How I Stopped Email Overload

Conor Neill
Oct 26, 2015 · 3 min read

“Inbox zero?”

I, personally, haven’t seen anything near zero for a decade.

Brendon Burchard keeps telling us: “Email is a wonderful list of priorities: the problem is that they are other people’s priorities”.

Email is a hugely useful tool, and also a massive black hole that can suck up my time and energy. I haven’t tried to manage email for the last few years on the view that almost nothing of great value ever arrives or is achieved purely through email. Anything important for me is achieved by getting face to face with the key person.

I have found a simple email idea that is working for me. It is not complex — which was often the failure of the “Getting Things Done” type systems for me. I think if I already had the systematic disciplines that you need to follow the process, then I wouldn’t need the getting things done system anyway. I am not organised. I never have been. It takes enormous effort on my part to keep things tidy.

The Optional Folder

Ari Miesel shared this one simple idea for email management that I have been using successfully now for 2 weeks.

I have 1 new folder — called the “Optional” folder. I have some rules that automatically move new email to this folder if they contain anything similar to the word “unsubscribe”.

Here are the actual rules that my Apple Mail program uses to move email into the optional folder:

Basically anything that has the word “unsubscribe” anywhere in the email is probably a newsletter, an offer or something that is not urgent. In my own case I have various versions of unsubscribe in spanish and english and have been tweaking these rules so that today the only emails that remain in my inbox are ones that are sent to me from a specific individual. It allows me to focus on the emails that do really need my attention.

I often do a scan through the optional folder, but with an open, curious mind that is not stressed by the thought that an email might be important and require my full attention.

Thanks to Ari!

Ari Miesel describes the plan here on his blog. Ari is on a mission to be efficient with our time. Check out Ari’s TEDx talk for more. I met Ari when I was at the Growth Summit Europe for my annual dose of inspiration, wise ideas and reflection at IESE Business School a couple of weeks ago.

Do you have any email tips that are 1) extremely simple and b) help you focus on the important emails? I would love your thoughts in the comments.

Three More On Getting Control of Email:

Originally published at on June 27, 2015.

    Conor Neill

    Written by

    President Vistage Spain, Lecturer at IESE Business School, Entrepreneur, Author and Father to two great daughters. Great life motto Memento Mori. Carpe Diem

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