In Defense of Email

“In Defense of Email” was posted with permission from Phil Cooke

It’s not very popular right now, but here’s why it still works for me…

I know, I know, I know – people hate email. And honestly, so do I. There are moments when I get frustrated that my inbox keeps filling up no matter how hard I work to clear it out. It’s a never-ending battle. There are thousands of posts and videos online teaching us how to wrestle email to the ground because it can certainly be a massive time suck.
But the truth is – particularly for someone who travels as much as I do (and for millions working from home) email is still a fantastic way to communicate. It’s flexible, and people don’t expect immediate responses like they do with calls or texts. But the key is making it simple, easy to use, and most important, use it according to YOUR terms, not everyone else’s terms.

I’m by no means an email expert, but to help make your email life a little easier, here are a few suggestions that I’ve learned over the years:

1) Take the time to pick the best email program that works for you. I have Apple Mail, Spark, Outlook, and Mimestream on my computer right now, and I’ve tried plenty of others like Airmail. I’m constantly experimenting to see which app works the best for my processing style. Here are a few thoughts about each:

Apple Mail – Although it doesn’t play well with Gmail, it’s my overall favorite. It’s simple and easy to use, and the keyboard shortcuts are easy and fast. But it’s incredibly slow with Gmail and often drives me crazing waiting for email messages to arrive.

Spark – I love Spark because it has a messaging feature so you can text directly to someone you’re emailing; it has a clean look and has a great feature for managing pre-written template responses. The only reason I haven’t switched is that the keyboard shortcuts are awkward – and keyboard shortcuts help me fly through email.

Outlook – That’s the 400-pound gorilla out there, and it’s nice to have so many features in a single app. But the truth is, I don’t need all those features. If you’re a power user, then God bless you, but I want simple, clean, and fast.

Mimestream – An ex-Apple engineer created this, so it’s the closest to how Apple Mail operates, but it also works MUCH faster with Gmail.

2) Get your folder system down. In the past, it was common to have 20, 30, or more email folders as people tried to sort their emails by project, event, client, personal, family, or other topics. However, as email search has improved, there’s no reason to have that many folders. I would say that constantly searching through a long list of folders for a particular email takes more time than simply searching your entire email archive.

The “Stack System” is the current folder system I’m using, and I like it. For me, I’ve cut back to a handful of folders like Current Projects, Travel, Speaking, Reference, and a few other temporary folders I use for immediate issues I’m working on right now. There are a million possible folder combinations, but my only advice is to do your best to limit the number. Otherwise, scrolling through a long list of folders defeats the purpose of finding emails quickly.

3) For email processing, there’s nothing like keyboard shortcuts. This is the most important reason I keep using Apple Mail. Aside from its shortcomings (like not working well with Gmail) by using keyboard shortcuts, I can process email far faster than with other apps.

4) Keep it short. Email isn’t for writing essays, blog posts, or full-length articles. People are busy and don’t have time to read your long message, so keep it short and to the point. A third of my email messages are all in the “Subject” line. Also, email templates are a lifesaver for those times when you get several similar requests. Just pre-write them and grab them when needed.

5) Remember that how you respond to other people’s emails shapes their attitude about communicating with you. For instance, if you always respond immediately, people will assume you’ll always respond immediately. Email isn’t designed to be instant communication, so don’t set up that expectation with your clients, customers, or co-workers, or it will bite you later.

Email can be a frustrating pain, but when it comes to dealing with clients, my team, and others, it doesn’t interrupt me, allows me to respond when I want, and makes life a lot easier. So until something better comes up, I’m still a fan.

What are the most productive email techniques you’ve discovered?


“In Defense of Email” was posted with permission from Phil Cooke