How I Email: Amy Scott, Nomad-in-Chief at Nomadtopia
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.
In 2004, Amy Scott left her job as an editor at a travel publishing company in San Francisco to travel around the world. It turned out to be the start of an ongoing journey as Amy embraced being a nomad. She started Nomadtopia to provide resources and community for others seeking to build or expand on nomadic or location-independent lifestyles.
In the interview, Amy describes her deliberate email process, which helps her keep up with people across several time zones without always being plugged in.
Interview by Jaclyn Schiff. This interview has been edited for length and clarity
What’s your daily email routine?
It’s gone through a lot of different iterations over the years as I figure out what works for me. Right now, I typically check my email in the morning (after I’ve determined my main goals and tasks for the day), after lunch, and at the end of the day.
After quite a few years of having all my work and personal email forwarding to the same inbox, I just recently separated them again (into a personal Gmail account and a G Suite account), and I appreciate having the distinct spaces, although I still find myself checking both pretty much every time I check email, except on weekends, when I try not to check my work email.
I try not to use my inbox as a to-do list, and instead forward task-related messages to Asana and informational messages to Evernote. I also just found out about Sortd, which I’m using as a way to keep some of the less-important messages out of my inbox without them getting lost entirely (for example, an email with the replay to a webinar I wanted to check out, or a feature update from a SAAS provider that I want to review at some point but that’s not important or urgent enough to be a task and that would get lost in Evernote).
Do you have an email secret weapon — anything that has drastically helped you manage your inbox over the years?
I make a point of keeping Gmail closed unless I’m actively using it or waiting for a message, and I don’t have any email (or other) notifications enabled on my computer at all. I also make a point of not looking at my phone constantly (it’s been sitting face down on my desk, on silent, for the last four hours), and I recently turned off email notifications on my phone so I’m not constantly distracted by what’s new every time I look at my phone just to check the time or something.
I love Gmail’s Canned Responses feature, and have recently discovered an even better version in Streak, a CRM that fits within Gmail. Along with all Streak’s other handy features (the customized mail merges are awesome), their “snippets” feature is more robust than Gmail’s Canned Responses—you can categorize them and give them separate titles and subject lines, for example—and I’ve been slowly moving my Canned Responses to Streak as I use them.
You’ve been location-independent for 13 years and you help others create similar lifestyles. What are your top email management tips for digital nomads?
Especially when I’m on the other side of the world or just working odd hours, I love being able to schedule messages to send later using Boomerang. This way clients aren’t receiving emails from me on the weekend or in the middle of the night, and it helps keep boundaries in place. It’s also helpful to schedule emails that need to be sent on a specific day (like a birthday greeting) so I don’t drop the ball even if I’m on a plane or something.
Many nomads find it difficult to stay on top of everything when they’re moving around all the time, and I think staying as close to Inbox Zero as possible can help with this. It’s so easy for things to get lost in the shuffle when your inbox is overflowing! As I mentioned above, you can forward tasks to your task manager and informational emails to Evernote, and reply to messages ASAP instead of having them sit in your inbox (again, you can schedule them for later with Boomerang if you don’t want people to get in the habit of expecting a really speedy response from you). The people who created Boomerang also have the Email Game, which is a fun way to get your inbox back under control.
Nomads often struggle to balance work and travel, and I think limiting email check-ins and notifications are a huge help in this area. Only checking email a couple times a day and having notifications turned off allows me to stay present in whatever I’m doing at the moment. I can stay focused on the task at hand so I can finish up work as quickly as possible and move on to other adventures. And, when I’m out exploring, I’m not distracted by work because I’m not getting constant email notifications. (For the same reason, I often make a point of being offline entirely when I’m not at my computer. It’s become so common to be online constantly, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I often keep data disabled on my phone unless I actually need it for something specific—and this also helps keep a handle on my data usage, which is often limited by whatever local plan I’m on at the time.)
Actually, a lot of these tips are probably helpful for anyone, nomadic or not!
Final thoughts? Anything to add that wasn’t captured above?
I’ve tried out many of the tools that are supposed to help you get a handle on your inbox, like SaneBox and Unroll.me, and I discovered that I didn’t like having a tool take control of my inbox! Instead, I manage email overload by having a separate email address (that forwards to my main email) just for newsletters, orders, online registration, and so on. I also have a lot of filters set up in Gmail to automatically apply labels and/or skip the inbox, so I can focus on the most important stuff first.