not to get it in the first place. If you get a lot of notifications from services, advertising from companies, forwarded joke emails from relatives and friends, newsletters and mailing lists … either unsubscribe, ask them to stop sending them, or create a simple filter to delete them automatically. If you are fanatical about this rule, you can eliminate at least half your emails.

3. Set policies for readers. I love reader email but after my emails from Zen Habits readers became too overwhelming, I set up a policy page that basically asks people not to email me unless they’ve exhausted a few different options first. This greatly reduced the amount of email I get. Here are my policies:

  • Thank yous and questions and other comments. People email me with thank yous and questions and suggestions and stuff, so I created a couple of comment threads on my blog to allow them to post stuff that I can check periodically, instead of having that stuff go to my email.
  • Guest posts. I don’t allow people to send me guest posts anymore, just because of a large backlog I have already.
  • Posts from other blogs. If people want to share their posts with me, they can tag them with “for:zenhabis” in del.icio.us, and I can check those periodically and link to the best ones in my tumblelog.
  • Promoting products/services/sites. Don’t send them to me. I will delete them automatically. Instead, they can buy advertising.

4. Write a FAQ. Many times emails from readers are the same questions over and over again. Similar to posting policies, you should post a Frequently Asked Questions to answer these common questions and keep them out of your inbox. If people email you without reading the FAQ first, delete them.

5. Route routine email to an assistant. This won’t work for everyone, but for Darren I would highly recommend it. I started doing it more than a month ago and it works well for me. Does this assistant handle all of your email? Not at all. Just routine stuff — responding to common questions, checking through comments, emailing people with ad rates, etc. I’ve set up some automatic filters and a second email address for my virtual assistant, and it works well. That still leaves your regular inbox with a lot of emails though.

6. Only check twice a day. Darren could easily spend all day in his inbox. He doesn’t have time for that. Instead, set two specific times (say, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) for checking email and processing the inbox to empty.

7. Process quickly. When you get into your inbox, spend as little time as possible processing. Quickly delete as much of it as possible, read others and archive them, respond to others that will only take a couple seconds, and Star the ones that will require action. See below for more on some of these actions. Basically, start at the top of the inbox, and process each one quickly and immediately, until you get the the last one. Process to empty every time.

8. Delete often, archive the rest. Darren will probably get a lot of emails he doesn’t need to read or respond to. Delete those immediately. If in doubt, delete, as they will rarely be so important that you will regret deleting. For the rest, read or respond very quickly, and then archive.

9. Star actionable emails. For those few emails that will require longer responses or action, mark them with a Star (in Gmail — if you use another program, just put it in an Action folder) and then archive. You can then go through the Star folder when you have time to work on stuff or reply to longer emails.

10. Only reply to 5 per day. When you have time for replying to longer emails (ones that don’t require a 1 or 2 sentence reply), choose 5 for today and just do those. Leave the rest for later or delete them if you like.

11. 5 sentence emails. Limit your responses to 5 sentences. It’ll force you to just write the essential stuff, and limit the time you spend replying.

12. Let most of them go. Darren knows that most of the emails he can’t respond to will rarely come back to bite him in the butt. If you choose just the most important ones to respond to or take action on, the rest will be fine if you let them go. Just let go!

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I made a similar article about a month ago, here is what i said

    http://travisreynolds.com/apple/have-your-mail-organized/

  2. Great tips here, Leo. I can see how this would save you or Darren several hours per day. Most of these tips can be used by regular people too, even before they’re getting a billion emails a day.

  3. A great post. I get tons of emails and i like to ensure my inbox is empty and all replies sent before i log off for the evening. That way, the next day i start with an empty inbox and the process starts all over again.

    I like your idea to eliminate email at the source and the FAQ. i will take your advice on both those points.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I love using filters so that I have as few emails as possible that need to be dealt with, and so I can quickly find the ones I should read immediately. If I’m mid-project it’s nice to know that some can wait, such as newsletters. Then again, I’ve unsubscribed from most of those anyhow.

  5. I already take advantage of some of this advice.

    Number 1, 2, and 6.

    All the advice is good and I guess the more email you get the more points you will take advantage of. Thanks

    The Masked Millionaire
    http://www.TheMaskedMillionaire.com

  6. Jason says:

    I’ve been increasing my strictness on step #2 and it has really cut down on my email time. I’ll try the other tips now :)

  7. ourmonmouth says:

    Leo-
    This is really a great post. With time at a premium it is really about process, discipline and consistency. You have outlined a plan and parameters to deal with email. Image how much more we could accomplish if we apply these principles to our most time consuming daily activities.

  8. Some great tips. Thankyou

  9. Tom Stine says:

    I need this one, Leo. #12 is the one I have the most trouble with. I suspect that more than half of all emails can just be ignored. I wonder what would happen if I did that? I think I’ll give it a try.

  10. Wonderful advice! I got a lot of reader email as well, and most of it is welcome.. especially when young entrepreneurs are looking for advice or help. It makes me feel so useful!

    I definitely agree with the one inbox rule…

    Great post!

  11. I recently read over at Tim Ferriss’ blog (the author of the Four hour week), that he outsources his e-mail reading to some company in India. He seems to have the same problem of receiving too many emails, and for a nominal price, the emails are read/sorted and only the important ones are given his attention.

