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How to Manage Your Email: The 5 Ds Method

Carolyn is a learner-centric instructional designer who is proficient at generating new content and improving upon existing materials.

Ah, the bliss of an empty inbox . . .

Ah, the bliss of an empty inbox . . .

Don’t get me wrong—email is an incredibly useful tool. Truth be told, for communication that isn’t urgent, I would much rather write an email than either text or call someone on the phone. It’s the perfect asynchronous way to get your message across, and it allows you to carefully select your words. Plus, it leaves a written trail of the conversation should you ever need one.

The problem arises when email begins to dominate your day and your thought processes. We all know that we should keep up with it, but the task seems daunting. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a few quick tips on how to tame the beast.

You may have seen some version of these tips before concerning either a physical or electronic inbox. Even so, please forge ahead to see my personally updated spin on this classic approach.

The Five Ds of Email Management

  1. Disregard
  2. Delete
  3. Digest
  4. Delegate
  5. Defer

1. Disregard

First and foremost, let me state the obvious: You should unsubscribe to any emails that you routinely disregard and/or that are no longer serving your best interests. There is usually an "unsubscribe" or "manage subscriptions" link at the bottom of commercially generated emails. Start here before you do anything else. If you are not sure, unsubscribe anyway. You can always opt in again later on.

2. Delete

You’ve received yet another advertisement for shoes (or whatever item you purchased last). You don’t want to completely unsubscribe quite yet because they may have a future sale you’d like in on. So, for now, just glance at the email (or just the title) and hit that delete button with a clear conscience. Use this option only for email that you’re not going to need for any other reason.

3. Digest

If the email concerns something of interest to you, you’ll need to digest it. That means reading through the email and gleaning the important content. After that, either delete it right away or file it. I have folders for my email, which I have carefully crafted to save emails (in a way I can locate them) that I may need in the future.

When making a decision as to whether or not I need to keep an email, I try very hard not to keep things of a “current events” nature. I only file things that I may need to reference in the future. I also don’t keep things that I could find again with a quick Google search.

Whatever you do, don’t let it continue to hang out in your inbox once you’ve read it. If you want to re-read it, you may want to “defer” it rather than file it (see step 5) or possibly even print it out (to be used sparingly).

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4. Delegate

Delegating means forwarding the email to someone else who may act on it or simply read it. You don't necessarily have to be someone’s boss to delegate an email. In this case, you’re just scooping it out of your inbox and into someone else’s for their reading pleasure. If you are going to need a response and/or you need to follow up to make sure something has been done, be sure to defer a copy for yourself as well.

5. Defer

I absolutely adore this option. Dave Crenshaw (of LinkedIn Learning) got me hooked on this technique. Most email packages have a snooze feature. You can defer email for tomorrow, for the upcoming weekend, for next month, or even for next year. You can also defer to a custom time, such as having an email reappear just before an online meeting when you might need to refer to the content.

If I want to leisurely read and enjoy some content, but I don’t have time at the moment, I snooze the email until either later in the workday or for just before bedtime (depending on the topic). I have even been known to snooze the same email multiple times (yes, that’s allowed).


Okay, here's a sixth "D" for no extra charge: done! By following these steps, you’ll end up with an empty email inbox, which can be very gratifying. It almost feels like a mini vacation. Sure, you’re not “technically” done with your emails, but you’ve sorted and prioritized them in a way that will make your life much easier.

If you have some tips you’d like to add, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. Here's the LinkedIn course I used for reference.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Carolyn Fields


Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on August 27, 2021:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Liz! Glad you found it useful!

Liz Westwood from UK on August 27, 2021:

This is a very interesting and useful article. I had not heard of the snooze feature before. I tend to do a lot of what you say. In addition I have started filing emails I want to keep into folders.

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