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July 28, 2014

Ending the Email Treadmill

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I recently came across Zappo CEO, Tony Hsieh’s, “Yesterbox” email method. Yesterbox proposes only answering your emails from the previous day. His method, though extreme, highlights the universal desire to end what he calls the “never ending treadmill” of emails.

When I tell friends that I work at a company that does not use email, their reactions are often ones of shock and envy.
The more I hear these types of responses, the more I realize that “inbox zero” is something most people only dream of, but never believe is truly attainable.

Until your company switches to a service like Zula, here are some ideas that I have used in the never ending quest to end the email war.

Canned Responses

Ever use those template SMS messages in your phone such as “I’m in a meeting?” Well, this is pretty much like that, but better.

Canned Responses, a Gmail Labs feature found in Settings -> Labs -> Canned Responses, allows you to save standard responses that can be inserted into emails with one click.


This is the key to efficient use of email. Take ten minutes to create smart filters by doing a search and then clicking “Create filter with this search.” Emails will then be sorted for you.
You can also add labels to conversations. This can be done automatically using filters to further categorize so that that you can retrieve them more easily at any given time.


This is kind of like the digital version of emptying out your closet of clothing that you haven’t worn in a year.
Remove yourself from all newsletter lists, group emails etc. If you want to subscribe to email newsletters, set up a filter to keep them from creating clutter and allowing you to allot time for looking at them when you aren’t trying to get work done.

Allot blocks of time

Check emails in blocks; you don’t need to check emails every 35 seconds. If you’re the person who peels your eyes open in the morning only to squint at your smartphone to check email, it’s time to stop. I can hear people already saying, “but people expect me to respond immediately!” You can let those people know that you only check email a couple of times a day, and urgent messages should be discussed via phone or messaging service.

Explore alternatives

As mentioned in the last tip, email is often the wrong communication tool for a given task. There are so many apps available right now that will help you collaborate more efficiently, and the phone still hasn’t lost it’s place. No more endless back and forth to plan a meeting that could take a minute if coordinated efficiently!

Accepted forms of engagement for various scenarios could even be made into company policy to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Think about the person reading your email

I recently caught myself predicting responses to my sent emails. It came to a point where I would answer questions that I knew would follow the original message. I surprisingly found this method to dramatically reduce the email ping-pong that we are all too familiar with.

By making sure that my original message was as clear as possible and provided context and answers for all anticipated questions, I cut down on the endless conversation. This may seem like an obvious step, but I’ve noticed that people habitually want to pass the ball back into the recipient’s court rather then end the conversation.

Hope this helps! Did I miss anything? Feel free to let me know.