How I Email: Paul Metcalfe, Curator, Startup Resources

Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.

Each week, Paul Metcalfe pulls together an amazing list of tools, resources and articles for readers of the Startup Resources newsletter (there’s even a pretty nifty email tools collection). We checked in with him about his personal inbox favorites.

How do you manage your inbox?

I like to think of myself as an Inbox Zero kind of person. But, honestly, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Back in my corporate life, I was head of finance for a $250 million business. So I got a ton of emails every day. For years my email was out of control with most stuff living in the inbox. I’d try and keep up but that inbox wasn’t a pleasant working environment!

I got more interested in productivity and time management (I had to) and the concept of Inbox Zero.

I got savage with my emails…

– I set up rules to automate filing standard distributions of reports,

– I’d only open my email 3 or 4 times per day to check the inbox

– I’d run through the inbox at hyperspeed:

  • Anything I could deal with in a minute or less would get answered.
  • Anything longer would end up as a task and the email moved to a “working on” folder.
  • If I was cc’d on something, I’d have a quick glance but mostly would just dump in a “reference” folder and take no action (if it’s important for me, then address it to me),].
  • I didn’t bother with complex folder structures. Just kept it to a handful. The search functions are so good, it’s easier to type a few keywords and use filters instead of digging through meticulously laid out folders.

Since leaving corporate life and working online, my inbox has become messy again, I have multiple addresses for projects past and present, and for long term personal email addresses.

And that’s split across two Gmail accounts, a Gsuite account and the mail app on Apple. I’ve even got a yahoo email address that I can’t get rid of.

Because I run a newsletter and I love newsletters, I’m subscribed to too many.

I try to spend time at the end of the day to plough through the inboxes and read what I can (my favorites), send replies and send anything interesting to Pocket to read or use later.

Getting to Inbox Zero often depends on how tired I am.

Any favorite email tools? 

For a long time, I resisted using tools on Gsuite because I’m a productivity tool addict. Once I start trying stuff I have to have more!

So I’ve mainly kept it simple.

A few years ago I used the Streak add-on to help manage pipelines for sponsorship of a surfing blog I owned. I was doing a lot of outreach so it was awesome for keeping me organized. And free.

I tried an app called KanbanMail which gives you a Trello-style kanban board to manage your email. Was a great way to work if you needed to be in your email all the time. The app has come a long way since I tried it and I might sign up again!

Another one I recently started using is Flybox. It strips out all the distractions and lets you just focus on clearing the inbox. I like it, and use it when I need to clear everything out. Totally free as well.

As part of my focus on building the Startup Resources newsletter, I’m going to be doing a lot of outreach to find sponsors so I am in the market for a simple CRM that plays nicely with Gsuite.

As the curator of Startup Resources, what do you think is most important when it comes to writing an email that keeps readers engaged?

The most important thing in a newsletter is giving the reader what they want. What was it that you promised when they handed over their email address in the first place? Give them that.

If you can do it consistently then I don’t think it matters how well you can write or how great the design is. Your readers will stick with you.

I also believe it’s the hardest thing to do. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what you *think* your readers want and start to miss the point. You then move from must open to “meh” and eventually they’ll unsubscribe.

The only way to really understand what to send to your audience is to talk to them and keep an eye on the data – what are they clicking on.

I can definitely do better at this but since I took over Startup Resources, I’ve been lucky enough to have great engagement from the audience and get valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t.

If there was one thing you could change about email, what would it be?

My biggest frustration with email is the filters. For both spam and for the promotions tab.

As someone who sends newsletters to people who asked to receive them, it annoys me that email providers get to decide whether that email is going to be in the inbox or not.

I also don’t like digging through my own spam folders and promotions tabs to find the emails that I signed up to receive. And sometimes personal ones as well.

Of course, we need filters to get rid of the real junk.

I just wish they were better than they are at determining what’s spam and what’s something I want.

Seth Godin expresses this frustration far better than I ever could in this open note to Google.