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How I work: Staying on the offense with email

With the use of a handful of helpful tools and techniques, I’m able to ensure that no email can slip through the cracks.

Email is awful. It’s a beast of a technology that’s thirty years old and definitely doesn’t conform to most of how the world operates today. But no matter how much we decry its antiquity, unfortunately it’s still the primary way that business communication happens.

Tool: Gmail & Google Apps

Obviously I can’t talk about the tools without mentioning my mail provider of choice. Google seems to always be leaps and bounds beyond other mail providers in terms of the technology they’re developing. Unfortunately some organizations still find the need to use Exchange & Outlook – to the unfortunate souls required to use things other than Gmail I say this: “I’m dreadfully sorry.”

Technique: Treating your inbox like a “to do” list

I’ve found business email to fall under three typical categories: actionable, conversational, informational. Here’s how I treat them:


This is a “to do” list item. These kinds of emails are messages where a certain action is required to be performed. I will either choose to perform that action immediately, or defer it to a later date (more on how later) – depending on the nature of the action. Sometimes I’m “blocked” from performing this kind of action – such as in situations where I’m waiting on someone else to accomplish something. In these cases I either “star” the item, or use a timer to return it to my inbox when the required items might have been received. One could also put these emails in a “waiting” label or folder. Boomerang and Mailbox are tools that help me manage this “to do” list of email – both are described below.


Just like it sounds – these are ongoing discussions where there isn’t necessarily any action that needs to take place. I like to use email to communicate as opposed to instant messaging in a lot of circumstances because I’m able to have these conversations asynchronously. This way they don’t interrupt my day, or my workflow. These kinds of conversations I’m able to defer for hours at a time while I’m getting other things done.


Informational emails that are confirmations that something got done, or situations where something is simply needed to be known. They will typically come up for me when I am wanting a report on the completion of a task, or something similar. Informational emails will rarely require a response, but in some cases a response may be necessary for clarification, or confirmation of receipt.

Tool: Sanebox

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Technique: Don’t constantly check and send email

It’s an easy trap to fall into, but you should never constantly be checking and responding to your email. Email is asynchronous communication and you should be thankful for that.

Morning/waking up

This is triage time. I go through my inbox and make sure that I’ve deferred any email that didn’t require immediate action in the morning.

Start of my workday

Now I can take action on all of the email that it makes sense to. I’m also likely going to start sending out new emails at this time.

Post-lunch check-in

Again, this is a triage moment but in some cases I’ll take a bit more action on the inbox than the morning typically.


At this time, I’m attempting to get my inbox to zero as much as possible. This includes deferring emails that don’t need action right now, or trying to take final action on things that require my immediate attention.

Tool: Boomerang

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Boomerang for Gmail
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Ben, Harper, (not Ben Harper, but two separate people) and I having a conversation whereby Harper asks me to follow up later lest he ends up being lazy and forgets.

Tool: Mailbox

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Mailbox for iOS

My secret sauce: “No Response” Gmail Plugin

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Tweet by me (@mg)
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No Response Gmail Script

Post-send reminders

With this script enabled, if an email doesn’t get a response sometime in the time period I’ve set up, it gets labeled with “No Response.” Now, once a day I go through that filter and make sure that I’ve either applied a Boomerang timer to it, or use the Gmail keyboard shortcut “Y” to dismiss that label. It’s one extra step that I’m needing to take when going through email, but it’s something that makes sure I’m always able to stay on offense.


These tools and techniques aren’t for everyone, but they’ve worked wonders for me. Previously I would miss email, forget to respond to things, send out important messages that garnered no response, etc. Not anymore. It’s so much easier to stay on top of my inbox with this workflow now, and I’ll never go back. Though I do wish that Boomerang and Mailbox would simply combine forces (along with the “No Response” feature) because that would be unstoppable.

Epilogue: Some additional tricks & tools


HelloSign is a tool where I’m able to sign contracts and documents right from my Gmail inbox, all without leaving that interface. It saves me from the tediousness of printing off a document, signing it, scanning it, and sending back. Instead, signing documents are as easy as a couple button pushes with it.


It’s pretty common to receive email from people that you don’t know. That’s where Rapportive comes in. It sits alongside your email messages and shows you the profile of the person that’s emailed you. By searching LinkedIn and other places, it’s able to put together a comprehensive view of who’s communicating with you. Another nicety is that you’re able to hit one button to search all correspondance with that person.

Gmail Labs: Send & Archive

Within Gmail labs, you’re able to add a “send and archive” feature to your compose window. This means that within a single action, you’re able to get an email out of your inbox as soon as the email is sent – a feature that’s been super crucial in my attempt to speed up my emailing.

Gmail Labs: Undo Send

Have you ever made a mistake in an email, or inadvertently emailed someone you didn’t mean to? Of course you did. That’s where Gmail’s Undo Send comes in. It adds a buffer of time after pressing send where the email doesn’t actually send, and gives you an opportunity to “undo” that action. I’ve saved myself some serious embarrassment sometimes because of this.

Written by

Dad, Midwesterner, product designer, coffee snob, craft beer lover, GIF enthusiast.

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