Procrastinators Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from chronic procrastination.

how do you manage email traffic?

I've noticed several other PAers also work on mutiple external projects with overlapping timelines, so I'm seeking experience, strength and hope on managing the email traffic this generates.  On a typical day I get 40-60 work-related emails.  In most cases, the sender expects a response that is either immediate, within the next hour or two, or at the very least within the work day (crossing three time zones).

For the last year or so I've been assigning Categories to incoming email and sorting my Inbox by Categories. But I'd like to consider a new organizing system that my boss suggested. It sorts into folders by topic using 136 different rules combinations. When she opens a folder to respond to emails about a specific matter, she focuses on just that matter until that folder is emptied. She is never distracted by incoming email - it just automatically sorts into folders that she deals with at set times each day. This sounds much more productive to me that switching constantly between projects, which I find totally distracting and draining.

My main concern is with my compulsive procrastination.  If I can barely accomplish tasks that are high-pressure red flags in my face - what will happen if Outlook tucks emails away into folders without me even looking at them first?  Will I really allocate the time to go through each folder in an orderly amanner, or will I just ignore them if they're not in my face? 

Already I notice that whenever my Inbox contains no new items to be sorted into Categories, I feel "finished" - even though there are still TONS of emails hiding under each Category heading! I don't see them anymore so I relax/slack/procrastinate opening the Categories to actually respond to the emails lurking there.  I worry that folders will be even worse.

Anybody else have tips for managing heavy email traffic? Thanks in advance for sharing.

re: email

well, this may be the blind leading the blind, but here goes...

i get about the same emails, but probably many fewer i need to act on. Maybe 40 in the heaviest day.

But i can say a couple things sharing my experience.

that time-based, scheduled-based approach your boss does i do not think would not work for me. My procrastination is just too strong. based on how it was described, it seems if i missed just one scheduled email processing slot, the whole system would be thrown out of whack. Maybe someday i might have recovered enuf that i could do that, but i just dont think so today.

One thing i feel like i have learned in recovery is to repsond to email even when i dont have a response. This is relatively new, but on occasion i'll go thru my inbox and respond to 10 people and say "i haven't gotten to your thing." and i try to set some expectation about when/if i'll get to them, and ask them to respond about how important it is, how time critical it is, and if it's blocking their work or others' in some way. Of course, setting expectations is a dread / fear thing for me because i know i might not meet that due to the disease. But, in general, i have found people much prefer to have a response like than rather than silence. sometimes they reply and say, never mind, so that's good.

second thing i feel like i've learned in recovery is to use small blocks of time. Again, this is new. But old me would have thot it completely useless to use 1-2 min while i'm waiting for something else to answer a single email. New me uses that particular tool and does answer that email. I might get 10 such emails done thruout the day that way. 10 emails i never had to schedule for any time.

I know that's way short of a soln, but that's all i got so far ;)

the touch of the master's hand:

fall down seven times, get up eight - japanese proverb


@ clement re email

..."people much prefer to have a response like that rather than silence..." Really appreciate that tip: respond anyway, even if just to say I can't get to it yet.  That sounds like an answer to my prayer for "courage to change the things I can!"  Thanks, clem. 

"My boundaries enclose a pleasant land." Psalm 16

more re setting expectations

Yay, Clement! I'm glad you mentioned this strategy--I didn't think to offer it, Agnus, but I can vouch for it being very useful in some circumstances. My slight variation goes pretty much like this:

Hi, <co-worker's name>,

I haven't forgotten that you requested X. However, I have many competing priorities, right now. How soon do you need this done? If I need to confer with my manager about which tasks get my attention first, what can I tell her about why yours is needed quickly? For example, does it affect revenue, or relationships with an important customer? If it affects multiple customers, about what proportion of the customer base is likely to be affected? Does it affect the schedule for a project that has high visibility to upper management? 

From what I know about your request, right now, my best guess is that I'd complete it around <date/time>. Could you live with that? 

Thanks in advance for your understanding,


The questions might be different depending on what field you're in. In some fields, I imagine there could be questions about whether not getting to the task immediately might cause physical harm to someone or legal problems for the organization.

I find that people usually respond reasonably to emails from me like the above. I'm showing respect for their request and also implying that they are reasonable people who can be trusted to understand where the importance of their request falls in the hierarchy of things that upper management would want done, and to cope resourcefully if something else has higher priority in my queue.


@ wrkinprogrss re: managing email

 Good tip, nice style, showing respect to the requester, my employer and my own recovering self.  Thanks!

"My boundaries enclose a pleasant land." Psalm 16

@ag re: email

Hmmm, I get a lot of email but most of it does not require any action from me so maybe we're not in the same situation.  

I usually do email first thing in the morning as soon as I start working.   If the email requires me to do something, I forward it to Remember The Milk and it automatically goes on my todo list.    Otherwise, I delete it, or file it in a reference folder.   I know a lot of people use rules to sort their email into folders but that doesn't work for me.   Some junk mail that gets thru the corporate spam blocker I automatically send to the trash folder, but otherwise I read every email, at least the subject line.    

I also leave all 'active' emails in the inbox until they are no longer active, so I glance over them again every morning.   I know GTD advises getting your inbox to zero every day but that doesn't work for me either so I violate that rule too.  I usually have about 50 emails that I keep in 'active' status in my inbox.  



Be confident.  Stay focused.   One thing at a time.

@journey re email

Remember the Milk is news to me so I'm going to explore that option.  It would let me have a viable place to park emails that need my action.  Thanks Jo!

"My boundaries enclose a pleasant land." Psalm 16

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk is full of awesome.

Be confident.  Stay focused.   One thing at a time.