Managing Email Mailing Lists

I am an active participant in many mailing lists related to Macintosh computers, IT, and system administration. Because of this, I get a deluge of email from these lists, most of which is noise.

I say noise because, if it is not something that I am able to assist with or have an interest in, its presence distracts me from doing whatever else I am supposed to be doing. This has been a long term problem, and I have dealt with it differently over the years, most of the time by just allowing emails to build up unread, skimming through the subject lines to find ones of interest, then mass deleting the others, unread. This of course is a bad solution, especially if you, like me, don’t like unread counts in your email.

However, I have now migrated all of my list memberships to a single address, and have begun using Google Mail’s webapp to manage them. It provides a superior interface for dealing with mailing lists than any other interface that I have worked with. The primary passive benefit is it’s how it automatically cleans the clutter of replies from posts. However, to harness the real power of the interface, you need to setup and utilize a workflow for mailing lists.

Here’s how…

  1. Get an email address just for mailing lists. Why is this important? Mailing list traffic is different than normal traffic, and by routing it to a second email address, you aren’t forced to change your normal conduit for email. I still use Apple’s Mail.app for normal communication. But I can now use gmail for mailing lists. Furthermore, this workflow is all that I do in this email account, so
  2. Get the Google Labs extension “Send and Archive”. This saves a couple clicks for every topic you decide to converse about.
  3. Get the Google Labs extension “multiple inboxes”. This allows users to have inboxes based on a search parameter. I create one inbox, using the parameter. “is:starred” which creates a second inbox that lists all starred conversations, archived or not. I know that you can do the same thing with the starred label, but that is a second screen that I have to maintain, which I don’t want in this workflow.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the Archive button. It just means “I’m done until there is more traffic on this subject.”
  5. Don’t be afraid of the Mute button. (It’s located in the more actions menu.) This means, I’m done with this topic, and I don’t want to see followups.

So, with those items in mind, my workflow for an incoming email is to do one of five things..

  • Archive – I am watching the conversation, but not an active part.
  • Mute – I have no interest in the conversation, it’s noise.
  • Reply and Archive – I am taking an active role in the conversation.
  • Star and Archive – I am thinking of taking an active role, but have not done so yet.
  • Forward to non-list email address, archive – This is a special action for when I have received an individualized email from another list member, so I need to re-route it to my normal address, where I deal with it using my non-list workflow.

Now, I do realize that I could do very similar things with my non-list traffic as well if I were to switch to gmail. However, I do prefer Mail.app for normal traffic, which doesn’t quite lend itself to this format.