What is it with your e-mails?

Inbox zero and the search for the perfect email client


Does having thousands of unread messages drive you insane? You're not alone.

Are you the sort of person who needs to read and file every #email they get? Or do you delight in seeing an email client icon proudly warning of hundreds or even thousands of unread items? For some, keeping one's email inbox with no unread items is more than just a good idea: it's a way of life, indicating control over the 21st century and its notion of productivity. For others, it's a manifestation of an obsessively compulsive mind. The two camps, and the mindsets behind them, have been a frequent topic of conversation here in the Ars Orbiting HQ. And rather than just argue with each other on Slack, we decided to collate our thoughts about the whole "inbox zero" idea and how, for those who adhere to it, that happens.

I don't understand how most people use #e-mail as one of there communications tools and why they need there specific e-mail user agents which is different from my favorite mail client. But first a short description for what I'm using e-mail and how I am dealing with it.

Most mails are work related. I prefere to use e-mail as an one-to-one communications channel. I do aggressivley unsubscribe from any unwanted newsletters or mailinglist. Admin mails, wanted newsletters and mailing list mails are filterted by #procmail and sorted into different maildirs. I run my own smtp server and I run my own spam filter (mostly some syntax checks of the smtp dialog) because I like to know what's going on in the wild.

Then my inbox is sorted by my mail client, #Mutt. I use an old technique from the good old #Usenet era called #Scoring. Mutt gives every mail an individual score based on a hand written ruleset. The inbox is then sorted by score, date and thread. Threading is a great way to visualize a communications thread especially when you try to reconstruct a communication after some time. I also use differnent colors in my inbox to flag special mails.

Another core feature of Mutt I heavily use are hooks, especially save hooks. Hooks are commands that get executed bevore a specific action. With save hook I can define where to save mails from for example a specific address. I only use a small number of different maildirs for this. I save whole communications in one maildir, I don't use en Sent box. For this I need another very powerful feature of Mutt: tab completion for save locations. This makes it possible to enter really fast a maildir: f=Proj[TAB][ENTER].

Finding a communication thread is not that hard. But I also have a desktop search engine: #recoll. I use it as an easy and fast way to locate a specific message. There are maybe better search engines for mails like #notmutch but at the moment I'm satisfied with recoll.

At my work I get 100 to 200 mails per week. Sure there are a lot messages which don't need any attentation. But many mails do need a response and this response needs it's time and or some additional action. I think in the average I need for every mail round about 10 minutes. That means most time of the day I'm thinking about what to answer.