Using e-mail in SuperMemo

E-mail grows to be the primary communication tool in business, science and technology. SuperMemo includes a few simple options that help you incorporate e-mail communication into your learning process as well as to incorporate learning into your e-mail communication. 

Important! To use the presented options you will need MAPI installed and functional in your Windows (e.g. as with Outlook Express or MS Outlook 2000) 

Here are the most important uses of e-mail in SuperMemo:

  1. sending pieces of your learning process to others. If you extract highly valuable material in your incremental reading process, you can send it to your colleagues,  friends, partners or family. For example, while reading an article about decoding human genome, you find out that Craig Venter of Celera comes from a Mormon family (his father was eventually excommunicated). You can send such a note (or the whole article) from SuperMemo to your Mormon friend with a click of a button
  2. introducing incoming e-mail to your learning process. If you receive highly inspirational e-mail, you may want to introduce it into incremental reading and memorize its portions to ensure long-term retention. If you paste e-mail along with its header, you can easily respond to processed pieces. You can do it while reading or when new ideas come to your mind upon review. You can use this for the purpose of creativity (e.g. reviewing an inspiring idea or information in different contexts) or for the purpose of recall (e.g. memorizing the name of the son of your cousin and/or the university major of his brother)
  3. prioritizing e-mail. When you receive more e-mail than you are able to effectively process, you can prioritize it with the help of tasklists. You will immediately process only the most important pieces and proceed with others according to their priority. Priority can be defined by value/length ratio or by using your own criteria and tools of incremental reading (e.g. A-Factor, interval, ordinal, etc.)
  4. using incremental reading. You can treat most valuable pieces of e-mail as articles to read. You can introduce them into the incremental reading as well as respond to individual fragments incrementally

Sending texts from your collection

  1. To send a given item or topic via e-mail, right click over the element toolbar to open the element menu (or press Alt+F10), and choose E-mail : Texts (to send the texts) or E-mail : Q&A (to send a question-answer item). In the Addressee dialog box type e-mail address or name of the person to whom you want to send e-mail (or leave it empty and choose the address from Address Book in your e-mail software)
  2. To send a selected fragment of an article via e-mail, right-click over the selection (to open the component menu) and choose Reading : E-mail (you can also click the mail icon on the Read toolbar; see: Incremental reading)

Introducing e-mail to the learning process

To paste a piece of e-mail for incremental reading, select the text to be pasted in the e-mail body, copy this text to the clipboard and press Ctrl+Alt+E in SuperMemo. If you want to respond to the original sender while incrementally reading his or her e-mail, paste the e-mail along with its header information (date, return address, subject, etc.). For example, in MS Outlook 2000, click Forward and select the whole text of the message. Ctrl+Alt+E will automatically convert your e-mail to plain text (to save space, remove read-only attributes, etc.). It will also format the header for you (if the default topic template is HTML-based). If you want to retain some formatting, select the text and re-paste the formatted fragment

Incremental e-mail processing

You can process e-mail incrementally in SuperMemo in a process analogous to incremental reading. Here are the pros and the cons:


  1. recall of important facts: if you learn new things from e-mail sent by others, you can easily introduce the most valuable pieces into the learning process (via standard Remember extract). Those pieces will be reviewed as other pieces of knowledge in SuperMemo. If you decide to respond to a given inspirational fragment, the sender address will automatically be used when you click the e-mail button on the Read toolbar
  2. prioritization: if you get more e-mail material than you are able to process, you can use incremental reading for processing e-mail and prioritizing e-mails and their fragments. Remember to inform everyone about your system to prevent being accused of acting as an e-mail black hole
  3. handling overflow: you can use postpone and rescheduling tools to resolve the excessive inflow of information without damage to your selected priority criteria. If you work in a team, it is a great idea to delegate some of your work; however, not all work can be delegated. Additionally, if you delegate, you do not learn from e-mail that you delegate. To answer the latter problem, you can choose a solution in the middle: delegate e-mail jobs and process inflowing pieces stochastically by means of incremental reading


  1. splintering e-mail: some people dislike splintered responses. They prefer to have their e-mail analyzed as a whole and responded to as a whole. As an act of kindness, try to remember people's preferences and do not use incremental e-mail processing on those who do not like it
  2. incremental approach is not transitive: incremental e-mail processing works best for longer e-mails, article forwards, etc. Importing to SuperMemo and prioritizing may take very little time, but for very short e-mail messages, incremental e-mail processing simply does not make sense. The overhead will not be matched by the benefit. Consequently, if you optimally process e-mail with SuperMemo, you deny other people a chance to use incremental processing over your own e-mail (unless some of your responses are lengthy or particularly inspirational)

