What not to read

We all get too much email. And we imagine that one day we will get organised, delete the rubbish and get control. But sadly this is a myth. There isn’t enough time to read all the useful things. We fear missing some critical gem of knowledge if we don’t read everything. But that is based on the fantasy you actually can read everything.

Once you realise you will definitively miss some important things then you get comfy with the idea that being selective means you read more of the good stuff. And you learn the humility to always be on the look out for things you have missed that others have spotted.

Filters or rules

It is worth knowing that NHS mail can be set to automatically move messages into sub-folders based on who it is from or keywords in the title. Use these to separate out the emails you are not going to read.


It may seem like sacrilege but the flood of emails we get from these organisations is mostly duplicates or stuff we don’t need personally. So put them into separate folders and don’t read them.

Mark them all as “read” so you will see when new emails arrive. You do need to briefly glance over new emails to check for important things (pensions, contracts, inspections etc) but this is pretty quick because they make these sort of things clear in the email title.

While there is important information in these folders, switching from reading everything to searching for things when you want them stops you wasting your time reading all the useless stuff.

There are a few super important emails you get – like your confirmation of revalidation or your performers list updates – which you should copy to an “important” folder so they don’t get lost in the rest.

LMC link and other forum emails

Separate these into other folders but do look at these from time to time. An actual human has felt it important enough to make a comment so they are more likely to contain information you need. You are using other peoples’ brains to filter out the trash which is a great idea.

Colleagues and people you know

You read all of these. You may use rules to group them together in folders for convenience. Ask them not to just forward things though – you want them to say what their view is and why they thought you personally need to see it.

Junior members of your team

These should be your highest priority. They are looking to you for leadership and you owe them a prompt reply. You still want to avoid unnecessary emails, so encourage them to think for themselves and to learn from your replies. Trusting them to filter the things which you have to deal with is one of the most effective ways to save your time for the most important tasks.

Unsubscribe where you can

Many businesses and groups want you to sign up to their newsletters. The problem is that they are telling you what they want you to know, not what you want to know. Pretty quickly you will get used to scrolling past them like junk mail. Save yourself the effort by unsubscribing.

Make your own emails worth reading

Summarise the message of the email into the title so if they read nothing else they get the key point of the email. Put all the main information in the first paragraph so people get the choice of whether to read the detail or not.

Learn about punctuation, style and readability. Think of your email as a service to your readers and help them to get the most out of it. “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White is an excellent introduction to communicating well in writing.

Never (never never never) put “Important – please read” at the start of the title. This conveys no information and implies your other emails are garbage and are unimportant and not worth reading.

Avoid sending emails which just say “thank you” unless there is a reason the sender needs to know you have seen and acted on their email. Pleasantries are great face to face but as emails they are just clutter.

Before you hit “send”, ask yourself whether this person really needs the information as an email. Would it be better to simply mention it when you next see them? Or could you add it to shared project notes they can look up if they need to?

Copying a whole group in “for information” is lazy and annoying unless everyone really does need to read your email. The same goes for forwarding – especially when what you are really saying is “I don’t want to deal with this so I’m sending it to all of you in the hope that someone will do it.”


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