Got email? Got email overload? Got any idea how to manage it? Stop beating your head against the same brick wall every year. Here are 7 things that will help.
1. Know how to manage your spam filters. There are a lot of different types of email out there, so giving you instructions here on setting up spam filters isn’t feasible. But rest assured that your specific email service does have spam filters. In fact, you may have several spam options. My host/email provider has one. I have another one on my computer. I subscribed to and pay for an outside service as well, called Postini. If you are getting an insane amount of offers to refinance your home, buy meds, and help a friend escape from a foreign country, then start by researching your email’s spam options. I honestly remove hundreds of emails each day before they even get to my inbox. Not sure how to set up your spam filters? Check your provider’s FAQs or Google something like “How to set up spam filters on comcast email”.
2. Unsubscribe. You may have heard that you don’t want to unsubscribe because that causes more spam. That’s only the case for true spam, you know, the ones from the Phillipines and Africa and so on. You can probably tell the “true spam” from legitimate retailers and service providers. If you truly aren’t interested in hearing from Home Depot, Victoria’s Secret, and Land’s End every single week, then unsubscribe. By law, they must process your request You know where they are, anyway, right? Hint: it ends with a dot-com. You can unsubscribe a little each day, or you can do it twice a year, after you’ve decided whether their content is valuable or not.
3. Folders. If there are folks you can’t totally unhook or unsubscribe from, but you honestly never have time to read their stuff, then set up a filter to send their info directly into a folder. Almost every email service out there now allows you to create folders. Ideally, you’ll set up a rule that will say something like, “Whenever a message comes from (this guy), then send it directly to my (sales and deals) folder.” I put almost all of my association newsletters into a folder like this, so I’m not tempted to read them during high-productivity hours.
4. Be ready. One of the worst things that ever happened to us was the introduction of the smartphone. Now we feel like we can just clear out a few emails while waiting in line or (God forbid) at a stoplight. Don’t do it. Unless you are ready to act on those emails, all you are doing is creating a backlog. Wait until you are wherever you need to be, like at your desk, to check, act on, delete, and file away those emails. Not only will you be more productive, you’ll be more present wherever you are, like in the lane next to me on Rte 30.
5. Backup, Backup, Backup. This can be a toughie for non-techies, but the good news is that it is getting easier. If you feel overwhelmed by email, you probably keep more email than you really want to, and that’s probably because you think there is something important in there that you should be keeping. If that’s true, then you should be backing them up. If you download your emails to your computer, then you need a backup solution, and maybe two, because your computer will die someday. If you aren’t sure if your emails get downloaded or if they just stay up on your provider’s servers, call your provider and ask. If you run or manage a business, I highly recommend both an online backup and an on-site physical backup. Find out what I recommend for both types of computer backup solutions (and get a free offer) here.
6. Don’t print email. Some folks are still printing off a bunch of emails every day so they can take them into the other room and read them. Not only is it bad for the trees, but it’s bad for your time management. Exercise your decision muscle and force yourself to read emails rather than printing them out. If you have trouble reading on your computer monitor, get some help to change the font, get a bigger monitor, change the brightness, or make other changes so it is easier for you to read the pixels rather than creating piles.
7. Batch and archive. If you already do the first six things above, congratulations. But you still have 46,000 emails in your inbox? That might just drive you crazy. If you dream of a fresh start, then make a clean break. But don’t fret about having to delete your archive. Just batch them up and park them somewhere other than your inbox. Create a folder. Maybe label the old batch “Before 2013-destroy in 2015,” and start again. Your inbox will only be cleared out for a minute, but it will feel so good, and you’ll still have the old stuff if you truly need it.
photo credit: 123RF.com
What other strategies do you use to manage your email overload?