6 Tips From a “Design Snob” for Managing Your Email

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When I started using Gmail, it was kind of like solving a puzzle. The delete button was my best friend for a long time. Over the past couple years, however, I’ve refined my system to avoid the delete button and manage my inbox with keyboard shortcuts and filters.

Shortcuts take some time to develop. No one is going to sit you down and teach you how to use your email; you have to learn it yourself. Here are 6 tips that have helped me manage my inbox like a “design snob:”

When you’re stuck in an inbox that’s overflowing with clutter, it can feel like it’s going to take a miracle to fix. The good news is that there are many small changes you can make to your email management strategy (and some big ones) that will help you get a handle on your inbox.

Treating your email like an art form is part of the process. By treating your email like an art form, you’ll be able to learn about the best practices for design, and then apply them to your own work.

The most important rule of thumb when it comes to designing something is this: always prioritize beauty over practicality. You need to be able to look at your email and know immediately what needs doing, which messages require attention now, and what can wait until later.

If you’re not sure how to do that, here are six tips from a self-proclaimed design snob:

1. Get organized!

How you organize your inbox depends on how you work best. Some people prefer folders, while others swear by labels or stars. Whichever system works best for you is the right one for you! But whatever system you choose, make sure it’s easy for you to use–otherwise it won’t work for long.

Email is one of the most used tools in a designer’s toolkit. It’s also one of the most abused. In fact, a lot of designers are pretty bad at managing their email.

I was once a bad designer myself—I’ll admit it. I’ve had email accounts that have rivaled Stephen King’s in length and complexity. Back in college, I even got a reputation as an “email hoarder.”

I’m a design snob, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’ve been designing professionally for more than 15 years, and in that time I’ve learned how to streamline the creative process and make it more efficient. And although this skill is particularly important for graphic designers, it applies to all forms of design—whether you’re designing a web page or a new logo, you’ll want to follow these tips.

Basically, what I’m suggesting here is that your life is a series of designs—applying these same principles will help you design a lifestyle in which you’re happier, healthier and more productive.

1. Don’t be a slave to the inbox.

The inbox isn’t your life. It’s just a tool for keeping up with what’s coming in so you can decide what to do with it. If something requires more than a couple of minutes to deal with, do it when you’re ready. “I’ll get back to that when I can really concentrate on it” is not an excuse for forgetting about it.

2. Be ruthless about deleting and archiving messages.

You don’t need every message in your email inbox at any given moment—unless you have to have the exact email someone sent to you three months ago because they used the wrong font or something. The easiest thing is to archive everything: Label each message “To Do,” “Done,” or “Reference,” depending on whether you need it, want it, or are just keeping it around in case you ever need it again. Then, once a day or so, go through your Reference folder and delete anything that’s no longer relevant or important.

In the end, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as “Best Practices” when it comes to email management. There are only practices that work for you, and the only way to find the right ones is to keep experimenting with different approaches. As long as you’re open to changing your mind or your habits, you’ll eventually find a system that works perfectly for you.


There’s a lot of confusion about what makes something design, and people seem to think that a good designer can do anything. I disagree.

There are things that a good designer can’t do. A bad designer will blame it on the tools. “I don’t have the right software,” or “I don’t have enough time,” or “I am not good at drawing.” These are all excuses.

A lot of people want to be a designer but never get around to it because they are waiting for the tools to get better. It’s easier to sit back and wait for someone else to build the perfect app, than it is to actually sit down and try. There’s no shame in needing to learn, but there is shame in wanting something so bad you’ll let time pass before you do it yourself.

A funny thing happened when I was learning how to use Photoshop. Instead of having fun, I had problems. But gradually my skills improved until one day I realized that I didn’t need Photoshop anymore. All those problems went away when I learned how Photoshop worked, which means they weren’t problems with Photoshop at all — they were problems with me!

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