Got (too much) mail?

EmailOne of the greatest challenges of modern times is that of information overload.  The internet, television, and TV have all but replaced newspapers, postal mail, and radio as our main source of information.  This means information moves a lot faster, and we have to adapt to find ways to deal with it.

Email is both a curse and a blessing.  If you are like me, you probably have several email accounts, and each one probably receives a hundred or more emails every day.  You probably have no chance of actually reading every one of those emails, nor would you probably want to even if you could.

For sure, there is a lot of valuable email.  But there is also a lot of spam out there as well.  How do you manage all of those emails so you don’t miss the ones that you want, and don’t waste time on the ones that you don’t?

Here are a few suggestions that have worked for me, and may work for you as well

1. Be strategic with your email accounts. Set up email accounts for specific kinds of emails.  For instance, don’t mix work with personal emails.

I have separate email accounts for ChrisAkinsdotCom, and my other businesses.  This makes it easy for me to manage the businesses separately.

I have a Hotmail account that I give to web sites I sign up with that I don’t really want to hear from again.  Doing this directs most of my spam to my Hotmail account.  The Hotmail account is also an account that I’ve had for over 10 years, so nearly all of my friends know its permanent and they will always be able to get an email to me on it if we ever lose touch with each other.

I have another personal email on Gmail that gets very little spam, and is my primary personal email.  All of my current friends have this, as well as web sites that I actually want to get email from and that I trust.While this may seem confusing, the result is that all of my work email goes to my work accounts, and those accounts almost never gets spam, making them very easy to manage.  My personal Gmail account also almost never gets spam because I am careful about who gets that address, and my Hotmail account becomes sort of the dumping ground for spam, or emails that likely are not all that important to me.

While this may seem confusing, the result is that all of my work email goes to my work accounts, and those accounts almost never gets spam, making them very easy to manage.  My personal Gmail account also almost never gets spam because I am careful about who gets that address, and my Hotmail account becomes sort of the dumping ground for spam, or emails that likely are not all that important to me.

This makes my email existence very organized, and easier to manage.

 2. Use folders and rules. Most email programs allow you to set up folders for specific types of emails, or for emails from specific people.  If you use one of the mainstream email programs like Outlook (Microsoft) or Mail (Apple) you can also set up rules that automatically send incoming emails from specific people or groups into their own folder.

Both of these are very useful tools for managing the chaos of your inbox.  For instance, I set up an “Important” folder that I move all of the emails I may not be able to respond to immediately into.  This gives me a single location for emails that I cannot (or at least should not) ignore.  In my work emails, I also set up folders for my most important clients, and then set up rules so their emails go directly into those folders.  This helps me ensure that I don’t miss an important email from them.  I have similar folders and rules for family members and friends.

Using folders and rules, my Inbox rarely get so crowded that it becomes confusing.  Email also almost never get lost.

3. Set up your spam filters.  While I manage spam by having separate accounts, and being very careful about who gets my email addresses, I also make sure that my spam filters are set up on every one of my accounts.  I find that Outlook is pretty good, as well as Mail (I use both as I have a PC laptop and an iMac).  Hotmail is not so good in my experience, but Gmail rocks (I hardly ever get spam in Gmail).  Beyond just setting them up, its also important that if you receive an email that you regard as spam, that you mark it as spam so the next time one like it is sent, the spam filter can catch it.  Also, don’t forget to clean your spam folder out periodically!

 4. Use advanced view.  You can set up most email programs to let you see the first few lines of all of your messages before you open them.  I find this very helpful, as it allows me to get an idea of what the email is about before I spend the time opening and reading the entire message.  This saves me a ton of time, and helps me prioritize which messages need the most immediate attention… or any attention at all.

5. Mark important emails.  Sometimes I don’t have the time to read and respond to even important emails.  I deal with this by moving them into my “Important” folder, and for those that are super important, I flag them.  This helps me prioritize my most important emails.  I make a point of clearing that folder every day as well.

 6. Don’t become a slave to your inbox. Set up times each day for reading and responding to emails. Regardless of how you manage your Inbox, it is important to realize that you don’t become a slave to it.  Many (most?) people sit in front of their computers with their mail boxes running in the background.  When an email arrives they drop what they are doing and check it out.  They let their Inbox manage them.

Another option is to close that mail program, and check it at set intervals throughout the day.  This allows you to plan your day, and not let your incoming email interrupt the other projects you have to complete.  One way I manage this without missing that one email that will result in Armageddon if it is not read and acted on IMMEDIATELY is to give people permission to call me, or even text me, if there is something extremely urgent.  I set expectations of people to not rely on immediate responses to their emails.

Email is both an incredible blessing, and a horrible curse.  It is very easy to let your email manage your day; however, it does not have to. By taking advantage of the technology of your email programs, organizing your emails, prioritizing them, and being disciplined with your own schedule, you can get more out of your email and still have a life!

Photo by Keith Ramsey, who has loads of awesome images on Flickr

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