It’s embarrassing, really.

After all – how old is email?

It’s, like, properly old. Email arrived well before the internet – over 50 years ago.

And I’ve only just worked out how to use it properly.

What if you’re using it wrong, too? I’ve got some good news: my new email routine has saved me heaps of time and removed the chance of missing important messages.

It might do the same for you.

A quick note on email

It is still a brilliant form of communication.

I hate it when people say, “oh, don’t bother trying to get hold of me via email – I hardly ever check my inbox”.

If they’re referring to their personal inbox – fine, I get that. But a business email account is still an incredibly useful commodity and an awesome way to communicate.

I use mine religiously. It’s part to-do list, part collaboration tool. Without it, I wouldn’t get half of the work I need to keep my business profitable and I’d lose contact with most of my clients.

So… how was I using it incorrectly up until now?

How NOT to use email

I used to have a fundamental disregard for the way email is managed. When I clicked ‘archive’, I didn’t have a clue where it went, or how that impacted the email accounts on my many devices.

This is in part because I run multiple email accounts for my business. At present, I have three accounts which are absolutely vital to me and, obviously, they all reside on different services.

These services all have different ways of dealing with archived emails. But why is the archiving such a big deal, I hear you ask.

Well, my complete ignorance of how it works led me to manually archive messages over the years, and that means important emails were strewn all over the place.

Equally, my way of managing incoming email was always to leave it unread to signify that I needed to deal with it. Nine times out of ten, that worked fine, but email clients can be a little finicky about this sort of thing, and they do occasionally mark messages as read even when I’ve told them not to.

That meant I missed or forgot important emails. And I hated it.

Something had to change.

How I use email to speed up my working day

As it turns out, the correct way to use email is stupidly simple.

Here’s what I do.

As messages come into my inbox, I read them throughout the day, ad-hoc. I appreciate there’s lots advice about treating email like regular snail mail by only checking it once or twice a day, but that makes me nervous; I like to be on top of what’s coming into my inbox and aware of the ways in which I’m required that day.

However, I no longer mark them as unread once I’ve checked my emails. Instead, every message which needs further attention remains in my inbox until I’m ready to tackle it. Then, when tackled (i.e. replied to or actioned elsewhere), I archive the email.

That’s right – I hit that ‘archive’ button which I’ve feared for so long. I simply put trust in the tech and assume that those emails will end up in an archive I can easily access in the future.

And you know what? I can! I’ve also realised I rarely access archived emails anyway, so really didn’t need to be quite so pathetic about it all.

What… you wanted more?

That’s it; that’s my new method for email management. Simple, right?

It results in three inboxes which only ever contain stuff I need to action, or follow up. Everything else disappears from view, and I’m confident it has been dealt with.

Email doesn’t have to be hard, as I’ve realised. That’s why this guide is about as simple as it gets. I hope you have a similar epiphany.

I’d love to hear how you approach email and whether or not you agree with my belief that it still remains a vital – if misunderstood – form of communication in 2020. Get involved in the comments!