How I Email: Gemma Hartley, Writer

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.

Gemma Hartley, a writer specializing in parenting, feminist/pop-culture, finance, budgeting, and mindfulness, has written for The Washington Post, Glamour, CNBC, Women’s Health and others, says Gmail’s Undo Send is a “godsend” and advises parents to never compose an email while your kids are in the room.

Interview by Jaclyn Schiff. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s your email strategy?

Honestly, my email strategy needs work! I’m great about turning it off during work hours and not checking in on the weekends, but during the week I waste a lot of time checking and replying to emails as soon as I get them. I would be much better off if I compartmentalized my email time, to make it less of a time suck for me. I’d like to check and reply in 2-3 batches per day, but my self control is still lacking in this area.

You have three young kids and write frequently about parenting, among other topics. Are there any email tips or advice you have specifically for parents?

Don’t write emails with kids in the room. Seriously, just don’t even try. As soon as you begin typing they will need something (a snack, a hug, a lost toy, your undivided attention) and an email that should have taken no more than a couple minutes turns into a half hour affair. Sometimes you have to write a response with kids in tow, but generally I try to avoid it at all costs.

Are there any specific Gmail tools you love?

The fact that you can “undo” emails before they send has been a godsend for me. I am generally careful with my emails, but every once in a while I’ll realize that I’ve sent a pitch with the wrong editor’s name or forgotten to write in the subject line. Having that panic button available has saved me from many an embarrassment.

Anything that really gets on your nerves?

If I could add a dream feature, it would be a “follow up” button I could mark on my sent emails. I waste a lot of time sifting through my sent emails to see which ones haven’t garnered a response, and I wish there was a quick an easy way to get a reminder when I want to follow up.