An indispensable guide to email management for creatives

06. Use signatures as quick ways of sending standard emails

You probably send similar emails frequently – a covering note with an invoice, a cold pitch to a new commissioning editor, or instructions for clients on how to submit to your FTP site, say – and you can save yourself hours or retyping with preset emails.

The nicely hacky way of doing this, which will work in pretty much any email client, is to paste these boilerplate emails into different signatures (complete with your usual signature as well, of course). Now, whenever you compose an email, whether it's a fresh conversation or in reply to a query, you can just select the appropriate 'signature' to have the email repopulated, then tweak it to suit.

07. Use out of hours time only to triage email

Especially if you're self-employed or at a managerial level in a company, the temptation to check your email out of office hours is immense. And you know what? We're not going to tell you not to do it – that's your call, and we understand. But you should consider, as a way of balancing work and life, using these impulsive checks only as a way of triaging email.

What we mean by this is: while your partner might, we're not going to beat you up for glancing at your phone when you're watching telly at home, but do so with one goal in mind: to make your morning easier when you actually get to work tomorrow.

If you must check your email out of office hours, use that time to swipe and delete irrelevant crap, reroute queries that aren't for you, and keep yourself abreast of what fires you're going to have to put out tomorrow. Crucially, however, unless it unequivocally cannot wait, don't actually put them out now; wait till you're at work.

08. New email notifications aren't evil

Similarly, most email management articles will tell you to turn off new email notifications, and sure, we get the point they're making. But if, and only if, your email client's notifications are actionable – that is, the notifications themselves let you do something with the new email – and you're self-disciplined enough not to use them as an excuse to procrastinate, they can be a great triage tool.

Being able to trash incoming junk as it arrives just from a notification in the corner of your screen (without having to switch away from Photoshop) means you don't have to wade through rubbish when you finally do switch to email, and firing off a quick reply to a question immediately means both that projects can progress faster and that your inbox doesn't get clogged with lots of bitty correspondence.

09. Turn off email and other distractions when you're in the zone

The corollary, however, is that if you're truly in the zone – the words are flowing, the design building beautifully, the melodies singing – then shut yourself away from anything that can break that flow. Honestly, we suspect that many creatives need the novelty and stimulation of distractions to put their minds in a place where they can come up with creative solutions to problems, but once you're there, once everything's clicked, quit everything, maybe even use an app such as Focus to prevent you sneakily checking Facebook, lock the door and let the muse take you.

10. Embrace the two-minute rule

Okay, so we promised no life-hack book bullshit, but one of the central tenets of the seminal Getting Things Done philosophy applies here, hard: if a job takes less than two minutes to do, do it now. Basically, while this doesn't absolve you from dealing with the big, difficult emails, you'll feel much less swamped if you zip quick replies back to easy emails either as soon as they arrive or in little bursts of productivity.

11. Consider migrating away from email

Think about what you use email for – and think if in fact you can dispense with it or at least dramatically reduce the amount of time you spend using it. It might still be a necessary evil for dealing with the outside world, but if 80 per cent of your email traffic is dealing with people inside your company or a few select colleagues, you'd do well to investigate other options such as Slack, which can be better-suited to modern communication than email – and then you'll spend even less time in front of your email client.

We think adopting these techniques will have you back doing the stuff you love in double-quick time. Share the tips you've discovered over the years in the comments below!

Words: Christopher Phin

Christopher Phin writes about retro Apple tech for Macworld, typography and design for us, and pretty much anything else if someone pays him. Follow him at @chrisphin.

Liked this? Try these...