some interesting thoughts on managing a high-volume e-mail box.
Mine clearly qualifies, since I do e-mail for a living and have to monitor a lot of mailing lists and other things. good advice if you follow the links.
here’s the key to handling volumes of email: learn to use your mail client’s filtering tools, and use them to do triage. the most important hint: figure out the things you don’t need to deal with right now, and get them out fo the way so you can find the stuff you do need to look at.
For instance, I have to follow a bunch of mail lists — but not in real time. So anything that comes from a mailing list gets filtered off to folders, so they’re out of my main mailboxes. I don’t even have to think about them until I have free time, and I don’t have to plow through them (or evaluate them, or be tempted to read them) while I’m busy. Most lists send a “List-ID” header now, and if they don’t, they probably have a “sender” header that you can filter on (except of course for yahoogroups, which invented its own header), so this kind of filtering is fairly easy.
a second thing you can do is take certain things you know you need to look at immediately and colorize or flag them, so you know to check them first. things like (ahem) your boss, your co-workers. I sometimes create temporary filters to flag topics or projects.
It doesn’t have to be complex (and in fact, I’d argue you’re better off with fewer folders and filters than more — if you’re constantly plowing through 30 folders, you get just as lost as if you plow through one). I ahve two main mailboxes, one for home, one for work. My work mail-lists, my home mail-lists each go in their own folder. I keep a work TODO and a home TODO for mail that need to be handled but I can’t handle immediately. and then I keep a work DONE and a home DONE for email that I’m done with but I want to archive. I also create task or project folders at times, and the DONE and task folders get burnt to CDR every so often.
Part of this is to keep the inbox empty — read it, then delete it, file it, or schedule it for later handling. leave nothing in your inbox, anything you can’t handle right away goes in TODO or a project folder. that way, you know the stuff in your inbox is new, and needs to be looked at. saves you looking at stuff to find the new stuff.
If you set it up, you can avoid wasting time trying to decide what to do — because your worklow will naturally fall out from the organization. I know some folks who can survive with the “I put it all in the pile and I can find it when I need it” mode, but for most of us mortals, that fails just as badly with paper materials as it does with email: but while most folks have figured out file folders for paper, they still seem to handle their email box as a single large gulp.
and then wonder why they feel overloaded with email.. divide and conquer. Learn what you can defer, and then defer it.