There is a lot of discussion on the web about e-mail overload (here, here, and here). So I thought I’d share my tips. I’ve been using e-mail since before most people even heard of the internet — back before there were web browsers! (God, I must be old!) And over those years I’ve learned a thing or two.
- The number one rule of e-mail management is to have multiple e-mail accounts. Don’t use your work e-mail address for subscribing to e-mail lists, or purchasing things over the interent. Not only will this help reduce SPAM at your private address, it will also allow you to quickly see what is important. The only down side is that people will inevitably end up sending mail to the “wrong” address. I just have a handy e-mail template telling them that I value their e-mail and so they should send it to the private/work address in order to make sure I read there e-mail in a timely fashion.
- Use filters. Gmail is great for handling all your listserv e-mail. (See this older post for why I hate e-mail lists.) You can set up “labels” for each of your lists, and then create “filters” to automatically skip the inbox and place mail from each list in its own folder/label. Then, when you log into Gmail you will see how many unread messages there are in each list. For instance, the Linguistic Anthropology list will appear as such “linganth (6)” showing that there are six unread messages. The great thing about Gmail for e-mail lists is that it will also group threads together into “conversations,” allowing you to easily follow protracted discussions. And, of course, because you use your browser to read your bulk e-mail, you do it less often — it doesn’t force you to stop what you are doing everytime something comes into your inbox!
- Use IMAP. As I wrote before: “IMAP lets you synchronize all your e-mail folders, not just your inbox. For instance, if you move a message from your inbox to a folder called “family” or “work”, that message will be in the “family” or “work” folder when you go to check your e-mail online, or on another computer! Similarly, if your host offers SPAM filtering, then e-mail suspected of being SPAM can be moved to a special “suspect” folder, and will not be in your inbox.” My favorite IMAP host is Luxsci, they may cost more than FastMail, but they offer excellent service — including backups of your last 100 messages, e-mail filtering, and great technical support. E-mail is such an important part of my life that I like to make sure it is safe.
As you can see, a lot of this is about making sure that your inbox doesn’t get flooded. That means I only need to spend a short amount of time each day scanning my inbox for new messages, since bulk e-mail, SPAM, and e-mail from services and companies I’ve done business with all goes to other mailboxes which I can check much less often.