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I'm constantly behind (and sometimes WAY behind - like 6 months behind) with my personal email. I'm pretty good at keeping my work email under control (my inbox is frequently empty) using a GTD-like methodology, but I've found that this doesn't work well for me with my personal email.

I am very easily distracted so I using the leechblock extension for Firefox, I have all distracting sites blocked at all times except for the first 8 minutes of each hour. This gives me a pomodoro-like break each hour (I tried 5 minutes every half-hour but found I prefer focusing on work for a longer period of time, and then having more time to browse the distracting sites).

However, these 8 minutes aren't really enough time do anything useful with my inbox. What I end up doing when the timer goes off is: go to the bathroom, grab a drink, check if any new emails came in, and check a few other sites (stocks, sometimes facebook, etc.).

If there's an email that's needs a reply fairly urgently, I'll respond to that and use up most of the 8 minutes, but this is maybe one out of every 20 or 30 emails.

After work, I'm either getting home late (so I'm tired and pretty much go straight to bed), or with my girlfriend (so computer time isn't really an option). And even if I did have the free time at home, the last thing I want to do after sitting in front of a computer at work for 10 hours is to do it again at home.

So really, the only time I get to these emails is if I can make my way to a coffee shop on the weekend (maybe once every couple weeks), and even then I can spend a couple hours max and I only make it through half of the emails at most.

I'm looking for suggestions of any kind (e.g. psychological or pragmatic), and am curious about how others manage their personal email. I think the distinction between personal and professional is important, because if I spent as much time on my personal email at work as I do my work email, I'd probably be fired!

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If it's friends/family, can you respond in other ways? Mention the topics when you next see them in person / talk on the phone with them? – jozzas Oct 18 '12 at 3:31
Set up your personal email address setting to forward the emails to your work email address. – user221287 Oct 25 '12 at 12:56
Requesting your friends/family to send sms is a good idea. Also, a lot of websites allow free sms sending from internet to mobile. ex: – user221287 Oct 25 '12 at 12:58

TL;DR: Get rid of the garbage (with filters) and get used to the fact that you cannot use your mail as you could when you were on highschool.

Here in my company, access to 'personal stuff' (Facebook, Twitter, mail, etc) is denied / blocked. Of course, if you have a mobile phone, you can check it once in a while.

There are, on the other side of spectrum, people that works with full access to personal stuff.

So, what it means? It boils down to get used to it. Anyone adapts oneself to the environment, sooner or later, as long as there's will to.

Ok, this part you're aware of... now, the second part: how to avoid a flood of (theoretically important) mails?

I'd give you two suggestions:

  • Fine tune your mail rules. Gmail is great for this. Defining the rules for what's important and what's not, grouping mails by read / unread and so on.
  • Keep focus on what's important. Is always nice to receive the latest news, but if you're having a hard time managing your mail, such maillists instead of helping, will let you frustrated (as you are now).
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+1 Basically what I would have said. Also, here's how I fine-tune my e-mail filters: – John Oct 17 '12 at 22:12
Thanks. And yes, I know I can't spend a lot of time - that's the essence of my question. Sadly just about everything automated is filtered out already too - I'm insane about creating these filters (I have tons) and it works well - I get about 100 a day, have a canned gmail search to see them, skim a few per day. These are pretty much all personal emails (10-15 per day) from friends/family/recruiters which for the most part require personal responses. – Jer Oct 17 '12 at 23:12

I tend to work 9 - 12 hours a day in my main job, then am on two professional committees, moderate two Stack Exchange sites, play in a gigging rock band and am raising 3 kids and still don't find a problem with emails, either at work or at home. And I get around 4-500 emails a day at work and maybe 150 a day at home. I think a lot of it is down to personal discipline, but there are some techniques you can use as well.

  • First up - it sounds like your main problem is not email volumes, but your personal focus. You are easily distracted. If browsing those websites doesn't help you in progress towards your personal goals then just don't visit them. For example - Facebook. It can be a time sink. I might have a quick look at it at start and end of the day, and maybe a quick look on my lunch break, but to be honest, if it took any time I would just not use it. Have a serious go at writing down a 5 year plan, then a 2 year plan and then a 1 year plan. On this plan, what do you need to do to get you there, and what will detract from it? Don't do activities which will hinder your plan!

  • @Tiago's comments about using an intelligent mail system like gMail are very appropriate for automatically reducing the amount of mail processing you will need to do. Work out categorisations (urgent, once a day, once a week etc) and configure rules. There should be a rule to highlight email from important individuals or with an important subject line.

  • Make a regular pass of your inbox looking for two types of email: the 'might as well delete' as you either won't get to it or don't care, and the 'might as well answer right now' which might not be urgent, but are quick and easy. This helps clear your inbox.

  • Do you need to respond to every recruiter? I vet recruiters quite aggressively, and when hiring I only go to my preferred recruiters. When looking for a job I have an even smaller list of trusted recruiters and I only respond to them.

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Another idea for recruiters is to have a canned response in gmail. (This was in google labs when I started using it, you may need to go there to turn it on.) Then replying to recruiters "thank you, but I'm not looking and would like to be taken off your mailing list" becomes a 10 second job. – Jeanne Boyarsky Oct 21 '12 at 1:12

I would suggest a few things. The first is what really cut down personal email for me. KILL those dreadful newsletters. I unsubscribed to everything automatic from app makers, businesses and airlines. Just do it, now suddenly my inbox is way less busy.

Hire a virtual assistant to take care of your personal email. Tim Ferriss has some really good advise about this in his book the 4-hour workweek. He basically gets a phone call from the assistant every night at 10pm with a summary of the things that were important from his email. Gung-Ho - for sure - but surely efficient!

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