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Emails — and Facebook Messenger, Slackchat, Asana, any way that other people send you tasks, thoughts and ideas — are great for communication, giving you the power to choose what you say, to whom, and when.

But only if you use them well.

Email (and all communication with others, including social media) is a peripheral creative activity. It can bring us all sorts of exciting and delighting news from the outside world, it may deliver us an important creative nugget, but it can never be core. Because emails are full of what other people want us to do with our time.

And what’s core to creatives and creators is what we’ve chosen to create.

1. Core Before Fringe: Never open your email manager until you’ve completed your core creative activity for that day, ideally until you’ve colored in the day’s complete landing log – more on that soon.

2. Divide Email in Two in Your Mind: There’s Proactive Email, messages you send that move along whatever it is that you’re creating. And Reactive Email, messages from others that you read and respond to.

3. Proactive Before Reactive. Your first action on opening your email manager should be sending, not reading.

  • Draft your own mails in Evernote, or whatever notebook you prefer, before opening.
  • As soon as you open up, cut and paste into email, do final tweaks, and send.

Only when you’ve sent all your own mails should you turn to seeing what other people have in mind for you.

4. Use Folders and Rules. Shame they call it “Rules” — as creators, we’re not great for rules or filing — but don’t let that put you off using the tools that Macmail, Outlook, Gmail and most email programs, provide that allow you to sort messages into an appropriate folder as it comes in.

For instance, you might have signed up for various newsletters or Paypal may be sending you sales alerts. Set up a rule in your email program so you don’t need to manually file these emails. You can still see what’s happening, but again, on your timing, when you choose to look at them.

5. Change Subject Lines. When an email conversation is pinging back and forth, with a change in subject or emphasis, change the subject line each time you resend, so it represents everything in email is about. This will save you hours of search time later.

6. Flag Fun Stuff. The conventional way is to flag what needs doing but pressure from others will keep that happening, so you don’t need another alert. Save your flags for what excites and delights you. Your email inbox should be an exciting and delightful space for you. If it isn’t… it’s time for your email box to go creative!

7. Turn off notifications. Everywhere. Put email back in its box.