Donovan Palmer made some brilliant comments about using email on his website: My name is Donovan Palmer and I have an email problem!
- Don't clear your email first thing in the morning: Instead focus for the first few hours on setting your strategic priorities of the day. Then later in the day, book some time to clear your email. I like to do mine somewhere between 10:00-11:00 a.m. Sometimes, I will book another slot towards the end of the day to clear my email again.
- Switch off your automatic checker: The challenge I found with being on-line all the time is that email that pops up on my screen distracts me and I wind up spending the afternoon on something that I never planned to work on. I also sometimes think "this will only take a minute" and before I know it, my day is gone and my strategic priorities have flown out the window.
- I do this now and it makes a world of difference --Kev-The-Hasty 09:28, 19 November 2007 (CET)
- Have a "clear your email inbox mentality": My goal when I sit down to do my email is to clear my inbox. I do not use my inbox as a holding place for pending items awaiting action, otherwise what is important starts to get mixed up with unnecessary items and I get distracted in the torrents of email.
- Be brutal: The problem with email is that it usually costs the same whether you send 1 or 100, so you get copied on tonnes of things. My first question when I look at an email is whether or not I really need to read or respond to this. If it isn't something core to what I do I will just scan it to get the general gist of the message. Better yet, if it isn't important, I just delete it away without feeling guilty.
- Open email only once: The goal is to open up an email, run through a series of mental questions about whether you should read it or even respond to it, action it, then delete it. Don't close an email until you have actioned it in some way or another. I get very concerned when I realise that I have opened the same email message repeatedly.
- Book time for emails that require more than a few minutes: (this is probably the most important tip of all!) If a lengthy response is needed and I cannot type a response within three minutes, then it is beyond the scope of clearing my inbox and is something that I need to book specific time for. Emails in this category become like little projects or work tasks and need to be managed accordingly. In my case, I file them in the "For Followup" folder in Outlook. Emails that go in here are tagged green, orange and red. Green is low priority and would often have papers or articles that I can read in my leisure. Orange is stuff of normal priority that I need to get to, but it's not urgent. Red is urgent priority and needs me to book time to deal with it quickly. As this folder is all important stuff, I rarely let it get above 30 items.
- Consider not using email at all! The reality is that some of the emails that require more than three minutes of your time, probably shouldn't be handled by email at all. I have taken to using more frequently the telephone, Skype video conference and face to face meetings for emails that are complicated and would require a lot of time writing a response on. The reality is that if it is complicated, there is a good chance you will be misunderstood anyway. It also goes without mention that more than likely the person on the other end will have to spend an equal amount of time writing a complicated response to your complicated response. Then you respond with another complicated response... on and on the hours go by...
- Don't spend a lot of time filing in folders: Unless it is something very important, when I am done with an email it goes into a folder called "Read and Completed" and I do not maintain tonnes of other email folders to file emails in. Only the most important items such as maybe an electronic receipt, critical details, etc. go into a handful of other folders. The reason I do this is that I rely on Windows Desktop Search or Google Desktop Search to find emails. Desktop search engines are so powerful now, they do a much better job of finding an email than I could ever think of by using folders.
- Use email rules/filters for email forums: For email forum traffic, I set up a rule to file anything from that forum into a sub folder. That way I can efficiently read the forum traffic without having it all get clogged up into my inbox. If you are a techie, some of these things can be monitored using RSS. I have this set up for my facebook alerts and our base intranet.
- Get a decent email program: Outlook 2003 and even better Outlook 2007 have improved the way you can manage email. If you are using an old client, upgrade. It does make a difference. There are also other great programmes out there like Nelson Mail Organiser which people swear by. I mention software last in my steps because if you don't employ practices similar to what I have written above, software will not help you one bit. There is no "silver bullet" to this problem.
What else can we add here? Have you got some tips about using facebook or outlook? Have you got a freebie email program that does a great job?
Do Not Use the Free Email Program That Comes With Windows
- Try not to touch the Outlook Express or Windows Mail program that comes free with Windows. There are much much better alternatives that do more and do it more securely!
Good Linux/Unix/Windows Mail Programs
- Though I think it is generally best to include ideas that are service independent, I do think that Gmail/Google Apps does make it easier to implement some of these ideas. In specific, suggestion #8 is built into Gmail via the search tool. This makes it so that it is not necessary to have installed software to search email. -- crashsystems
If you use POP3/IMAP/SMTP (e.g. Thunderbird): Make sure to use SSL or TLS (always). This encrypts the Communication to your Email Server, so that e.g. your password will be sent in an encrypted way.
If you use a webmail interface (e.g. Gmail), use SSL / https.
You can also set up to send Emails itself in an encrypted way. Note that normally, a email can be read by all delivering services, it's like a post card. It would be preferable if you can close down the text, so that only the recipient can open it, which is explained here.
More Good Ideas
This article entitled Writing Sensible Email Messages is very helpful in explaining the writers responsibility for creating good email. There are many other good ideas on personal management and email on the site too.