How to Get Less Emails

Posted on 24 Nov 15:23

Hi. My name is David Zak and I have a problem.  


I have found myself stuck in a life where most of my work life is on my smartphone, desktop computer or a laptop dealing with emails. I am in a permanent exercise of trying to stay on top of emails.   It is nuts.  And it has to stop.  


For some background, I am an entrepreneur and artist running an online business where we sell a product that we invented direct to the end consumer, to retailers and wholesalers internationally.   I get a lot of emails!  Everyone does!  You do.  This is nuts.

Why do we want less emails?

So we can live fulfilled lives.   Self actualization.   I want more time to help others. I want to paint more, make music more, make videos just for fun.  Love my wife harder, be with my kids, work the garden properly, join a sports team, swim every day... unschool my kids!  But I seem to spend so much of life emailing.  

We are made to do so much more.

I did a lot of research, asked my business mentor during our biweekly phone call and talked with my 2 web developers about how I can spend less time emailing. This is the number 1 problem in my business life, and it effects our personal life.  


Before I get into the details, I wanted to shout out 3 people who talked with me about my email problem.

Ugur Gundogmus and Jake Bailey work with us at ArtResin on all web developing and online marketing.  They have a solution for everything.

Chris Wiersma is a longtime friend, mentor and now, bi-weekly mastermind partner. Chris married Rebecca and I barefoot on a dock.

Thank you Ugur, Jake and Chris for offering practical advise and suggestions on escaping my trap.


My mentors and the web developers both had the same answer: define the problem:

'What type of emails do you get?'

Obvious question. 

My examples may not relate directly to your inbox, but you will get the idea.

Before we begin, it is important to know that there is no single software or solution that will fix your email problem quickly.  So give up that idea.  Trust me. I searched and tested! To properly reduce your email volume, you will need to follow the process I outline below.   It is simple: Identify emails that you get In a list and then apply one of the six solutions to each one.

I use gmail but this process can be used with any email platform as they use basic tools.  


Collect Data  (3-5 days)

For about a week, I kept a text document open on my desktop.   

On the first day I went through my current unread emails, recent archived and sent emails, spam, promotions and social.  In the text doc I started a list of types of emails.  

Examples from my list:

- Customer order confirmations
- notifications from websites or apps about updates
- reports about broken links and new content on the web
- family related emails
- billing notifications
- rotary club info
- purchase orders that the factory received
- youtube comments on videos
- payments from our online store to the bank
- personal finance summaries 
- customer reviews
- .....  and many more.  

Every day I would take just 1 or 2 minutes and review all the latest emails I got and add anything new to the text document list.  

The list turned out to have 27 line items after I was done. This list is short for me already. I am obsessed with automation.  Customer service, shipping emails and many other aspects of my business have already been handed off to capable people and process documents have been created for training.

The next step is to print off this list.  Keep a line or two between each line item for notes.   Mine printed on 3 pages.  Pick a good coffee shop,  and go out to assign one of 6 possible solution to each item. 



Give each item on your list a solution that makes sense for it. 


Here are the 6 POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS that I came up with to choose from:



Use labels and auto filters 

If you get lots of emails that you want to have in your email archive, but don't need to actually look at, then you can easily set up a filter to give the email a label, mark it as read and archive it automatically.  When you use a label, you can use the search function in your email to pull up all emails with that label if you do need to access them.  

It's really not complicated.  Seriously.


This is from the Gmail website:

"Labels work like folders, but you can add more than one label to a message.

You can manage your incoming mail using Gmail’s filters to send email to a label, or archive, delete, star, or automatically forward your mail."

From my list, I got rid of a ton of inbox filler with labels and filters while not losing any emails. For example:

For Artresin (one business of mine) orders I set this up:

If the email included the subject words 'new artresin Canada order from' then the email gets labelled as 'Canadian shopify orders' marked as read and archived.  

Here is a step by step example:


STEP 1: Create a new filter in your settings and identify words that will be in the subject line of every email that you want to put automation rules onto

STEP 2: Make a new label that will get applied to these emails automatically when they come it.

STEP 3: Check of all other automation rules that you would like to apply to these types of email.

Another example:

Notifications of automatic website or application updates. 

If the email included the subject words 'automatically updated' then the email gets labelled as 'Updated' marked as read and archived.  

get it?  For all those emails you should keep just in case, but don't actually have to look at, try this!



Emails that you 'Need'

Mark and list items that you wouldn't want to miss as 'NEED'. 

Break down emails from people that you do need to hear from into further categories.   

On my NEED list, I get emails from my executive team, immediate family and employees, to mention a few.

Start a new text doc.   Go through each line item that you marked as NEED and write them in a text document.   Now, one by one, search each persons email and quickly scan the last 20+ emails.   You can categorize them further into types of email from each person.

