Using e-mail in SuperMemo

E-mail grows to become the primary communication tool in business, science and technology. SuperMemo includes a few simple options that help you (1) incorporate e-mail communication into your learning process as well as to (2) incorporate learning into your e-mail communication. 

Important! To fully use e-mail functionality in SuperMemo you will need MS Outlook 2000 or later. At the very minimum, MAPI compatible mail would be needed for sending mail. For example, with Outlook Express you will be able to send mail from SuperMemo, but you will not be able to use the wholesale import of mail in incremental reading.

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

  1. Sending learning data to others: If you encounter valuable information in incremental reading, you can send it to your colleagues,  friends, partners or family with a single click
  2. Importing e-mail to your learning process: Incremental reading is a powerful tool that helps you prioritize and process mail. As a result, you may decide that instead of using your mail software, it is more convenient to use SuperMemo to read and respond to your e-mail. Users of MS Outlook can now import mail to SuperMemo with a keystroke
  3. Using incremental reading to process e-mail: With incremental reading you can prioritize and process your mail. You may also incorporate snippets of mail in your learning process. In other words, your mail may not only prompt action, but may also be used in learning to keep your memory up-to-date with things you care about 

Sending learning data to others

  1. To send a given item or topic via e-mail, click the e-mail button on the element toolbar or press Ctrl+Shift+E. Element texts will be sent in the e-mail body (if you wish so), while formatted texts, pictures, and other files will be sent as attachments. You could also send texts without attachments by using E-mail : Texts or E-mail : Q&A on the element menu
  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. Alternatively, you can also click the mail icon on the Read toolbar. Note: SuperMemo sends only plain text mail, and formatted texts can only be sent as attachments

Importing incoming mail to SuperMemo

  1. (optionally) Preview mail in your Outlook Inbox: delete spam, process one-liners (mail that requires only short answers and is not worth archiving), categorize mail by moving it to separate folders (e.g. Business, Family, Pictures, Learning, etc.), forward mail that may be processed by others, etc.
  2. (optionally) Move mail that is to be processed incrementally in a given collection to a dedicated import folder. One disadvantage of importing directly from Outlook Inbox is that new mail may arrive during the import process
  3. You can import the content of your Inbox (or any other Outlook mail folder) by choosing Edit : Import mail on the main menu (Shift+F4). Choose Import All to import all mail to SuperMemo and move it to an archive folder in MS Outlook (see the picture below). E-mail attachments will be imported as separate components of the appropriate type. Binary components will be used to import attachments in formats that are not supported by SuperMemo (e.g. PDF, URL, ZIP, MSG, EML, MMP, XLS, DOC, MPA, etc.)
  4. If you do not use MS Outlook, you can manually import most valuable or inspirational pieces of e-mail. 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 Outlook Express, 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 your default topic template is based on the HTML component. If you want to retain some formatting, select the text and re-paste the formatted fragment

Importing mail from MS Outlook to SuperMemo

Using incremental reading to process mail

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. Incremental processing will help you remember names, contexts, events, and facts far better than when using other methods. You will not experience mental chaos caused by an overcrowded Inbox
  2. prioritization: if you get more e-mail material than you are able to process, you can use incremental reading for prioritizing mail and its fragments. One of the greatest strengths of incremental reading is its unique system for efficiently determining the priority of the reading material with the help of the priority queue. Remember to politely inform everyone about your e-mail processing system. Otherwise you may easily be accused of acting as an e-mail black hole
  3. handling overflow: you can use Postpone and other 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 shows the greatest power for longer pieces of mail, article forwards, etc. For very short e-mail messages, incremental e-mail processing delivers less value per unit time. Because incremental mail processing leads to short communication bursts, it undermines its own power when used at both ends of the communication channel
Incremental reading strategy for e-mail processing

Incremental reading is a set of tools that make it possible to develop a number of strategies adapted to particular mail processing needs. The strategy will be different when processing mail from family or friends. It will be different when processing business mail. It will also be different, and perhaps most effective, when brainstorming over e-mail.

