The way I process my email is as simplified as it can be. It is really designed to help me focus on the message itself to understand what it means to me i.e., action, information or nothing.

However, I work for a huge American company and email is, as in most corporation of similar size, out of control. Consequently I cannot allow everything to enter my inbox, at least not if I want to have a chance to process emails diligently, keep my sanity, and do the other aspects of the job I am hired to do.

mail-app-rulesAs email traffic grew and grew over the past years, the rules protecting my inbox became stronger and stronger. Today, I’d like to share the two strongest rules I have in my arsenal against the corporate email storm. These two rules alone route 65-70% of all emails around my actual inbox, mark them as read and get them out of my primary focus.

Mailing or Distribution Lists

While we have good collaboration platforms in our company, the wast majority of information is still spread by email. Technically you need to opt-in for most mailer lists yourself, but some people are far to kind and do it for you. Before you say ‘unsubscribe’ you are part of at least 40 internal distribution lists. Unfortunately a maximum of 10% of emails distributed via mailer lists are valuable and relevant.

mail-app-mailer-list-ruleWith the exception of some selected distribution lists e.g., my staff distribution or the one of my manager, all emails which don’t have my email address specifically as a recipient get marked read and filed into a separate folder when they arrive. I look at the mailing list folder every other day and press the delete key very, very often.

You may have some mailing or distribution lists that are important to you e.g., virtual management or leadership distribution lists where critical information is shared and you want to make sure you see these emails right away. Simply include them in the rule as I have done in my example.

Carbon Copies (CC)

While the mailing/distribution list rule may not be too new for many of you, my ‘Carbon Copies’ rule may sound fairly radical for some.

I truly believe carbon copies is one of the worst aspects of email and leads to most of the traffic. People just add and add to the CC list: Their manager, their director, three colleagues… so on and so forth. Everyone adds more people and the resulting number of emails grows exponentially.

Very, very rarely there is any valuable information in these emails. Particular as a manager you get CC’ed for many different reasons, most of them not at all requiring you to read the email itself.

Basically this rule is executed after all mailing/distribution lists are already filtered out and looks at emails that have my email address in the ‘CC’ field, not in the ‘To’ field and are not from my primary customer. Particular the emails from my customer is something I definitely like to see in my inbox, even if I am just CC’ed.

mail-app-cc-ruleIf you have more than one customer just add all the domain names from your customers as an exception to the rule. Alternatively you can create (smart) groups in Address Book, which you then exclude from the rule.

The rule takes all the remaining CC-emails, marks them as read and moves them to a dedicated ‘CC’ folder. Shockingly enough I process — well, looked at — this folder even less frequent than my mailing lists folder.

The truth is that I basically stopped reading or even processing my CC emails for quite some time now and nothing ever happened. The world is still turning, my team is doing very well and nothing has fallen between the cracks. It’s actually liberating for me as well as my staff and peers as I stopped worrying about or disrupting activities that were well in hand.

Should the topic be something I am or have been actively involved in I still see the CC emails in my inbox as I tend to have ‘Organise by conversation’ turned on in which also pulls related emails from other folders when displaying the contextual thread of a message.

40 emails in your inbox instead of 200

On busy days I can get 200 or more emails. The two rules described in this post filter out about 140 of them. A few others I have employed bring the load of my inbox down to 40-50 emails at max. And these emails are the really important ones, the ones that required focused reading and processing, which happens using my simple Inbox Zero workflow.