7 1/2 Ways to Survive the Daily E-Mail Flood
- Recent statistics reveal that 10 out of every 11 e-mail messages worldwide are spam, also known as unsolicited bulk e-mail. The global impact on business productivity is staggering, clogging e-mail servers, inboxes, and deleted items folders everywhere. Spam filters are not 100 percent accurate and you do risk blocking a few legitimate messages; but the advantage of running one or more spam filters far outweighs the risk. Modern filtering techniques can do a very effective job at knocking down 95 percent or more of this stuff, so if you’re receiving more than 10 spam messages per day, you need to look into better protection, or multiple levels of protection. For a recommended anti-spam solution that’s right for you, e-mail me at FightSpam@MakingTechEasy.com.
- Avoid spam by protecting your primary e-mail address. Create one or more secondary addresses with free online e-mail services such as gmail.com or hotmail.com. Use these secondary addresses whenever you wish to keep your private e-mail account anonymous. If over time your secondary e-mail account begins to get spammed, cancel it and apply for a new secondary account. Alternately, Google the phrase “disposable email address” and consider registering for one of the free DEA services listed there.
- Take your eyes off the inbox! Effectively dealing with e-mail is serious business. Rather than being interrupted every time a message arrives, I recommend turning off your incoming e-mail announcements and setting aside time periodically throughout the day to process and organize your e-mail. The benefit is that you will have time to focus on that specific task and can make proper decisions regarding each message. Of course, if you are expecting an urgent message from your boss, please scan your inbox more often.
- During your dedicated e-mail task time, use the four Ds of decision making: Delete it, Do it (then delete it), Delegate it (then delete it), or Defer it for later action. This last point, Defer it, is the most difficult because you need some place to store the message so that you can come back to it later. Many people use their inbox for deferred action items, which results in their inbox becoming a giant task list. I suggest moving the item to your task list, or moving it to a pending-work folder or set of folders. The benefit is that the task doesn’t get mixed in with your incoming messages. Treat your inbox as an inbox, not a storage location.
- Establish a set of organized e-mail folders to store information that you need to reference later. Think what would happen if you stored every letter or report that you wanted to save in a giant pile in the middle of your desk. This type of filing system is messy, makes it difficult to find important items, and could crush you if it toppled over. Keeping all of your saved or deferred e-mail messages in your inbox is not the best approach for the same reasons. Creating a filing system that works the way your brain thinks is critical. Create as many or as few folders as you need. The important point is being able to quickly find the information when you need it.
- Important! Use the delete key! If there is one tip from this list that you follow, please make it this one. Many people have a problem using the delete key in their inbox because of their fear of removing important information. Proper use of the delete key is critical to managing your inbox. Delete, delete, delete, delete, DELETE! If the message is important enough to save, then make that decision and immediately move it to a storage location or reference folder. If not, use that delete key.
- Take action to clear out your backlog of e-mail. If you have unread messages that are several months old and you haven’t yet read them, it’s likely that you never will. Begin by taking anything that’s older than two or three weeks and move the whole batch to an archive or save folder. If you ever need to search through it, you can go to it. Then start at the top of your inbox and apply the techniques listed in steps 4, 5 and 6 (especially 6). You should quickly begin to feel the stress of an overflowing inbox melt away.
7 ½) If you are serious about getting control of your inbox and ultimately improving your productivity, I highly recommend the Microsoft Press book titled Take Back Your Life! by Sally McGhee – ISBN: 9780735622159. It is specifically written for Microsoft Outlook users, but many of the techniques will apply to any e-mail system. The key to success is disciplined execution. Now that you have the skills, make it happen!
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Jeff Dettloff is the president and chief problem solver for Providence Consulting, a leading provider of computer service and network solutions to Lansing’s small to medium-size business market. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Lansing, a husband, father and grandfather.