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Steven Woodson
Steven Woodson

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Email Newsletters – My Emotional Response Spectrum and Organization Strategy

How’s that for a title? Basically, this is all about how I personally categorize newsletters, how that categorization has influenced how they’re organized, and how much attention they get as a result.

I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that email newsletters fall on a spectrum of emotional response between “awww yeah!” to “please, no.” I’m sure I’m not the first to frame it this way, though I’ve yet to see anyone else act on that emotional response in how they organize and read through these incoming messages.

Emotional Response Spectrum

Awww yeah!

These are the newsletters that help me stay in touch with the world, my industries of interest, and people I admire. The emotional response for me is one of excited anticipation, I know I’m going to spend a good deal of time on these and will generally enjoy them.

The vast majority of these tend to be of a link roundup variety. People go through quite a bit of trouble sifting through the endless stream of information and share the gold, and I really appreciate that. Some others are deeper dives into current events or a particular topic that I find interesting.

Some of my current favorites:

Alright, thanks.

These are the newsletters that are only occasionally relevant to me, have a certain quality that I appreciate, or otherwise are “okay” enough to open and scan in batches.

Nearly all of these are the daily-ish emails from brands, I regret to admit that most haven’t been unsubscribed because of the occasional emailed coupon. Some select few (like those noted below) I mostly keep around because I enjoy their messaging or find the information useful enough to scan when I can.

Some Examples:

  • Who Gives a Crap – Great brand that puts a lot of effort into making their mailers enjoyable
  • USPS Informed Delivery

Please, no.

Basically any mass-email sent to me without my asking for it.

Some examples:

  • Any newsletters I get auto-added to when I create an account, bonus 👎 points for those that don’t even make it a checkbox option in the sign up form.
  • Unsolicited messages for products or services past the first three. I give many a pass on a few cold emails when done tactfully, can’t fault someone trying to grow their business.
  • Extra rage bonus points to any I can’t easily unsubscribe from. One big example was the Ozy Media company, which I continued to get spammed daily until they finally shut down.

Email Organization Strategy

I get an unbelievable amount of emails every day, most I don’t need to spend mental cycles on anywhere remotely near daily. I am – for better or worse – an inbox zero kind of guy, so I’ve honed this strategy over the years to balance the need for a tidy inbox with the need to not be sifting through emails for hours every day.

My Newsletter Rules

I have a few strongly held rules to help maintain a reasonable number of emails coming through:

  • If I’ve not opened any messages from a particular sender in the last week or last 5 emails , whichever comes first, then I unsubscribe. This one is occasionally hard because I _want_ to like it, but actions speak louder than intentions. Time to go.
  • If you send more than 2 emails a day , I’m looking for ways to adjust my preferences. If I can’t adjust email frequency I’m out. I can barely count on one hand the reasons I’d be okay with this frequency of messaging.
  • If you send the same email multiple times, I seriously consider unsubscribing. I’m really sorry, I know email marketing is hard, but it’s not like Twitter where we’re trying to stay fresh in the ongoing stream of posts. Multiples of the same email still need to be handled separately and my patience for that is long gone.

Automated Categorization

Now that I’ve level set on the messages I’m willing to keep, I need to keep that list of messages organized. I use Gmail, though I’m sure this would work with any email organization system worth using. I set up rules for individual sender email addresses to go into one of a few newsletter specific labels:

  • BAC’N – Anything that doesn’t fit in the below two categories. I call it bac’n because, like spam, bacon is best enjoyed only occasionally.
  • Daily News – All the world events, financial, and other general daily news I try to consume to stay informed
  • Industry – All the web development, accessibility, design system, technology, etc. news that keeps me up to date on what’s trending around me professionally.

My mailing list labels in Gmail, first is "BAC'N", followed by "Daily News" and "Industry".
My newsletter inboxes

These emails are set to skip the inbox and go directly to the selected folder. This way I don’t get notifications of new messages, and I’m able to ignore them until I’m ready. Which brings me to…

Managing my Attention

Great, now I’ve got stacks of organized emails by category. Now, what do I do with them?

  • BAC’N emails are scanned as quickly as I can manage, I tend to do this about once a week. I take note of sales and any links to articles I may want to read in more detail.
  • Daily News I try (and often fail) to keep up with every morning. If I miss a few I read the latest and then scan the older ones for any info I may have missed. Given that they tend to be daily news, it’s often updates on ongoing stories so this has worked out pretty well.
  • Industry emails tend to take me the longest to get through because there are a lot of collections of links to long form articles. I try to chip away at these as I have some time but honestly this is the hardest one to manage because I wanna read _it all_ but it takes a lot of time.


This one may seem a bit weird, but hear me out.

I keep an embarrassingly long history of newsletter emails, like months and sometimes years worth. This has served me well enough in the past that I’ve stuck with it, being able to refer back to previous emails from the same sender helps me in a few ways.

  • “Big Sale” emails – We all get them, the “blowout” sale messages for 20% off and the like. Well, I can see that you just had a similar sale a few months ago for 30% off, so I’ll wait. Thanks.
  • Frequency changes – Sometimes companies change their strategies and start sending more/less emails. If it gets to be annoying and I’m unsure why because I’ve been subscribed forever, this sometimes helps explain. A company that used to email weekly starts sending a couple messages a day, for example.
  • Newsletter Rules – All three of my newsletter rules requires that I have some reference to several recent messages, can only do that by saving them!

Overthinking it?

Sometimes I do think “this is a lot of consideration for email newsletters”. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the occasional time I put into curating saves me a whole lot more in the long run. Besides, if you don’t control where your attention goes someone else will.

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