E-mail management—How to set up your e-mail castle

Our senior editor, Sandra Gerth, gives advice on how to set up your e-mail castle and manage your e-mail account in ways that are guaranteed to save you a lot of time. In part one, we established when and for how long to check your e-mail, but how do you manage your e-mail within that time? Here are some tips and tricks for an effective setup and management of your e-mail account:

Your e-mail castle

Have all your in-boxes in one location

Most people I know have multiple e-mail addresses. I have six—two for my editing, one for my nonfiction writing, two for my fiction writing, and a personal one. If you have several e-mail accounts too, set them up so that all of your e-mails are funneled into one location and you don’t need to waste time by logging into multiple accounts. I use Microsoft Outlook to manage my e-mail accounts, for example.

Set up folders

Create folders (or labels, if you use Gmail) that help you organize your e-mail. Just don’t overdo it by using too many different folders. As I suggest in my book Time Management for Writers, you might want to start with four folders:

  • To do for anything that requires you to take action (including e-mails you still need to answer),
  • waiting for e-mails for which you’re awaiting a response,
  • to read for things that you want to read later but that don’t need a response, e.g., newsletters,
  • reference for things you want to keep for reference.

If you put an @ symbol before the name, e.g., @to do, the folder will be sorted at the top of your list of folders for easier access.

Create filters

Most e-mail programs allow you to set up filters that sort a certain type of e-mails into a particular folder so that they don’t clog up your in-box. For example, I subscribe to a lot of blogs and newsletters about writing and publishing, so instead of having them clutter my in-box, I set up a filter that sends e-mail from these senders into the read folder. I do the same for messages from the Yahoo! groups on writing I belong to. They automatically go into a folder titled Yahoo groups.


Instead of just deleting newsletters, e-zines, and blogs you no longer read, unsubscribe. There’ll be a link to unsubscribe at the bottom of each newsletter. You could also use UnRollMe, a free tool that works with Gmail and Yahoo. It lists all your subscriptions in a single e-mail so that you can unsubscribe from any you no longer want to receive with just a few clicks.

Your e-mail castle

Turn off social media notifications

Set up your social media sites so you don’t receive e-mail notifications. Instead, log in to your social media platforms at scheduled times.

Use Skype or the phone

For conversations that would just lead to a lot of back-and-forth messages, use Skype or call by phone instead of e-mailing.

Create templates

If you often find yourself answering the same questions repeatedly, e.g., when is your next book coming out, or often write similar e-mails, e.g., thank-you notes for reviews, write templates that you can then adjust and personalize each time you use them. Depending on what e-mail service you use, you could either save them as templates (Outlook), canned responses (Gmail), or send the text in an e-mail to yourself and transfer it from the sent folder to a template folder. Then just copy and paste them into an e-mail whenever you want to use them.

Use the one-touch rule

Never read the same e-mail twice. Many people read an e-mail and then close it again and let it sit in their in-box without doing anything about it. Then they’ll have to read them again later. Get into the habit of processing e-mail instead of checking e-mail. If you open it, take action and get it out of your in-box.

Sandra Gerth is a writer and an editor who divides her time between writing her own books and helping other writers revise and polish theirs. She’s also the author of a series of books for writers and will be holding master classes on writing and time management during the first Lesvos Lesfic event in June 2016.

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  1. Cindy Rizzo May 11, 2016 at 20:59 - Reply

    I use Outlook for work, Gmail (3 different addresses going to one place) for everything personal. Instead of folders, I use Outlook’s Categories for Reference, Action, Read Later. I use folders for the things I want to keep.

    In Gmail I use tags a lot and star and tag each email I need to either save (like airline and hotel reservations) or do something with (to do). This way I never have any unread emails, keep what I need, and follow-up on stuff when I have more time.

    • Sandra Gerth May 12, 2016 at 10:27 - Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Cindy. It seems as if you have found a system that works well for you. It’s not so different from how I do it; different e-mail programs just different options.

  2. […] part two of our series on e-mail management, our senior editor, Sandra Gerth, talked about how to set up your e-mail account more effectively. But now that you live in the e-mail castle of your dreams, how can you sort your e-mail riches […]

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