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The Systems That Help Me Deal With Email Overload

When you add up all the email I get in my home and work accounts, I get hundreds of emails each day.

As Tim Ferris likes to say, email is everyone else’s priorities for your time. And frankly, email overload is something I struggle with.

I’m sure I’m not alone. Maybe you have hundreds or thousands of unread emails nagging at your psyche.

Over the last several months. I’ve seen several high profile people declaring “email bankruptcy.” They’ve simply admitted defeat and deleted all their emails.

That’s not an option for me. And that’s probably not an option for you.

So, I’m writing this with the hopes that some piece of my insane email workflow will bring you closer to this…


…inbox zero.

I’m going to lift the veils and show you how I achieve this, certainly not every day, but enough.

My Best Email Advice

My best email advice is to stay out of email at least a couple hours per day. I don’t think your boss’s expectation is you are in your email waiting for his or her message. I think the expectation is you are getting something done. That’s why I typically reserve the first few hours of my day (at least until 10am) to have my email closed.

If you don’t read someone’s email until 10am, the world is not going to explode.

The Problem With Outlook

I no longer use Microsoft Outlook. Yeah, I used it for years. But Outlook, at least older versions, has a hard time dealing with large email accounts. And mine is several gigabytes. My Outlook got to be so slow and unresponsive, we had to get a divorce.

When I did use Outlook, I used the Outlook GTD Plugin, which does some of the stuff I’ll tell you about.

Bring It, Email!

If you are going to deal with email, you might as well deal with them all. So, I have all my email accounts go into one email client, Apple’s Mail (commonly referred to

At this point, most of it is garbage. I turned off Apple’s spam filter and installed my own, Spam Sieve.

Spam Sieve probably takes care of 95% of my email. And I am BRUTAL about marking stuff as spam.

People are always coming up to me and saying, “Hey, we sent you our newsletter. It gets to everyone else at your firm, but it never gets through to you.”

My response is always, “Why would I want your firm newsletter?” Nobody has ever given me a good response.

If it’s not going to help me get something done (including helping people), or help me do something more effectively, I don’t want to see it. To me, spam is what I don’t care to see.

Rules Rule

Whatever email left in my system then gets hit by a bunch of rules.

The most important is one I learned from a busy executive. Every time I’m CC’d on an email, it gets sent to my “Read/Review” folder. If it was critical to my life, it would have been sent to me. I’ll get to it eventually.

Every newsletter I’ve subscribed to goes into a “Read/Review Personal” folder.

All those emails from LinkedIn get sent to their own folder. Man, LinkedIn sends a ton of email!

And all the random RFP notifications go into another folder.

Certain people who email me are defined as VIPs in my system, so their emails get flagged as important.

Again, this all happens automatically through a series of rules. Every email client has rules, Outlook and Gmail included. Don’t be afraid to use them.

What’s left is the email I’ll have to deal with. And even after all of that, the number of emails is still not insignificant. And that’s where two really neat tools come in.

The Email Game

What’s going to happen to these emails in my inbox? Well, a couple things.

  • I’ll reply to some and be done with it.
  • I’ll reply and await a response.
  • It will prompt me to do something.
  • It will prompt me to ask someone else to do something.
  • I’ll read it and delete it.
  • I’ll glance at it and mark it as spam.

Think of this as a game. The game is to get these emails out of my inbox. Not necessarily out of my email application, but out of my inbox. That’s the goal.

In reality, most of these emails end up staying in my system…just not in my inbox. Trust me, I probably delete less than you do.


Back to those really cool tools. Where one ends and the other one begins is a bit hazy. But I’ll try to explain the best I can.

With a few keystrokes (and sometimes without any), MailActOn simply applies rules to any email message I have selected. For example, remember I said I have this folder of random RFP announcements. In the video below, MailActOn uses a bunch of keywords to filter these emails, only leaving the ones I might be remotely interested in.

I mainly use MailActOn to quickly send email into several main folders:

  • @Home
  • @Work
  • @Action
  • @Taxes

We live in a world of search, so you don’t really need a ton of different folders. And later, I’ll show you how these email essentially organize themselves once they are in the folders.

Outbox Rules, Canned Responses, and Scheduled Email, Oh My.

MailActOn includes a powerful set of outbox actions. So, I don’t just use inbox rules. I also use outbox rules.

For example, I want to capture conversations with my business contacts in my CRM (which these days is Zurmo ). I set an outbox rule that says when the “To:” field has an email address that doesn’t include “” or “” or “,” automatically BCC a special email address. This special email account adds that email message as an activity to the appropriate record in my Zurmo system.

I’m not going to get too detailed about this, but needless to say I automatically generate a record of my conversations with business contacts in my CRM.

I also use MailActOn to send canned responses to people. For example, I have a rule that sends a thank you response.

MailActOn can also schedule your emails. This is great when I’m emailing people I can guarantee will not email back the first time. I’ll send an email, then immediately schedule another followup email to be sent three days later.

Another great way to use scheduled emails is when someone says, “Follow up with me in a month.” Wow, now I have to remember to do that? No way. I’ll just write that email now and schedule it to be sent in a month.


In a nutshell, Mailtags organizes my email so nothing gets lost. It does this by assigning keywords, tickle dates, and projects to emails.

Here’s my most powerful example. Let’s say I send you an email and I know I want a reply in the next three days. I’ll send you the email and tag it with “@Waiting” and assign a tickle date of three days from now.

If and when you respond, the “@Waiting” tag will turn into a “@Reply” tag. That way I know I’m no longer waiting for a reply.

If you don’t reply, that message will eventually land in an area of my system called “Today.” These are the emails I must follow up on today.


This is, by far, the coolest part of my system.

I can tag any email with any keyword. For example, people all over the world are always sending my boss technical questions after he presents a webinar or writes an article. He often copies me on the emails answering these questions.

I’ll tag some of these emails as “Content.” I know these emails can someday be turned into articles or blog posts.

Through MailTags, I can also tag emails to one of the many projects I’m working on.

I don’t need to have seperate folders for different projects. MailTags creates an area in my email that automatically organizes my email by project.

After I tag emails, I can use MailActOn to quickly file email conversations in my @Work or @Home folders. Again, even though I just dumped all these emails in one or two folders, MailTags automatically organizes them for quick retrieval. Plus, I can also search specifically for tags.

It’s kind of complicated, but that’s my system. Maybe some of the concepts or tricks I use might be useful for you.

And speaking of you, how do you deal with email overload? Do you get too many emails? Does it frustrate you? How do you deal with it?

Let us know by sharing a comment!

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The Present and Future of Business Development in the A/E/C Industry

I struggled with whether or not I should publish this next podcast. The audio isn’t great. But after a ton of editing and post processing, I think I’ve got it listenable. And I think the topic and conversation is important enough to post in this less than perfect state.

My guest on this podcast is Scott Braley, one of the people behind the Society of Marketing Professional Services Foundation’s book, “A/E/C BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT – The Decade Ahead.”

Scott details how the book, and research, came together; what was left on the cutting room table; why the book is so important; and who should read it.

It is a very interesting conversation and I hope you like it.

Depending on where you are reading this: you can listen to the podcast below, at this episode’s page (where you can also download the mp3), or by subscribing through iTunes.


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