If you're a regular here at Cloud Coach, you've probably already learned how to drastically reduce your incoming flow of email (and if you haven't, you should. It's a free guide).

You may have even learned how to automate your inbox so that it organizes itself.

Reading and organizing your email is only half the battle. 

You still have to respond.

I always recommend responding to an email right away, rather than letting it sit in your inbox, unread. This prevents you from procrastinating and keeps your unread mail to a minimum. That said,  there are times when you're just not ready to respond after reading the email.

If you get 10 emails per day that need a response, there isn't much you can do about it. You're going to have to respond to 10 emails. Sure we can set up systems to make sure all the other crap doesn't make it to your inbox, but no amount of organization or automation is going to change the fact that at some point, you're going to have to respond.

This is where things get messy.

 Recognize the Problem

As my own volume of email has increased, I've noticed a problematic pattern. It goes something like this:

  1. Receive important email that needs a response
  2. Open/read important email
  3. Return to inbox, not ready to respond at the current moment
  4. Important email sits at the bottom of the page, forgotten, as new mail is read and responded to

The problem with simply reading email without responding to it, is that when you return to the inbox, that message shows up as having been read even though you may still need to take action on it. If you don't need to take action on it, you should be archiving it (moving it to a folder for you non-gmail people).

Seeing an inbox that is full of read messages lulls you into a false sense of accomplishment. Sure, you may have read the emails but if you still need to respond, you haven't finished the job.

The Solution: Mark Important Mail as ‘Unread'

So, for the past two weeks I have been purposefully marking important email as ‘unread' after opening. Why?

1. Unread Mail Grabs Your Attention

Since I'm the kind of person that always likes to see zero unread messages, seeing unread email in my inbox gets my attention more than stars, flags or labels.

2. Unread Mail Goes to the Top of the Inbox

In my case, since I use priority inbox (a gmail feature), when I mark a message as unread, it moves up to the top of the inbox regardless of how old it is.

3. Unread Mail Gets Addressed First

What's the first thing you do when you open your inbox? That's right, you look at your unread mail. Marking those important messages that need a response as unread re-prioritizes your email habits, so that you take care of responding first before going on to new stuff.

The Results

While I find it unsettling to leave mail unread (especially seeing the little red badge on my iPhone mail app), I've definitely noticed that this has helped me be more on top of the email I need to respond to.

Unread Mail

What do you think? Would this work for you? 

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