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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

This Email Trick's So Simple That I'm Mad at Myself for Not Using it Earlier

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I’m good at lots of things, from eating lunch at exactly noon every day, to writing article introductions that make me look cocky, to downloading productivity apps and then quickly abandoning them.

You see, I love organization, and timelines, and spreadsheets. So, if I read an article that tells me that downloading a certain app will help me organize my life, I’m 110% in.

And I’ll always use it for a few days—before ultimately deciding what I was doing previously was better. And what I was doing previously was almost always something super simple.

Take my to-do list for example. I’ve tried so many of the (free) to-do list apps out there. Yet, I always come back to using sticky notes on my Mac.

I’m telling you all this not because I think you’re remotely interested in my to-do list evolution, but because I want to make it clear that I’m someone who likes to keep my productivity hacks simple. And this latest I’ve come across is the most simple.

In fact, it’s so simple that I’m slightly embarrassed I haven’t used it before.

I’ve started using the Gmail email stars. You know, those little stars right next to your subject line—turns out that they’re not just there for decoration.

Here’s how I’m using them:

  1. I star any email that needs an answer that I can’t respond to right away.
  2. At the end of every day—during my “I’m too lazy to do real work” period—I go through my starred emails and respond.
  3. I remove the star. Side note: Am I delivering on simple or what?
  4. If it requires follow-up or I’m not ready to respond yet, I give it a blue star. (Did you know you can change the star colors? Well, you can, and the instructions to do that are right here.)
  5. At the end of the week, I go through the blue stars and see what needs my attention. And depending on my conclusion, I either keep or remove the star.

This system essentially creates a quick and easy inbox to-do list that only involves one click. Plus, it helps me to feel like I’m on top of my incoming emails, while simultaneously removing that “either respond to this now or else the world ends” feeling I used to get when I saw the notifications piling up.

(Oh, and if you don’t use Gmail, fear not! Outlook has a flag system that seems to serve the same exact purpose.)

If you’re thinking this is too basic, that’s fair. (And that’s also why we compiled this list of six advanced email tools.) But if you’re thinking that you want to put in as little effort as possible to your inbox without losing track of what you need to do, test it out. Worst-case scenario, you lose about 19 seconds of your week from clicking.

So, are you going to give this a try? Do you have a better system that’s even simpler? Like, it involves zero clicks and minimal willpower? Tell me on Twitter.