Having a healthy email relationship

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Do you dread emails? Have you ever tried to think about why you do if the answer to that is yes? I think people hate emails because they think they have little control over it. We get frustrated when we feel we have less control.

Remember Google Inbox? It transformed the relationship a lot of people had with their emails. Beyond its visual appeal, it introduced some amazing features to users that didn’t require a lot of effort that power users would typically apply for an enhanced email experience. Inbox did a lot of things I can’t try to start naming without leaving something out, so I’ll let this video help with that.

With Inbox, people felt like they were able to take back control. It’s the same feeling you get when you figure out financial budgets and plans that work just right for you, or when you figure out the right diet, eating habits, and workout routines that help you live a healthy life.

How do we take back control in a world where there is no Google Inbox to make the problem of emails seem like they have gone away? I would compare what Inbox did to us with emails as what a weight loss tea does without extra effort to get in good eating habits. The weight might come off a little, but we go right back to where we started if we keep the same old habits. Like our health, fitness, and finances, email is somewhat inevitable in our lives and we can either despise it and let it keep control or take back control by learning to work with it. Here are the steps

Step 1: An inventory of your emails

I found that I felt more confident about my home finances when I knew everything that came in and came out of it monthly so well that I started paying a separate bank account monthly to handle all payments, while being confident that no penny will ever leave our primary checking account unless we’re paying a credit card or some other intentional payment triggered by me or my wife. I’ll write more about this in an upcoming article on financial architecture.

The equivalent of this for email is to know every email that come in and out of your inbox, such that if you get added to some newsletter you are not intentional about, you can spot it so quickly and unsubscribe from it or mark it as a spam. This sounds impossible when you first think about it, and it gets even harder depending on your current email situation.

Step 2: Choose your client

Google Inbox was a great email client for a lot of people. You have to discover what constitutes a great client for you. Have you ever gone email client hunting? or do you just stick with the default client that comes with your email provider without knowing what options are available. I think it’s great to stick with the default client of your provider after you’ve come to a conclusion from research, but I have thoughts on sticking only to the first options life gives us. It’s really worth researching what email client to use as they are a part of our lives. I’ve gone from using Outlook, to using Apple Mail, to Airmail, to Polymail, to Canary Mail, and finally to Spark which is my client of choice. I learned something from each of the experiences using all those clients and they helped me make an informed decision on why Spark should be my client of choice.

Spark may not have the default powerful filters that Inbox provided, but it has some default smart folders and an ability to create custom smart folders which are advanced filters. I also love Spark for having the ability to snooze, pin, delegate and a lot of other amazing features the Readdle team keeps adding. They describe some of the features in more detail on this blog on inbox zero which brings us to the third step.

Step 3: Inbox zero wisely

Inbox zero often gets a bad wrap for being a productivity placebo. The claims against it address how it might encourage looking at your email more times than you blink in a day.

I agree it might indeed feel this way. Following my body fitness analogy I’ve used earlier, I would compare this approach to inbox zero-ing as being so much of a fitness junky, that it is an addiction. I do not encourage any form of addiction or obsession, so let’s talk about doing inbox zero right.

In another article by Spark mail client, they describe our email inbox as our desk. What does your desk look like?

Desk with computer keyboard and monitor
Joseph's work desk

On my desk I frequently get statements and bills from accounts we have, I don’t get to those immediately as they come. That’ll be like waiting to receive every single email and taking actions on them in that instant. Doing so will obstruct my workflow for anything else I might have been working on. You do see a book I am currently reading. This is like a pinned email that is not the priority at the time but something I’ll get to. The only things you see on my desk are things I am actively using or find I might be in need of. There’s a notebook, a pen, and a stylus, that I need multiple times a day but not as much as my keyboard and monitors.

I am able to keep my desk clear in a similar way I achieve inbox zero. By delegating the times in a day that I address them. I used to think by simply having my emails go from unread to read, I had them taken care of. But this would be like reading a bill and leaving it right on my desk.

To throughly get a bill of my desk, I put in a drawer of documents. This is what the archive is for emails. To do inbox zero right, you need to perform an action that leads to it getting off your desk. You may snooze it to return at a latter time, you may delete it, reply to it while ongoing, then archive all emails when done.

Spark groups my emails under 3 major categories which are Newsletters, Notifications, and People. Here’s my quick actions that applies for each of these categories. Delete notifications and some notifications, archive others.

In step 1 we addressed keeping an inventory of your inbox. There are times you sign up for a software product and get tricked into receiving their offers and promotion emails. These are classified as notifications and a lot of people hesitate to unsubscribe from them as they think that doing so is somehow detaching from the service, whereas you may still keep notifications while opting out of these newsletters. If you decided to keep these newsletters, they are the newsletters you want to delete as you receive. All other newsletter emails may have content you will want to reference in the future and that is why we archive those.


Following these steps make me feel in control of my email. They may not work for you the exact same way but I hope there’s a thing or two you might be able to derive from them.