Practicing better email

The Practitioner
Share this content

Feeling somewhat chastened by my recent admission of poor email management, so I resolved to do something about it. Here are a few of the things I am trying:

1. I have to accept that I'm not that important - so I don't need to read and respond to every email as it arrives. I am trying to handle emails in a couple of blocks of time each day. One tip I read, which I am struggling to follow, is that you shouldn't deal with email first thing in the morning. This is a good time when you're fresh and undistracted to get on with more important jobs. Email - so they say - can wait. I agree with the principle, but it's a tough one to follow.

2. Turn off distracting email alerts - I turned off the audible alert years ago but I left the envelope icon at the bottom of the screen. I have turned that off too, and after an initial period of anxiety I feel less hassled by email.

3. Email isn't the only means of communication - if something really is urgent a client will phone or a colleague will stick their head round your door and ask their question in person. Sometimes it's just nicer to have that human inter-action.

4. Handle each email once only - my wife drives me nuts with our post, she opens it, read it and then puts each item back in its envelope for me to read - or more likely throw away - later! Don't do that with email. If you follow step 1 above, you should only be reading email when you have time to deal with it. I try to follow the 'Four Ds' principle with all emails - 

  • deal with it, if it's not going to take too long
  • delete it if it doesn't need action or have any future value
  • delegate it, if it needs action but doesn't need me to do it
  • defer, if it needs more time. In that case I tag it with a reminder date and time. If it's from a client I send an acknowledgement and let them know when I plan to reply.

5. Junk email is a distraction I could do without, so I use a lot of Rules in Outlook to delete regular stuff that gets through our spam filter. If it's just junk mail I try to unsubscribe from legitimate lists, others I add to the Black List so they get shredded automatically before I see them.

6. Get rid of the scroll bar - when you have finished with your Inbox it should fit on a single screen, no scrolling down a long list of emails. If I want to keep an email but don't plan to deal with it immediately I'll move it into a Follow Up folder so it's not constantly in front of me when I check my Inbox.

7. Save important client emails - we use a normal Windows file structure on our sever for all client files, outgoing post, working papers, etc, so I save a PDF of client emails in the correspondence folder so any team member can read them. I usually give the file a fairly long, descriptive name so that it's obvious what it's about. The free Cute PDF printer is ideal for this if you don't have one already.

I feel I have made progress, even in the last week. I am still struggling with the temptation to read and reply to emails continuously throughout the day but I'm determined not to get sucked back in now I have started.

Any other email rehab tips would be greatly appreciated, please post a Comment below.


Please login or register to join the discussion.

05th Oct 2011 06:55


I moved from Oultook to Gmail about 8 months ago. My key reason for the move was because Gmail is online.

Gmail is excellent in dealing with junk mail. All the junk email does end up in spam. In addition, I have never had a non spam email end up in spam.

Overall I find Gmail is better than Outlook on email management. Though it does not have all the Outlook functionality. Google does keep improving Google Apps.



Thanks (0)
06th Oct 2011 13:35

GMail & DPA



I hope you're not using Gmail as your business account; if you are, you need to think very hard about the impact the Data Protection Act has on it.

Thanks (0)
06th Oct 2011 14:12

Management of emails

With reference to your point (7) about saving important client emails to folders so that they are not lost if your email service fails, I have just purchased Mail to File Easy (works with Windows and Outlook) from

I'm really impressed with it and you can try out a demo before you purchase. It has the advantage of saving the emails with the orginal date and you can save into your client folders.

Thanks (0)
to Steve McQueen
07th Oct 2011 12:18

@JeremyNewman - Safe Harbor arrangements

Interesting point Jeremy, but subject to the caveat that any Google data is stored on servers in the US, there is a "safe harbor" agreement in place that offers equivalent recognition to companies in the US under the Data Protection Act 1988.

Here's what an Information Commissioner's Office paper says on the subject: "It has been operational since 1 November 2000 when the US Department of Commerce opened the on-line self certification process for US organisations wishing to notify their adherence to the principles. The scheme creates a voluntary mechanism enabling US organisations to qualify as offering adequate protection for personal data transferred to them from the EU and is recognised by the Commission as providing adequate protection for the transfer of personal data under the terms of the Directive."

Of course, FirstTab might still be advised to check with Google whether any of his gmail data is stored on servers outside the EU or US.

Thanks (0)
07th Oct 2011 14:38

Patriot Act

@John Stockdyk


I used to think Safe Harbor was a good workaround. Unfortunately, the Patriot Act will override it - even Microsoft admits that there is a gaping flaw; see, for example,


To be on the safe side, I'd not want to rely on any US-related service to store client data.

Thanks (0)
By afairpo
07th Oct 2011 15:24

Gmail issue

The biggest problem with using Gmail and Google Apps for business is that you have absolutely no guarantee that Google won't disable the account if they decide you have violated T&Cs (no warning, no appeals - and it could be a hacker accessing your account that causes the problem). If you don't have it all duplicated and backed up on your own computers then you can lose everything. And that will land you in hot water with whoever regulates your professional qualifications (not to mention clients!).

And yes, the Patriot Act does seem to override - Google has recently confirmed that it has passed data stored on its European servers to the US authorities.  The EU is investigating, but don't hold your breath.

ETA: and, going back to the original post, no tips to add - I just wish I could keep up with the email filing etc the way you do!  Answering the stuff is generally fine, it's getting around to filing it afterwards that's the problem!

Thanks (0)