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400 e-mails a day! Help! I’m overwhelmed… March 23, 2007

Posted by jhlim in blog, business, Computer, Email Technology, frustration, gmail, Google, live, msn, productivity, Spam, stress, Yahoo.
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inbox.jpgI get 400 e-mails a day and that’s not including spams! I need help! If on average, we take 1 minute to handle each of these 400 e-mails, that translates to 6.7 hours a day! Consider that you’re at work 8 hours a day. In other words, you’re really getting paid doing e-mails. Not a bad job! Fear not. As there is a Solution to this information overload.

Normally, I would get well over this number of e-mail during a typical weekday. There was a time too, I was getting so much e-mails that I felt like I have lost control of myself. How can one person handles so many e-mails on a single day. Madness it is. Over the years, I have tweaked and tested many ways to contain this disaster call your Inbox.

I was tempted to write this article after I read this blog at the webworkerdaily.com on organizing your e-mail. It’s a wonderful article if you’re using software like Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird from Mozilla as it emphasizes on different technological solutions to resolving to this problem.

For many of us including myself, my work and personal e-mail software are now web based. So the article would not help me out that much. In fact, the solution is not just technological but a question of mindset. It’s how we look and deal with information overload.

thinking.jpg

 

Today, my 400 e-mails are cleared at the end of everyday. I could never lose a night of sleep over it. There is a solution and if you’re willing to learn, here are 10 tricks that will help bring some sanity back to your personal and work life!

 Spam mails has risen alot in past months 

10 Great tips to managing your Inbox

Tip #1: Choose the best web-based e-mail provider

No doubt technology plays a role in solving this madness. In the years, I have used all the major personal web based e-mail solutions from Yahoo, Google, Lycos, MSN, Excite, Mail.com, etc. There’re probably 1000’s of them. But the final three e-mail providers boil down to Yahoo Mail, Google’s Gmail and MSN Hotmail. I still have accounts with all three but my primary one is Yahoo Mail. It’s without a doubt the best you can get. And they are all FREE!

Before, I explain why, first let’s discard all the other e-mail providers because I don’t think there are any companies that have invested more time and money in making a better Inbox than them. Let’s face it, their business is to encourage people to surf, search and e-mail. And they are the best at what they do. Don’t go for the second-tier providers from Lycos, AOL, Myspace or your personal Internet service provider. It’s not worth your time. With experience, Yahoo, Google and MSN have a great SPAM filter box. This is important because, like me, you could be getting 100’s of spams daily. You need to have a reliable technology to help you on this. The longer you have been using the same e-mail address, the more likely that you’ll be getting SPAMs. A good reason to use a web based e-mailer over a software version are the industrial-strength spam filter and virus detection for attachments.

Of course, for work, you may not have the choice to decide on the e-mail software you use. If you know your IT administrator, you would definitely remind him to install good firewall that can filter out the ever-changing spams.

yahoo-mail.jpgYahoo Mail was the best before they came out with their latest Beta which I have been using for the past year. It’s great.

  • We’re talking about drag and drop functionality that works just like your good old fashion computer software.
  • It looks up all the e-mails rather quickly.
  • A reading pane. You’d love this if you’re an Outlook fan.  
  • Integrated RSS reader. You’ll need this as I go further with other tips later on. You’ll love Yahoo for this.
  • Tabs for e-mails which I adore it. Tabs allow me to view more than one e-mails. This is great as sometimes you may have to work with two e-mails at the same time. Or when you need to compose a new e-mail while looking at some other e-mails. This is a definite great productivity feature!
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Lots of storage. Although Yahoo only gives out 1 Gig of disk space compared to 2 gigs with Hotmail and a whopping 3 gigs with Gmail. Personally, I don’t think that 2 or 3 gigs will do much difference for most of us. Lots of storage space is always a good thing. Besides, this is more of a marketing gimmick. Most people don’t use that much e-mail space. Not yet. 500 megs is more than enough.
  • Best of all, it’s SIMPLE to use. It’s familiar face. Like a seeing a friend in a foreign country.

 

yahoo-mail-beta.jpg

 

 gmail.jpgGoogle’s Gmail is good too. But the learning curve may be steep for many.

