How to deal with an email backlog

I will show you how to get through a lot of emails quickly.

Especially after periods of limited access to email, like after the High Holidays or vacations, being able to get through your email quickly is essential.

Who has time to go through all that email in the days between the holidays (that feel like minutes)?

Instead of feeling intimidated, here’s how you can get through it fast.

Unfortunately, most folks will grind through and take hours and hours doing it the hard way. They try and deal with one email at a time, leaving a trail of frustration behind them.

I call them “Email Snails.”

People treat email like a to-do list instead of an inbox.

Email is everyone else’s to-do list for you. Don’t treat it as if it was yours.

Have you ever?

  • Kept an email unread to deal with it later
  • Kept an email in your inbox to remember to do it
  • Starred an email to remind you to go back
  • Start writing a response to an email but realize it will take more time than you need

If you said yes to any of these things, this process will help you.

Ok, enough talk, here’s how to do it step by step.

Recognize that your email is an inbox for communications.

That’s all it is.

Email is not the best tool for project, task, or knowledge management. Email wasn’t designed for those needs. It is great for sending and receiving communications. Keep that in mind.

This is how I define an inbox:

An inbox is a place to store your captured items into a singular place to be dealt with at a later date

Emails are captured into your singular email inbox, so you don’t have to hunt around for them, and you can deal with them on your schedule.

There are only three things an email can include.

Your email will include one or more of the following:

  • A task to do
  • An event to be aware of
  • Important information to save

That’s it. Think about it. What else could be in there?

Each of those has a clear next step.

As you read each email, decide which email type it is and act accordingly.

A quick read of your email will often clarify what kind of email it is. Once that is clear, do the following:

✅ Tasks are added to your task list via an app or piece of paper. They might include a response to the original email or some other task thing you have to do. I use Todoist as my task manager.

🗓️ Events are added to your calendar digitally or on your paper calendar. I live by my calendar, and I wouldn’t be able to work without it.

ℹ️ Information is saved wherever you save information (ideally a Second Brain system or something similar). I use Evernote to manage my information.

Then, archive (or, gasp, delete) the email. I never delete emails, but you do you.

Going through your email and doing the work are separate processes.

Getting through an email backlog shouldn’t take long with this process.

The risk is when you try to respond to each email individually without seeing the bigger picture. Not all emails are made equal. Some are more important than others.

By going through your email quickly, you can identify the priorities. Then, you can decide how you want to do the work you have to do.

Don’t be an Email Snail.

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About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.

He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.