Making the Most of Email

The Problem

It is not uncommon to have several email addresses. What may be less common (or maybe not) was my approach of randomly selecting one of my three email addresses with little consistency when prompted for it in person or when subscribing to a service. As you can imagine, this resulted in my incoming mail being spread all around these addresses with few patterns to be found.

This came to be a problem. I would never know what to expect when looking through a single of my mailboxes, leading to excessive context switching. In one of my accounts, the mailbox real estate was being shared between github notifications, emails from friends, newsletters, and banking invoices. After learning that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time”, I knew it would be a worthwhile investment to figure out what kind of mail should go to what address (Meyer).


To me it makes sense to think of email as a crowdsourced todo list, so why not approach it with this in mind. I found inspiration by looking towards Bernt Hansen and his of GTD with emacs org mode.

His system revolves around the idea that “Tasks are separated into logical groupings or projects. Use separate org files for large task groupings” in order to reduce the mental gymnastics necessary to navigate a single org file.

Instead of org files, though, I was making use of email addresses. I could have went the route of email folders, but it has the downside of needing to set up forwarding/tagging rules after receiving emails. By using addresses, I can create these forwarding/tagging rules with my choice of email address before even receiving any emails.

The next step was to identify the types of emails I was receiving. Upon searching through my mailboxes, I found that I could fit all my mail into three equivalency classes, each of which I can assign a single address. They are as follows:

  • Personal
    • Communicating with friends
    • Newsletter subscriptions
    • Side projects
  • School
    • Course related emails
    • School clubs
  • Logistical
    • Bills
    • Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
    • Housing
    • etc

Making the Switch

Transitioning is a bit of a chore as I have to update mailing addresses in order to redirect mail into its appropriate “org file”, but I think the benefits will begin to outweigh the downsides in just a few weeks. I’ll finally have an idea of what to expect when reading from a mailbox, and won’t have to deal with context switching.

Thanks for stopping by, and let me know your thoughts and suggestions! Next up, zero inbox :)

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