Speedmailing: Control your email, don't let it control you

Richard Wolfe
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Urgent emails don't exist – or at least they shouldn't (Source: Getty)

Email is both the boon and bane of nearly every business, a necessary evil that, left unchecked, can control your day and destabilise your work/life balance. Whether it’s the dread of returning from holiday to a wall of bumf, or the Saturday morning spent checking for important missed messages, not being on top of your email can be overbearing.

But the email deluge can be a thing of the past. Setting up your mailbox in a very simple, “action-oriented” structure can help you to use email in a more efficient way.

The concept of speedmailing derives from that of speedreading. Given all the different media we consume, we do a fair amount of reading on a daily basis. Cutting down on the energy it takes to do so while improving your understanding of what you read is a great benefit.

When it comes to email, it is not the technology that needs improving – we’ve reached peak email. It’s our skills and behaviour where the biggest improvements can be made.


The way you organise your email platform can make a staggering difference to freeing up time and energy for other, more important tasks. Using action-oriented structuring to streamline your mail can help achieve this: no more folders per project – just four folders to separate different tasks. A simple structure should allow you to empty your inbox, even on your mobile phone, with little effort.

A good place to start is with a total restructuring of the platform you use to send and receive mail.

Create an archive or, if your mailbox size is adequate, a folder called “Zipped folders” and retire your existing folders. Then crunch your inbox in one go, first putting the tasks from the recent emails into “action folders” and then moving all remaining emails to the single filing folder. Once the inbox is empty, go to the action folder to attend to the tasks with focus. Repeat this twice a day.


Much of speedmailing is about time-efficiency: consider your inbox as the starting point of all tasks. If there’s something you need to do, get it out of your inbox, and into an “action folder”. Once you have decentralised your workload it’s easier to see what needs to be prioritised. With short tasks, for example, if they can be done in one to two minutes, do them immediately to free up your time, and avoid nagging follow-up emails.

Although your inbox should be the starting point of any task in hand, you shouldn’t ever work directly from it – incoming email can distract you from your actual work. Retain focus by eliminating all incoming mail notifications across your devices.

Remember that urgent emails don’t exist – or at least they shouldn’t. An urgent matter should be managed in person, by phone or any other suitable means (perhaps to a team mailbox). This will help you ignore the inbox more and focus fully on your tasks.

The benefits of coming up with a simple email structure is that the brain quickly gets used to it, and will start “programming” a lot of the related decisions into more energy efficient parts of the brain. This will allow you to save your energy to do your job well, and to enjoy your time outside of work – a benefit that will pay off every day.

Speedmailing by Richard Wolfe is out now, published by Pearson, priced £9.99.

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