This article was originally published in the November 2001 issue of LINK magazine.

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Eight Ways to Tame the E-mail Monster
Tips from the masters of e-mail to help you keep your messages from taking over your life

by Derek K. Miller

"During the week, I average about 150 e-mails a day, but on Mondays I usually have about 250 to 300," says Don Mayer, CEO of Small Dog Electronics, a computer reseller in rural Vermont. He's not alone. Everyone online uses e-mail—it makes being connected indispensable. But how can you keep the Internet's killer app from killing your chances of getting anything done?

1. Schedule

You'll hurt your productivity by checking every new e-mail the moment it arrives. Instead, set a schedule: maybe check first thing in the morning, once more after lunch to catch up, and again just before you leave work for the day. But the rest of the time, ignore your e-mail program—or shut it down.

"In effect, you've got writer's block briefly as you go from one task to another," says Dr. David Meyer of the University of Michigan's Department of Psychology. It can cost as much as 40 percent of your productive time.

2. Be Ruthless

Say no to newsletters, joke lists, and chain letters. "I take the time to get off lists that I accidentally get on," says Don Mayer of Small Dog, "and try to avoid getting on those lists in the first place."

If you find yourself deleting regular e-mails without opening them, or glancing at them to see if, just this once, there's something worth reading, then stop. Read the unsubscribe instructions and follow them, or e-mail your correspondents and ask them (politely) to remove you from their lists.

3. Pare Down

Get yourself a single e-mail address, and make it permanent (but see item 8 below). Try an e-mail redirection service that you can both forward to your current e-mail account and access via the Web.

If your correspondents need only track one address, you're less likely to get duplicates when they try every address they have. Even better, if you change jobs or Internet providers, you won't need to tell everyone about it.

4. Filter and Organize

Keep the clutter out of your Inbox. Modern e-mail software lets you create folders and automated rules to filter, move, and highlight messages.

Richard Campbell, a technical writer in Vancouver, uses Outlook's rules for his 80 daily e-mails. "I color-code them, so clients are orange, editors red, friends green, and lists blue. I also have rules for magazine titles I write for. After that, 95 percent of what's left is junk. I delete it."

5. Skim

"I get around 300 messages a day," says Steve Hillman of Simon Fraser University's Computing Services department. "About a third of them are spam, half are mailing lists. A rare few are actually from real people."

Besides using Eudora's filters, Steve skims. "I often don't even read my mailing lists. I just skim them now and then, but I can quickly refer to them if I have a problem."

Try sorting new e-mails by subject or sender, then skimming. Save word-by-word reading for genuinely important messages.

6. Avoid the Backlog

Respond, take action on, and file e-mails as soon as you possibly can, rather than letting your Inbox grow unmanageably large.

"I leave urgent messages in my Inbox," says Andrew Flostrand, who works for SFU's Faculty of Business Administration, "and sort the rest into mailboxes specific to the project, correspondent, or mailing list."

7. Learn to Let Go

Every few months, take some time to clean house. Move orphaned messages from your Inbox, and either archive old mail or just delete it. Why let it clutter your view of what you need now?

8. Avoid Spam

Internet providers, e-mail services, IT departments, and e-mail software programmers all fight spam e-mail, but still it gets through, and heavy e-mailers find their own ways to avoid it.

"I have at least a dozen filters for common spam word patterns which all divert messages to my 'Spam—Maybe' folder," says SFU's Hillman.

Andrew Flostrand notes that spammers change their messages to avoid filters. "It's critical to search for keywords, not subject lines. Yes, I run the risk of losing e-mail from a friend who might actually want to talk about an 'investment opportunity,' but it's a small price to pay."

Andrew also suggests having an expendable account with a free webmail service to avoid getting spam at your main one. "Use it for software registrations or other places you post your e-mail address. My dummy ID gets at least double the spam that my own gets."

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Page BBEdited on 19-Mar-04 (originally published November 2001)

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