How to optimize email – 10 Steps to become an email Ninja

May 19, 2014

Is your email killing you?

Email is a great tool. Everyone uses it!  It is so great that you feel compelled to check your email all the time, it might be the first thing you check when you wake up?! Since you do check your email often, you also expect other people to check their emails all-the-time. We are different individuals and most of us don’t have any strategy for email, This never-ending checking/reading/replying can take up hours of time.. But ONLY if you let it. If you want to know how you can optimize your email management and use email as a tool to your advantage – keep reading! 

This is article 1 of 2 read

3 biggest lessons from this article:

    1. Take control – set aside time
    2. Automate everything you can
    3. Have a system and STICK TO IT, everything is hard in the beginning.

1) Let your email program manage your email as much as possible.

Email management starts with setting up and using filters. If you’re using an email program such as Outlook, you can configure email rules to send your spam directly to the trash – meaning that you don’t waste your time reading and deleting it.

Useful rules: 

  • Implement CC rule – if you are CC:d move that email to a specific CC-folder, for reading later
  • CC rule – if you are CC, you are not directly the target for this email
  • Useful apps for gmail like OtherInbox that sorts your mail for you

2) Do not check your email on demand. 

You don’t need to see every email the immediate second it arrives. If you’re using an email program with notifications on arrival of new email – turn off the program’s announcement features!

turn off as many notifications as you can! 

Checking email on demand can seriously interfere with whatever other tasks you’re trying to accomplish.

3) Schedule reading and replying.  


Don’t read and answer your email all day long. You may get anywhere from a handful to hundreds of emails each day that need to be answered, but they don’t need to be answered immediately. Instead, set aside a particular time each day to review and answer your email.

Schedule one pomodoro at a time (20-25min). Take the time you need to answer the volume of email you get, and stick to that schedule as regularly as possible.

Tim Ferriss suggests 2 or 3 times per day in his book The Four Hour Work week and have autoresponders that you only reply to emails between 10-11 and 15-16 or whatever time you prefer. I try to have 3 sessions daily using the pomodoro technique where I set 25 minutes and go consistently reading and replying.


4) Don’t answer your email at your most productive time of day.

For many people the most productive work time is the morning. If I start my day by answering my email, I lose the time that I’m at my most creative. Do your most important work when you  feel fresh and alert. Molly Pittman suggests that you should have “CRITICAL TIME” in the morning until 11 and DO NOT disturb your colleagues at this time in the podcast: Smart Time Online

What time of day is your most productive? Scheduling less demanding tasks such as checking, reading and answering email outside of your “best” working time will help you make the most of your working day – and that’s good email management.

 5. Use keyboard shortcuts 

Write the text in the subject – this saves time and makes it easy for your receivers to understand

Gmail: Keyboard shortcuts

  • Delete: Shift + #
  • Move to cabinet: V (which starts “move to”) and then C (short for Cabinet)

To get more information about shortcuts simply click Shift + ? in Gmail



Outlook:Keyboard shortcuts

  • Control + Shift + 1: Mark as follow up category
  • Control + Shift + 2: Move to Archive
  • Control + Shift + 3: Move to the folder “Waiting”


6. Use codes in subject: NNTR – EOM

Typing codes in the subject saves time from your colleauges

  • NNTR = NoNeedToRespond
  • EoM = End Of Message

Codes can also be used for you, for instance I have a rule that when an email contains [w] it is automatically moved to the “Waiting for” folder. I have implemented this in a signature so that its both invincible for the receiver and very quick and easy. Once every day I will check my waiting for folder. Order: oldest first.  >Try to keep waiting for under 20 emails if possible.

7. Use the 3 sentence rule 

If a mail is longer than 3 sentences, it is probably not suitable for email.

Try to shorten it or better yet try to call or meet the person for a discussion or meeting or write a report.

8. Use apps to assist and automate

We have mentioned our favourite app in great length: Evernote which can come in very handy for archiving

Gmail apps for optimizing:

    • – unsubcribing made very easy and automated


  • OtherInbox Organizer – Organizer effortlessly and securely organizes your email so you can take control of your inbox.
  • Boomerang for Gmail – Schedule an email to be sent later. Easy email reminders.
  • Rapportative – Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox.
  • Signals – tracks opened emaails, clicks and so on – a free from Hubspot – also available for Outlook.
  • rightinbox – Schedule Emails in Gmail To Be Sent Later
  • Evernote – We have talked so much about Evernote, but for email – forwarding emails to your Evernote is very useful.  Use @ in subject to specify Notebook and # to add tags. Read more here.
  • IFTTT – very good usage for automation. For instance – if I tag an email something in gmail : Trello for example. This email is now automatically added to my trello board of tasks. Another rule is that if I star a mail – it automatically adds a calendar entry. If I add tag: evernote gmail  that tto my evernote.
  • Evercontact – Who has time to manually update  address books and CRMs? Automatice update of your adress book

9. Create categories.

Create as few categories as possible – remember you want to use this as a productivity tool. In Gmail I only use 2:

  • Starred and
  • Cabinet

Cabinet is the big archive , this means that I answer and read all emails that I can at the allotted time, reply (if necessary) and if I don’t have time to reply or read now,  I simply Star (shortcut: S) the email and move it to cabinet so that it disappears from my inbox and I can reply/read at a later time. This makes for a very easy and simple GMAIL management system,  with the help of the 10 apps above mentioned your can become a GMAIL ninja.


In Outlook I use 2 categories for email:

  • Follow Up
  • Waiting for Response


I have around 7 more categories in Outlook because of Outlooks calendar feature – calendar management is for another article. ? Once you have your categories in place it is time to create folders.

10. Create Folders and rules


Gmail Folders

Since categories and folders are the same in Gmail, we will use the same as we mentioned erlier. The only folder we need to create manually is :Cabinet (the Starred folder is already there and added by default)  nothing more is needed.

Outlook Folders

  • @Waiting
  • Inbox – CC
  • Inbox – Invites
  • Archive
  • Email 2013 (subfolder: sent emails 2013)
  • Email 2012  (subfolder sent emails 2012)
  • Email 2011 (subfolder sent emails 2011…..)

Step 1 is to SORT your inbox on Categorization


Step 2 create shortcuts for marking your emails

Create three “Quick Steps” in Outlook

First on is to categorize as 1. Follow Up – use shortcut code: “Ctrl + Shift +1”


Second Move to Archive  use shortcut code: ” Ctrl + Shift + 2″


Third> Move to @Waiting Folder Ctrl + Shift +3

If you don’t have time now to answer: use shortcut shift +1 and it will be highlighted as follow up.


Expand the category you wish to work on in your inbox. Aim should be that it is empty 80% of the time (when you are active) (pareto principle)



 Step 3: For longer issues that you either are handling in a specific project OR simply waiting for counterpart to reply back move that to “Waiting for” folder. You can also create a keyboard shortcut “Quick Steps” for that in outlook – I use Ctrl+Shift+3


Step 4. Review waiting for folder once every day.

Step 5: create automatic rules for Waiting for:

For examples when you know that you need a reply from someone you can ask outlook to automatically move your sent email to your waiting for folder, with a smart trigger in your signature. I created a rule searching all emails for: [w]  So when I have emails I need to follow up I created a signature with [w] in it so those emails automatically will be in my Waiting for folder.

or second best use FollowUpthen – great service for follow up emails and we have discussed it in detail in our Evernote Post

Step 6. Enjoy your new found freedom and focus on the things you love.

“Email is a black hole for information”

Call to Action:

implement one of the above techniques in your email management… TODAY!

Let us know your best tips for optimizing email management.



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