Controlling your email – without forgetting to respond


I had emailed a good friend and colleague once a couple of years ago, about something relatively unimportant. I was shocked to get an email from him one week later, because in my life if an email went unanswered that long, it wasn’t going to be answered. I asked him how he managed to remember to email me (but clearly not drop everything else to get to it so that he wouldn’t forget). It’s a really simple, but brilliant, system that he used and now I use — the Draft. If I get an email that needs more time than I can spare at that moment to attend to it, I simply start a draft back. I check through my drafts folder a few times a day and get to whatever I can that was put off and try to clear out as much as I can at the end of the evening. I often find that if something has been at the bottom long enough, maybe it wasn’t as important as I initially thought and can go unanswered. Here are a few other rules I’ve accumulated for my own sanity and time efficiency, with regard to email:

  • I never respond to surveys (unless they are clearly really important and I would have an impact)
  • I do not respond to emails from students for which it is clear they are spamming anyone (usually a good indicator is if they address me by the wrong gender)
  • I do not respond to emails soliciting my attendance at a conference, submission to a journal, or request to become the editor of a journal if it is either a) clearly not in my research field, so likely a spam, or b) it is from a predatory journal (see Beall’s list of predatory journals)
  • If it is something that I cannot get to for a while, I’ll let the person know when I will get back to them and I put a reminder on my calendar. This way, it doesn’t stay as a draft in my email for a significantly long period of time.
  • I start a draft, even if it’s an email that doesn’t require a response, but does require me to sit down and put a date/time on my calendar.