Deferred Email

I’ve talked and written before about deferring email. If you’ve never heard of it before, deferring email is the process of making your email disappear for a certain amount of time (usually days) or until a certain date in the future. Some applications do this by putting it in a hidden or obscure folder. SaneBox does it at the server level so it works in any application. Either way, on the designated day or after the set defer period, the email comes back to you.

I made fun of deferring email when I first heard of it. It seemed dishonest and gimmicky. However when I tried it out, I quickly became a believer. There’s a lot of email that can stand be putting off for a little bit of time but isn’t worth the extra work and baggage that come with adding it to your OmniFocus or other task manager database. In that case, deferring email really works.

When you’ve got a good email deferment system in place, you get used to seeing an empty inbox so when something shows up, you take it seriously. Simply leaving emails in your inbox (or for that matter any other email box box) results in you getting used to having a bunch of unanswered email and, in my case, malaise and despair. I’m much happier putting an email off for two days and getting it out of my sight than having to see it there every time I open my mail client. Maybe this is just psychology, but it works.

I wrote a little bit about deferred email in this week’s ad spot for SaneBox. Several people have written in asking me exactly how I set up my SaneBox defer folders. Here they are:

There is no rocket science involved here. Since going out on my own, Saturdays and Mondays are no longer as significant as they once were. I’m always working. As a result, I set up the defer folders not on specific days of the week but instead length of delay.

3 Hours

I use this one for something that comes in that I need to look at today but can’t look at right now. I use this more than you’d think.

1 Day

This one is my pressure valve. When I can’t get to it today but it is something I’ll need to deal with soon, it goes here.

2 Days

This one comes in handy when I’m waiting for something to happen. Quite often someone will ask me a question in an email and its not quite yet time for me to respond. I’m either waiting for another piece of information from someone else or haven’t had time to do whatever is needed to respond. Two days seems like the sweet spot to defer those emails. When it shows back up in a few days I usually have the answer or light a fire to get the answer.

5 Days

This is the one I use the least. In order for an email to fall into this box it needs to be both of low importance and low urgency. Things that I’m putting off five days usually get their own OmniFocus task but once in a while something falls into that area where it’s not worth an OmniFocus task and I still want to keep it in play. 

Like I said earlier, there are apps that can accommodate these deferred emails or you can use a service like SaneBox. If the volume of email is giving you trouble, I’d recommend giving deferred email a try. I use it on my legal, MacSparky, and personal accounts and, at this point, can’t imagine going back. Also, if you’d like to learn more about email, I know of a pretty good book.