This is an exemplary strategy that might be used in nearly all imaginable applications:

Review stage

  1. (optionally) Preview mail in your Outlook Inbox: delete spam, process one-liners (mail that requires only short answers and is not worth archiving), categorize mail by moving it to separate folders (e.g. Business, Family, Pictures, Learning, etc.), forward mail that may be processed by others, etc.
  2. (optionally) Move mail that is to be processed incrementally in a given collection to a dedicated import folder. One disadvantage of importing directly from Outlook Inbox is that new mail may arrive during the import process
  3. import mail (e.g. with Shift+F4)

Processing stage

  1. sort mail by priority. Optionally, add a degree of randomization to prevent "tunnel vision" in processing. For example, we all suffer from a recency bias where recently arrived mail is ranked higher in priority than mail that arrived earlier. Randomization helps to counteract this and similar biases
  2. process mail starting with top priority pieces using standard incremental reading tools (extract, re-prioritize, delay, etc.) combined with e-mail options (extract, send/reply, FAQ, article or picture forwards, etc.)
  3. postpone the remaining mail (if out of time). Optionally, leave the last several pieces of mail for re-prioritization and/or re-scheduling

Prioritizing stage

  1. review new mail from the pending queue and assign priorities. Optionally, process pieces that require little time or are particularly urgent

Naturally, as with incremental reading, the time you choose to progress through individual stages is important for efficiency. The Processing Stage should fall into time slots with best alertness and mental performance. Review stage and Prioritizing stage can be done at other times, incl. while multi-tasking. This approach removes the instant nature of mail, but adds more sense to the entire process, esp. if volumes are far beyond manageable. Although many pieces of mail will get substantially delayed (or perhaps even neglected), top-priority mail will be processed in the first order, and damage by urgency will be less. The above strategy may introduce a delay of up to 4 days in replying (Day #1 arrival, Day #2 review, Day #3 prioritizing, Day #4 processing); however, in incremental reading, it is always the priority and quality that should come first ahead of speed and urgency

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 mail to your e-mail collection with Shift+F4
  3. Differentiate between e-mail that must be processed and e-mail that you want to but do not have to process. Use the priority queue (Alt+P) to prioritize mail. Use Ctrl+J to increase the interval of mail that can be delayed. You can use View : Outstanding browser to sort mail by interval or priority, to postpone a subset of mail, or reshuffle mail for random review
  4. Each day, sort mail for priority (View : Oustanding, click Prior column and Tools : Save repetitions on the browser menu) or use Learn : Sorting on the main menu (repetition sorting by priority allows of adding a degree of randomness to the process)
  5. Instead of using Mercy for handling overflow, consider using Postpone on the outstanding material. Choose View : Outstanding and click the Postpone icon (or press Ctrl+Alt+P).  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). This is because 20% increase on 7 days is 1.4 days, which rounds up to one day.
  6. You can delay individual pieces of mail with Ctrl+J and change their priority with Alt+P
  7. SuperMemo picks the earliest [mailto: tag from your e-mail text as the default response 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: [] (note the square brackets around the tag and the missing space between mailto: and the address). You can specify multiple recipients by separating their names with a semicolon. For example: [mailto:mike;alex] where mike and alex must be defined in your mail program's address book (e.g. Outlook address book). Adding the [mailto: tag is useful when you want to ask many questions or forward many pieces of a single mail to a single person whose address is complex and is not defined in your address book 
  8. 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)
    • if you jump to the next e-mail before completing the reading, optionally, set the new interval with Ctrl+Shift+R
    • if mail can be answered later, use Alt+P to reduce its priority
    • go to the next e-mail in the review process with Enter. This will choose Next repetition or Learn depending on the context
    • if you complete reading/processing a piece of e-mail, dismiss it with Ctrl+D. You can also use Done on the element menu (Ctrl+Shift+Enter) if you do not plan to archive this piece of mail


Where can I find mail sent from SuperMemo?
You can sort e-mail review by interval
You can delay a review or repetition by choosing Execute repetition
Change [mailto:] field to change the default e-mail address

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

Mail signature is optional

Where can I find mail sent from SuperMemo?  
(Alex, Aug 03, 2006)
Where can I find mail sent from SuperMemo?
SuperMemo will use your default mail application. Depending on the type of the application and its configuration, the mail may or may not be archived. For example, in Outlook or Outlook Express (which is a default mail application in Windows), you will find sent mail by default in the folder named: Sent Items. If you are not sure which application is your default e-mail application, see: Start : Settings : Control Panel : Internet Options : Programs : E-mail in Windows

You can delay a review or repetition by choosing Execute repetition
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 : Execute repetition on the element menu (Ctrl+Shift+R) and manually choose the date of the next review

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 also use this method to sort mail by priority, last review date, etc.

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 paste the address to all splinter fragments generated in incremental reading. You could use Ctrl+S followed by Ctrl+R to search and replace texts in your collection

Mail signature is optional (#2676)
(Alex, Aug 03, 2006)
Can I safely remove texts that SuperMemo adds at the and of mail I send?
Yes. Those are for reference only