Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Can you manage your e-mail?

Why do we read e-mail all day long? Because we can.

It doesn’t mean it is efficient or a good use of your time. Would you run to the mailbox every five minutes to see if the mail carrier has added anything? Would you stop everything and read each piece of mail? Well, maybe I’d better say “Should you?”

When e-mail was a novelty and a secret pleasure of the techno-savvy we all used to check it a couple times a day, via dial-up and stare in amazement that someone sent us something. Now, with always-on, high-speed Internet connections, we’ve grown into a habit of checking e-mail too often. The instant connectivity may be more an interruption and drain on our concentration than a necessity.

Depending on the nature of your communications, try to check e-mail just at specific times of day, or limit yourself to three sessions. See if that is more efficient for you: To spend 15 minutes reading and replying, instead of 15 different interruptions throughout the day. Think about whether you really need to have your e-mail follow you around via radio frequencies to arrive at your PDA or cell phone.

One outgrowth of the overly informal, instant nature of e-mail has been poor writing style. Bad grammar, lack of punctuation, and overly casual comments are not good communication. My rule: If you wouldn’t sign your name to it as a memo, don’t send it as an e-mail.

Handling is the problem
By definition, shouldn’t the Inbox be only for new messages you haven’t read or responded to? Does the Inbox tray on your desk hold the hundreds of messages and files you’ve already read and dealt with?

If something takes less than two minutes, do it right away. Then move the message from the Inbox – either delete or drag to a folder if you need to keep it.

Make folders that parallel the organization of your paper files - by person, by project, by topic. If you conduct a fair number of online transactions it is helpful to create a folder for registrations, receipts, etc. and purge that once the transactions are completed. Okay, that’s one time when you might want to actually print something – to have a receipt.

File and retrieve
Use e-mail folders in your e-mail program, not paper. Printing e-mails just means you have two places to look when you want them and two things to throw away later. The odds are much better that you’ll find them in the computer because of built-in search capabilities.

Sorting options
1. Sort messages in your existing folders by date, sender, subject and can usually find what you need.

2. Your e-mail program has an edit /find or tools / search function, allowing you to search for a word, a date, sender

3. The ultimate solution is a program like Enfish that indexes your documents, including e-mail messages, so you can quickly search by keyword. You can find anything with Enfish (http://www.enfish.com/).

Backing up
If your e-mail is important, and you have folders with needed historical project or reference information, be sure you are backing up your e-mail when you back up your other data. You do back up your data, don’t you? If you don’t know where your e-mail resides, look in the Preference settings and see the folder location for the mail storage.


When you delete messages from your inbox, remember they just go to the trash folder – which is garbage. Depending on the critical nature of your messages, you can set the trash folder to empty on exiting from the program, or you can empty it weekly.

Adopt even two or three of these suggestions to keep from drowning in e-mail, and add more productive minutes to your days.