  12. Luke says:

    This sounds like some really good ideas for keeping the email load down to a minimum — without totally jilting your audience.

  13. Looking forward to the day when I have so much email coming in that I have to follow 12 Rules to get a grip on it. :)

    Peace,
    Julie

  14. Excellent ideas, thanks! I don’t have the email that Darren or Leo have to work with, but still have too much. We have had a major glitch with our rss feed and I still manage to get too many repeat questions in tons of emails from followers.

    So I have been nervous about how to handle this once everything is working well. We travel the world, so go in and out of internet connection which adds to our challenge.This gives me some solid advice!

  15. Neil Duckett says:

    Gone are the days when i’d open my mail hoping to see heaps to read ….. quite the other way now.

    Some good tips there and i’ve been excercising the ‘open my email twice a day’ one for a few years now. I do it to gain productivity in my other work … email can be very obtrusive if not controlled.

  16. I agree about using Gmail, but with one extra step on Mac: also setup Mail.app to download your Gmail messages (assuming you can spare the disk space, of course).

    The reason is that Leopard’s Spotlight can ferret out text in messages even faster than Gmail can, I don’t actually *use* Apple Mail – I use Gmail directly, but I do let it go get my messages just because Spotlight is so good at finding things.

  17. I like the tip of writing an FAQ page, something I have on my to-do list, and have been checking my email only twice a day for a few months now – it really helps cut back on distractions to keep it closed the rest of the time.

  18. Robin Capper says:

    Don’t even let it get to your inbox in the first place.

    I use MailWasher to delete or process/read 80-90% of my mail before it even leaves the ISP’s mailserver. If I need to reply it gets to Outlook otherwise it’s deleted before download

    It’s also useful for seeing those valid emails tagged as spam by ISP filters.

    I have them mark, but not delete potential spam, then review in MailWasher before it’s blitzed.

    see more at http://rcd.typepad.com/rcd/2006/07/activewords_mai_1.html

  19. Jean says:

    Same nagging stuff by Leo. I have read these tips at least 20 times in 20 different blogs… Try translating them to other languages Leo…

  20. Great article. I have been using the Inbox Zero method from 43Folders.

  21. This is a great article. I’ve struggled for years with handling mass amounts of email from BiggerPockets and have yet to get it down to a science. The struggle comes in deleting those emails that may be questionable.

    You can’t answer every message in detail, but some should get a response . . . how do you tackle those? There just isn’t time in the day!

    I hate to ignore people, but it seems necessary in order to remain productive.

  22. John says:

    I’m pretty sure you could have just summarised that entire post into one rule.

    ‘Delete as much as you can’

  23. Great article, and great tips from all of the readers! I guess I have been operating under the unconscious assumption that I MUST use plenty of time and attention to every single e-mail, and I have to confess I never even considered being generous with the delete button ~ or working my box down to zero. I am going right now to get that thing CLEANED OUT! Thank you. I feel more free already. *sigh*

  24. Hello-i am a new bloger–my question is how do get the thing telegraphed–in toher words how do i get out to the world –or must i build a contact list and then send the new post by e-mail as a group mailing–http://www.artandthecatholicchurch.blogspot.com/
    i thank you in advance
    bernie

  25. David says:

    Joshua: I don’t like to ignore people either. I figure if people took the time to write to me, they should get the courtesy of a response. But it does become too much sometimes, especially when people write very long messages with many questions embedded in them.

    So I have a message in a Word document that I cut & paste, and use that as a response.

    The message says something along the lines of that I’m happy to hear from them, mentions a few places on my site where they might find a response to their particular questions (a few links and my FAQs), and notes that I appreciate their taking the time to write. I can also personalize it as well by adding a few sentences, if I want.

    Another option is to set up a mailbox for the blog and have an auto-response that say something to that effect, too.

    It seems like a good way to handle many of the emails and has made my life a lot easier; plus you don’t feel guilty about not providing a detailed response.

  26. I don’t believe in checking email just once or twice a day. When your job is on the Internet, it’s your responsibility to be available.

    The key is to reduce the amount of time you spend interacting with your inbox. Learn GMail shortcuts. Install GMail Macros and learn those shortcuts. (There’s no email I can’t process by typing three letters on my keyboard — lightning fast.) Use filters so emails get sorted appropriately — things to be read later are sorted into “To Read,” newsletters from your favorite stores are “Shopping,” etc.

    I totally agree about starring action items and getting them out of your Inbox.

  27. Email clog – a big problem of modern day life. Some of the suggestions in this post are a part of ‘Getting Things Done’, an organising system devised by David Allen to streamline your productivity. I strongly recommend his book (go to Amazon.com and search for ‘Getting Things Done’).

    Sometimes, the answer to getting less email is writing better emails; A lot of the email I get through the day is electronic Q&A. If you want to find out how to write better emails, you can head over to my blog’s post 5 things you need to know before you write your next email

    -The Crazy Colombian

  28. Elliot says:

    This is the second time I’ve read people fawning over “gmail” over Mail.app or other alternatives. Why?

  29. Added, thanks for this post – it was a good read.