Incremental e-mail processing tips

  1. Create a separate collection for e-mail processing (unless you plan to combine e-mail work with standard repetitions)
  2. Import e-mails to your e-mail collection. To paste a piece of e-mail to SuperMemo, select its text (including the header), copy this text to the clipboard (e.g. with Ctrl+C), and press Ctrl+Alt+E in SuperMemo. Selecting text with the header will differ in various e-mail programs. For example, in MS Outlook, click Forward on the selected e-mail. This will make its text and its header available for easily selecting and pasting to SuperMemo
  3. Differentiate between e-mail that must be processed and e-mail that you want to but do not have to process. Introduce mail into the review process with an interval inversely proportional to message priority. Use the default interval of one day for messages that must be processed immediately. Try to process your one-interval mail daily. Use Ctrl+J to increase the interval of less important pieces. You may work on the assumption that you fully process shortest-interval pieces ands stochastically pick longer-interval pieces for processing. You can use View : Outstanding browser to sort mail by interval, to postpone subset of mail, or reshuffle mail for random review
  4. Each day, sort the review material from shortest to longest intervals by means of Sort : By interval and Tools : Save repetitions in View : Outstanding
  5. Instead of using Mercy for handling overflow, consider using Postpone on the outstanding material. Choose View : Outstanding and click the blue Postpone icon (or press Ctrl+Alt+P). The assumption is that the longer the interval, the lower the priority of a given e-mail or its fragment. Consequently, intervals will increase the least on the most important pieces of e-mail. For example, if you choose to postpone by a factor of 1.2 (i.e. 20% increase in intervals), all pieces of e-mail with intervals of 7 days or less will be rescheduled for the next day (i.e. tomorrow)
  6. You can delay individual pieces of e-mail with Ctrl+J
  7. SuperMemo converts your e-mail to plain text on import (with Ctrl+Alt+E). If you need to retain the formatting, select the pasted text and paste your richly formatted text again
  8. SuperMemo picks the earliest [mailto: tag from your e-mail text as the default addressee. If you would like to send pieces of an article to a selected person, put this tag with the address anywhere in the text. For example: []. You can also specify multiple recipients by separating their names with a semicolon 
  9. In the e-mail review process (initiated with Learn), do as follows:
    • respond to the most important fragments with Send (on the Read toolbar)
    • schedule less important fragments with Schedule extract (on the Read toolbar)
    • pass unimportant fragments or mark them with Ignore (on the Read toolbar)
    • if you jump to the next e-mail element before completing the reading, select the current read-point with Ctrl+F7 (Set read-point)
    • go to the next e-mail in the review process with Next repetition (bottom of the element window)
    • if you complete reading/processing a piece of e-mail, dismiss it with Ctrl+D. You can also use Delete if you do not plan to archive e-mail. Be sure that the deleted e-mail does not have unprocessed children (e.g. separate extracts in the review process). You can use Learning : Done on the element menu to do conditional delete, i.e. delete childless elements or choose dismiss instead if the element has children 

Frequently Asked Questions

Remember to copy header information to e-mail tasklist
Incremental e-mail review is subject to the same laws as standard topic review

You can sort e-mail review by interval

You can delay a review or repetition by choosing Learning : Reschedule
Change [mailto:] field to change the default e-mail address

You can creatively expand on a task by introducing it to incremental reading

Remember to copy header information to e-mail tasklist
Why do I have to type in sender information after pasting an e-mail to an e-mail tasklist? This makes e-mail tasklists unusable for most short messages!
When using Ctrl+Alt+E, remember to copy the entire e-mail to the clipboard, including its header. SuperMemo will parse header information and you will not have to type in anything

You can delay a review or repetition by choosing Learning : Reschedule
How can I postpone one element only instead of the whole branch or all outstanding pieces of e-mail in incremental review process?
You can choose Learning : Reschedule (e.g. by pressing Ctrl+J) and manually choose the date of the next review

Incremental e-mail review is subject to the same laws as standard topic review
After introducing an e-mail into an incremental review process, I tried to process e-mails with Learn. However, SuperMemo told me there is no more material to process
SuperMemo will not let you schedule a review with an interval less than one day. Consequently, if you import an e-mail today, the earliest incremental review will come tomorrow. To accelerate the review process you can: (1) review e-mail immediately upon importing, (2) locate it without the assistance of the review process (e.g. with Search or in the contents window) or (3) use Mercy to schedule tomorrow's reviews for today (check Consider future repetitions and select Gathering period of two days)

You can sort e-mail review by interval
How can I sort items from low to high intervals in incremental e-mail processing?
You can sort your repetitions by the length of the interval using the following method: 

  1. choose View : Outstanding
  2. click Interval twice at the top of the browser window (to sort from the lowest to the highest intervals) 
  3. choose Tools : Save repetitions (on the browser menu

You can use this method in e-mail processing in the same was as in the learning process

You can creatively expand on a task by introducing it to incremental reading
(TPS, Aug 07, 2001)
When should tasks be kept both on the tasklist and in incremental reading?
Tasks may be kept in incremental review if you need to access them by priority via the tasklist but still want to work with them using incremental reading techniques. This happens, for example, if you have an idea, and you want to implement it according to its priority on the tasklist, but you still want to creatively expand it in the incremental reading process. This could, for example, be a business plan, points for an article, element of a new design, etc.

Change [mailto:] field to change the default e-mail address
(P.M., Saturday, September 22, 2001 1:22 PM)
I imported an e-mail to incremental reading. In the meantime the return address has changed. How can I make sure SuperMemo does not keep using the old address by default?
Paste the new address in place of the old one in the [mailto: ] field. You can use short names (e.g. [mailto:john]) if you have the name in your Address Book. Unfortunately, you will have to manually paste the address to all splinter fragments generated in incremental reading. Currently, there is no option that would do that automatically