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Maximize Your Day: Treat Your Email Like Laundry

Imagine for a moment if we treated our laundry the same way we treat our email. It might look something like this: At least ten times an hour, we’d look in the dryer, sigh at the mix of wet and dry clothes, wonder where the shirt we needed was, and then close the dryer door again without emptying a thing. Laura Mae Martin, author of Uptime: A Practical Guide to Personal Productivity and Wellbeing, has a better approach. Treat your email like you would ideally treat your laundry.

How do we put this metaphor to work in our inboxes? Martin has some steps for getting the most out of this analogy, and the first is to set aside a specific time in your day to tackle your inbox. This is the email equivalent of emptying your dryer, not just looking in it, and sorting the clothes into baskets. You’re already setting future you up for a better day with this first step!

The Process

At this set time, you’ll have a first pass at everything in your inbox, or as much as you can, sorting your messages into one of four ‘baskets’ – Respond, To Read, Revisit, and Relax (aka, the archive where the email lives once you’ve acted on it from a basket, and the trash for deleted emails). Acting on those messages comes after the sorting is done. So instead of ‘touching’ your email a dozen times with your attention, you only touch it twice: sorting it, and acting on it.

Let’s discuss those first three baskets in a little more detail.

First, the ‘Respond’ basket is for emails that require a response from you, which need you and your time to complete. Next, the ‘To Read’ basket is for emails that you’d like to read for informative purposes, but don’t require a response. Finally, the ‘Revisit’ basket is for emails where you need to respond but can’t right now because you’re waiting for the appropriate time, a response from someone, etc.

Here’s more info on how treating your email like laundry looks in your inbox. You don’t have separate dryers for work clothes and personal clothes, so ideally you want your multiple inboxes in one place, like Thunderbird’s Unified Folders view. The baskets (Respond, To Read, Revisit) are labels, tags, or folders. Unread messages should not be in the same place with sorted email; that’s like putting in wet clothes with your nice, dry laundry!

Baskets and Batch Tasking

You might be wondering “why not just use this time to sort AND respond to messages?” The answer is that this kind of multitasking saps your focus, thanks to something called attention residue. Hopping between sorting and replying – and increasing the chance of falling down attention rabbit holes doing the latter – makes attention residue thicker, stickier, and ultimately harder to shake. Batch tasking, or putting related tasks together for longer stretches of time, keeps potentially distracting tasks like email in check. So, sorting is one batch, responding is another, etc. No matter how much you’re tempted, don’t mix the tasks!

Putting It Into Practice

You know why you should treat your email like laundry, and you know the process. Here’s some steps for day one and beyond to make this efficient approach a habit.

One-time Setup:

Daily Tasks

One Last Fold

Thanks for joining us in our continuing journey to turn our inboxes, calendars, and tasks lists into inspiring productivity tools instead of burdens. We know opening our inboxes can sometimes feel overwhelming, which makes it easier for them to steal our focus and our time. But if you treat your email like laundry, this chore can help make your inbox manageable and put you in control of it, instead of the other way around.

We’re excited to try this method, and we hope you are too. We’re also eager to try this advice with our actual laundry. Watch out, inboxes and floor wardrobes. We’re coming for you!

Until next time, stay productive!

Want more email productivity tips? Read this:

Tags: Productivity

5 responses

Victor wrote on

One addition is that if you use label instead of folder to sort your email by status (to reply/revisit/to read), then you are able to also sort them in specific project folders.
Then using the tag view in Thunderbird, and grouping by folder I then have a list of emails to reply, grouped by project. Very convenient!
And labeling a mail is then very quick with the keyboard shortcut.

Also if you use the GTD method and want to distinguish an email from a next action, you can use the Xnote addon to write a next action associated with the email. This avoid repeating the work of figuring out the next action.

jim wrote on

Some stored Thunderbird emails now disappear! How can i retrieve them?
I am on Windows 10 v.22H2.
Please reply.

Jason Evangelho wrote on

Hi Jim, please post your question in our community support forum, which is better equipped to help:

schmy wrote on

The opening line of the blog seems back to front. Surely you meant:
“Imagine for a moment if we treated *our laundry* the same way we treat *email*.”

Jason Evangelho wrote on

Thank you for the correction!

Comments are closed.