How do you beemind email?

Hi all,

I often forget about important emails. I set up a Beeminder “do more” goal to spend so-and-so-much time on email every day, but that was not enough. I have another scheme now: a do-more goal of “having no unread emails for the last week”, with a slope of 0.25 (I input a “1” for a day when I accomplish that feat) and max safe days of 4. Smart, isn’t it? :wink:

Do you have other schemes like that? Or better ideas?

<shameless plug>
And here is a link to a blog post and the corresponding tweet about how I set up Emacs and Org-mode to help with emails which still need some action, but have to wait:
</shameless plug>


I do a combo of “number of unread emails in inbox” and “oldest item in
inbox”. I found when I had a threshold of “fewer than 5 unread emails in
inbox” I would still let one linger for days and days so I made another
goal of “oldest item in inbox” and I keep that low too.

It works for me.


Nice. Would not work for me, though, with a backlog of 16k unread messages from the last few years… My idea is to work slowly through the backlog, but keep current messages answered/acted upon/marked as read as they come in.

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You could make it be “oldest item in inbox that came in after September 1
2017” or something like that?


I don’t care about e-mail any more and i think my productivity has increased since i did that. I used to be a zero-inbox person. I’ve let go of all that and make it a point to not spend time “taking care” of my mail (use of mail apps is tracked as “neutral” in RescueTime).
Anything that comes in the inbox and requires an answer is forwarded as a task into Jira (for which I have some automations with Beeminder to track completing tasks per day). I flag the email so that i can easily find it in order to reply, I unflag it when I have replied and I don’t need to follow-up.



If you forget about important emails, they are not important.

I set a time and/or location and do all of those emails every day.

Consistency is key.


Emails are not important! The people who send emails may be important, and the tasks represented by the emails may be important, but the emails themselves are not. So I am not surprised that a goal to “spend so much time on email” did not work: you need to mind the important things that the emails actually represent. Otherwise there is too much temptation to just fiddle away the time dealing with unimportant emails while the few emails representing really important tasks go unaddressed.

You talk about ensuring that your inbox is “kind of empty”, which you define as having no unread emails. But I guess I don’t see how this is supposed to work. What does reading the emails have to do with anything? I can open all my emails so they are marked as read and not do anything to respond to them.

The way I deal with email is:

  1. I do not read any email before 4pm.
  2. When I process my inbox, I deal with stuff that can be dealt with quickly, and forward the rest to my personal bug tracker (but giving it an appropriate subject representing the thing I actually have to do).
  3. I have various Beeminder goals to make sure tickets in my bug tracker get processed. (This is actually somewhat complex but I won’t go into it here.)

I do not use my email inbox as a holding space for emails that I have to respond to or representing things I have to do, because this seems crazy to me. Do you keep important documents in the mailbox in front of your house, so every time you go to get your mail (when you are not in a mindset to do important tasks) you are reminded of the important thing you have to do and feel vaguely guilty about it? Of course not. You bring the important documents inside your house and put them in an appropriate place. Every single time you look at an email that represents something you have to do but you don’t do it, it gets a little bit harder to actually do that thing. Not to mention the cognitive load generated by having to repeatedly translate in your head from the original subject of an email to the action item it actually represents for you.

I have never personally needed an “inbox zero” goal; I keep my email inbox empty or almost empty all the time without needing a Beeminder goal. Partly this is due to not looking at my email most of the day and being more effective when I do look at it; partly it is just intrinsically motivating to me to have my inbox empty; but I think the most important reason is that inbox zero means something different for me than it does for most people: to get my inbox empty does not require responding to a lot of difficult emails etc., since a lot of stuff just gets forwarded to my bug tracker. Of course my bug tracker inbox is a different story: it is often overflowing. At the moment I have 5 emails in my actual inbox, and 49 cases in my bug tracker inbox. But this is OK, because I have goals and systems for systematically processing through the bug tracker inbox, I know I will get to those things eventually, and I only have to look at it when I am actually going to get some work done on it, instead of looking at it but guiltily ignoring it every day.

If I were you I would just declare bankruptcy on the 16k unread messages from the last few years. Maybe just read the last month or something like that. Do you really think there is still any value to reading through all those super-old messages?


In addition to using my Google calendar to keep track of meetings and events, I also use it to keep track of to-do items (entered on a different calendar, so can distinguish between “nice to do at time X” and “have to do at time X” items/meetings). Important tasks go onto the Calendar.

