Article Summary:How to organize your email, and take control of your inbox.
"By the year 2000, we'll have paperless offices." Isn't that what many people were thinking and saying thirty years ago? Electronic mail came along and the prediction threatened to come true of messages whizzing back and forth with no paper involved. It was a technological dream come true. However, we've traded one problem for another.
The ease of e-mail communication has created a new monster in the form of e-mail overwhelm. Seventy-four new messages today, and it's not even lunch time! Chain letters which promise sure doom if you break them! Urban legends and virus hoaxes `til the cows come home. It's a never-ending stream of messages, which can be hard to manage. Plus, adding insult to injury, the turn of the new century has come and gone and we're more inundated with paper than ever. How can this be? What of the high tech, paperless workplace of our dreams?
Paper is a tried and true means of conveying information from one person to another, and it often feels "safer" to rely on paper systems than to rely on technology. This security blanket effect is the cause of e-mail paper clutter. One reason so many people print e-mail is because they're afraid if they don't, that they'll never be able to find the original message again. Using the steps outlined here, you should be able to rest easy knowing that you can locate a specific e-mail any time you need it, without worrying about printing it off and adding it to the pile on your desk.
The first logical first step to combating e-mail overwhelm is to have faith in your technology and stop feeling compelled to print your e-mails. A good rule of thumb is to only print an e-mail if it contains information that is absolutely necessary to have with you in hard copy when you leave the office.
Consider the fact that when you print out your e-mails, you are defeating the entire purpose of having electronic mail in the first place.
Another very obvious tactic to managing the flood of e-mail is to use the delete key joyfully and use it often! There is absolutely no reason to waste time opening e-mails that you have no interest in reading. SPAM -- jokes, chain letters, virus hoaxes, and advertisements, are circulated millions of times a day and they are a total waste of time. Nine times out of ten you can tell what is spam simply by the subject line or the return address, so don't even bother opening them.
Your e-mail program may also have filters that you can set up to redirect e-mails with certain key words in the subject line or text body. For example, if you get a lot of junk e-mail regarding contests, you could choose to flag any incoming e-mail with the word "win" in its subject line. Once the software sees the key word, it automatically directs that e-mail into the trash and you never even see it in your inbox.
A technique you can use to reduce the download wait time on your e-mails is to set your preferences within your e-mail client to only download messages that are a certain size or smaller. I use a maximum setting of 15K (15,000 bytes), which means I don't automatically get any attachments unless I choose to retrieve them from the server. Setting your preferences this way will allow you to see the first few lines of a message, but will leave the bulk of it on the server for you to retrieve, but only if you elect to. This little trick also keeps many viruses from landing on your computer because you never download the attachments to your machine.
Once you've chosen which e-mails to save, create various folders within the e-mail program to sort and track the messages. If you have only one inbox and it's holding every e-mail from the past six months, you're in "communication chaos" and things are slipping through the cracks. When setting up sorting folders, choose carefully what you name the folders, so that you remember what each one means. You can create folders with project names, client names, sender's names, or the action needed to be taken. For example, create a folder called "to be answered" for those e-mails that require a definitive reply from you. There are many categories by which to sort your e-mails, and only you know which categories and labels will be the most relevant and effective for you in your business.
If you try the steps outlined here, you can take control of your e-mail overwhelm. Once you set up a framework for organizing your e-mails, you'll be amazed at how quickly you can find what you need and more importantly, take the overwhelm factor out of your electronic communication.
Monica Ricci has been an organizing and productivity specialist since 1999. She offers onsite consulting, as well as motivational seminars and workshops, which teach effective organizing and simplifying and effectiveness strategies for home and work. Reach Monica at www.Catalyst Organizing.com or ph: 770-569-2642.