This exercise will identify types of emails within your NEED category that you do not necessarily need to get.   

This next part may be awkward, but it doesn't have to be.   Reply back to the latest emails from your new list that you have identified as unnecessary.   Email back something like this:


"Hey, I am getting flooded with emails.  Moving forward, I don't need to be CCd on this type of email :)"




Adjust settings of automated reports

I get weekly summaries of new content that has certain keywords.  I also get real time notifications if a URL on a website returns with an error message for someone.   I also get summaries of our customer service response performance and many more.   

After identifying all of these reports it was clear that I would be fine with a monthly summary of many reports. 

I went into the settings one by one and changed them to monthly reports, tweaked the settings so that the data was useful, redirected the reports to someone else's email who would enjoy the data, or cancelled the reports all together.  

Why didn't I do this years ago?




Delegate replies and create a system for saving common replies

I have 2 ways to deal with questions from customers that reach me:

The first option is to create customer service macros that my team can access for tough questions from customers or partners and show the team the new macro.  

A macro is a saved templates answer that can be applied to repeat and common questions with one click.   We use ZenDesk for customer service, and the macro tools is fantastic!

So, when a customer issues gets raised to my email, I answer it well, and then COPY and paste my email into our customer service software as a new macro.  We also add this text to our online FAQ so that people can find info without having to email or call us.

The second option is to copy and paste a generic email message that will direct the customer to someone else that can help them just as well!

'I am no longer using this email address, please email support@ to speak directly with an artist!'

That is just an example.  But you get the idea.




Label, archive and auto forward to someone else. 

I like to keep our product reviews and youtube video comments, sometimes they are nice to see!

But I just no longer have time to reply to every social media comment or enjoy every glowing review!

For example, if a youtube comment comes in, it can get labelled, marker as read, forwarded to a helper on my team and archived in my email automatically. 

Any email that has 'new youtube comment' in the subject line gets this filter applied automatically and I don't lose the message. 

Another example is anything that says 'billing notification' goes to our CFO and book keeper.  Each of these emails get labelled and archived in my own email should I even need to access them.




Continue to unsubscribe from things! EVERYTHING!

I only want a very small selection of newsletters.  I unsubscribe like a maniac, but time to turn the unsubscribe action into high gear.  



So those were the 6 options I had at my disposal for identifying a possible solution for each of the email types on my list.




The final step is about self control and priorities.

You need to train the people around you how to treat you.   

I try to turn off my phone when I get home with my daughter if I know my wife doesn't need to reach me if she is out.   I also turn my phone off on Friday night and try to keep it off. 

This is hard to do.  But wow, you can do a lot of cool things without the ability to refresh your email.  I also refuse to get a laptop.

I could elaborate here, but this article was about reducing email volume, not lifestyle priorities.  

If you have any other idea or suggestions for how to have less email, please call me at 905 999 9941.  I really don't want your email!  Please.  

And I might not answer my phone.  

Hope this helps someone else who is feeling like I am.  It IS possible to transition into a life of less email!  




Since writing this blog and working through all my emails, I am definitely noticing a change in my inbox.  I am almost nervous that I am missing something because I don't have as many things to click on!  But, everything seems to be under control.


Here are a few additional thoughts and updates

1) This whole process took me about 3 months.  Rebecca and I identified that we were spending all our time emailing and not doing what we were best at for our business.  And we were not happy.  So be patience and know that it takes time to change things.


2) Inbox PAUSE plugin works with Gmail and instals on Google Chrome.  It 'holds' incoming emails until the times that you designate it to let them all go into your inbox.  This keeps you from constantly hitting refresh. It was okay but it doesn't work on mobile so I cheated and eventually got rid of it. 


3) Book: Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei

This book was useful.  It mostly helps with email behaviour.  Things like being really clear and concise in your emails.  Ways to email to get the job done with as little dialog as possible while still being very human and likeable!  Worth a read if you are serious about getting out of your inbox for a while.


4) Analog solution for a written to do list.

This pause button folded paper goes on most evenings and on the weekend.  I have a nervous twitch that makes me reach for my to-do list the moment I feel an uncomfortable moment of inaction.  

This pause button reminds me that it is okay to stop for a while. :)  

We are a sick, sick people!

This solution will only work for a while and then change will be needed.  Solutions always need to be recreated as we adapt and bypass our own safe-guards.  Never stop changing!


5) Growing up, I loved seeking advise from older people.  I still do.  Experience teaching so much and can save you years of learning.  I am amazed at how many older people say something like this:

"I wish I didnt worry so much when I was younger."

The best parts of life, the ones where we truly feel alive, are the ones when we are doing things not because we have to, but just because we can.  Doing for no reason is when we all truly feel alive!