I don’t beemind email. I’ve tried it, but it actually interferes with another email strategy I have, which is to use the inbox, not as a to do list, but a sort of “desk” or “RAM” where I keep email that I plan to refer to in the next few days.

Lately, as I’ve started to specialize more in my career, I’ve been unsubscribing or filtering out a lot of email newsletters I used to read regularly. That also greatly reduces the amount of time I spend on email.

byorgey’s post is pretty close to my opinions on email.

By definition, email comes from others, and is often unsolicited. Why would you mix that that up with reference material and pending tasks?


In the daily email @dreev said

I’m almost convinced. But I’m a little daunted by setting up a system like Brent’s where I have to forward emails to a bug tracker or whatever.

I think the system is really orthogonal. You could use any system at all for capturing todos — like a calendar, or a Final Version list on physical paper, or a todo.txt file. Or maybe you should convert each email you need to do something about or respond to into a commitment! Having a bug tracker to which I can easily forward emails reduces friction for me, but it’s not critical. Probably you already have some sort of system for managing todos. Unless you literally use your email inbox as your todo list, but in that case what do you do about todos that don’t get generated from emails? Do you literally write yourself an email for each task? (…probably there are people who do this.)


I don’t Beemind my email, but I do have a system I use. Like Brent, I naturally gravitate toward inbox-zero; I hate having a cluttered inbox. So this is how I accomplish that (click on the image to see the whole list):

I have two top-level domains: Inbox and Active. The labels under Inbox are an automatic categorization system for incoming emails:

– mails related to each of my active hobbies
– household mails from the kids’ school, online grocery service, etc
– newsletters from the news sites I read
– incoming translation requests from new clients
– active translation assignments
– mails from my writers’ group, writing forums, etc

These are all automatically populated based on filters I’ve set up. Anything not filtered into one of these comes into the inbox proper. I check Inbox whenever something new comes in, and file it to its proper category. That might be one of the folders already mentioned (in which case I also update my filtering rules as needed), or it might be one of the three Active categories:

– items I’ll need for my monthly report to my bookkeeper (invoices, etc)
– non-urgent items I need to do something about
– items I don’t need to do anything about, but still want to refer to (an order I’ve placed, until it arrives; an upcoming school activity for the kids; a reading suggestion someone sent me; …)

The only category that gets to ping me for my instant attention is Inbox [0]. All the rest get my attention at specified times of my choosing. I’ll read my news-related emails in the morning when I wake up, frex, and my hobby-related emails when I’m working on that hobby.

At any given time, Inbox will have one or two mails in it, which are mails I need to act on that have priority. I’ll see them every time I look in my inbox, which is several times a day. My experience there differs from Brent’s; rather than creating drag and resistance, it reminds me that I need to do them. I think this is because they’re there deliberately; repeated exposure to something I’ve consciously chosen to repeatedly expose myself to actually helps me work up to doing it.

So that’s my system.

[0] Because clients don’t always contact me through the QRY address – some have gotten my “real” address from an existing client, frex – and as a freelancer, I can’t afford to miss an assignment because I didn’t check my email.


Hello from the past! I finally decided to get back to this topic.

Agreed, but “important email” is a concise way of expressing the idea you’re talking about.

I have come to a similar thing (though I use Emacs Org-mode instead of a bug tracker, of course). So if I mark an email as “read”, it means either (a) that it represents a “done” task, and doesn’t need my attention anymore (basically, this is what gmail calls “archived”, only that I use a folderless (and labelless) search-based email client), or (b) that I decided to postpone some action connected with it for later (and hence it is put in my todo list, and flagged in the email client, too, though this is not strictly necessary for the system to work).

Now the remaining problem is how to handle the todo list. I’m still working on this, and the solution I’m leaning to is similar to this:

I guess I’m going to devise a system where each task in a todo list is worth some amount of points (the older the item, the more) and keep the overall “score” of the todo list below certain threshold. For instance, tasks due today may be worth 1 point, and tasks overdue n days might be worth n² points (this is probably too harsh for small ns, but you get the idea).

In fact, I think such a point-based system is an idea worth exploring. Habitica uses something similar - I even tried it for a few minutes, but I decided it is too complicated, too inflexible and (last but not least) won’t let me change the feel from “fantasy” to e.g. “sci-fi” (or a different kind of fantasy, say, more Tolkienesque :wink: ). So now my plan is to make my own gamified todo list (for myself and perhaps also for my 9yo daughter).

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