  • Google believes in labels or tags which is kind of a Web 2.0 thing. It allows you to add small texts to associate to each e-mail instead of moving it into some folder. I don’t think it’s bad but our human mind works in categories or folders. Ask Microsoft. They probably invented this and ingrained this in our mind ever since. If you like labels, Gmail could be your thing. For many like me, without having a folder system, it can be a confusing. Gmail overcomes this by giving the user a huge single Archive folder. They are saying “you don’t need folders, just use our amazing search engine!” I’ve been there and tried it. Ain’t working out for me! As a marketing manager, I never believe in working against our habits or grains. It’s too much to change. It’s like having a website where the menu is on the right and not the usual left. It makes sense to have the menu on the right as it’s closer to the scroll bar and since we are typically a right-hander, we would be looking more the right than left. Logic does not prevail here! Habits prevail over logic.
  • There is one thing I like about Gmail over Yahoo. It’s the SPEED. That’s one thing Google always gets it right. This is a big plus for any internet users, not just the heavy e-mailers.
  • Gmail was the first to give free 2 gigs of email space. Now, they are up close to 3 gigs. I wonder if anyone out there are close to using all of it. Send me your Comments below!
  • If you hate banner ads, Gmail is your choice. They will put some text ads and that’s about it. Yahoo Mail has tall skyscraper banner ads on the side. I wish they didn’t but since it’s free. At the same time, it’s tolerable.
  • You’ll love Gmail if you like to test out new ways all the time. The general mass is not like that but if you are, go for it!

gmail-screenshot.jpg

msn-live-mail.jpgMSN Hotmail is the worst of the three. The only reason I still write about them is because they have a big user base.

  • Talking about usability, these guys just don’t get it. Their new hotmail beta also looks like Outlook too. But they put a horizontal banner ad on top which totally restricts the viewability of the screen or the email. Talking about usability…oh what usability!
  • Speed is another issue. It seems to have a slower loading time than Yahoo mail. It’s got a noticeable difference to the point it becomes annoying. If you have used the latest AJAX technology on myMSN page, you’ll know the guys at Microsoft still haven’t figured out what internet users want. I have nothing against Microsoft. I love their Windows and Office but when it comes to the web, it’s almost a disgrace.
  • Again, they have banner ads on the top. Perhaps their developers all use a 21 inch LCD screens, but I don’t. And neither do most of you. The numbers out there tells it all. Considering that you’re running a few toolbars from Google or MSN, your actually browsing screen is already limited vertically. Within that Hotmail or Live Mail as it is now called, deduct a fifth of the height for the banner ad equals claustrophobia. MSN tries to overcome this by offering you the ability to make the viewing panes into three columns. Good try but it’s not helping. Why not just steal a page from Google or Yahoo?

Tip #2: Don’t give your email address out like candies

candies.jpg

Do you ever wonder how spammers get your e-mails? Until the moment when you’re getting tons of SPAMs, I am sure you’ll be asking yourself this. It’s not obvious but many of us gives out our personal e-mail addresses too willingly. Why is that? It’s just our nature of wanting to share and our greed to get all those freebies on the net. How often have you signed up a free software or to be on a jokes list. Myself, I am guilty for signing up for hundreds of newsletters. Every time, we feel like giving out comments on a blog where our e-mail is required. The blog may say that they don’t display your e-mail out in public, but we can never be too sure of what they will do with it. Those who hang out alot in forums or groups often have to register with their e-mail address before having access to it. Freebies and contest are definite baits for your personal information. Have you guys signed up yet for the free iPod when you register and refer 5 other friends?! 

Sure the privacy policy may be listed out on the website. But when was the last time you read their policy. I am sure if you read it out loud, it will say something like “we may sell or exchange your personal information to our third party partners that we deal business with”. In my line of business as a marketer, that’s my job to look into this. But most of us don’t do that.

However, at other times, it’s not our fault that your e-mail address is monkey25 @ yahoo.com. The spammers will just systematically bait you by sending mails to monkey23@, monkey24@, monkey25@ and so on. The very moment you get baited by reading one of the spams, that’s the end of your e-mail.

Like I said, spams and information overload is not just a technological solution. It’s how we look at things and deal with them. We need to change our views when it comes to sharing our personal information in this brave new world.

If you can’t resist yourself from giving your e-mail away. I suggest you read my next tip on managing your inbox.

Tip #3: Create Dummy E-mail accounts for your favorite forums

Here’s a nifty trick to help you getting your precious personal e-mail from spammers. Wherever you go today on the web, it’s likely your e-mail is required as part of the registration. Giving your e-mail during registration in a forum, blog, classifieds or signing up for freebies will end up with more spams. Since signing up e-mail accounts is free, why not register one or more e-mail accounts. Use these dummy accounts to sign up for your favorite newsletters or online accounts. Then set your e-mail to have them automatically forward all e-mails to your primary account. Fortunately, Gmail is the only e-mail that allows you to do this. Yahoo charges a small $20 yearly to upgrade for this (among other features).

“…you can actually get a sense of control over your 400 e-mails”

Tip #4: Do you really need all these 400 e-mails a day?

Free and greed often go hand in hand. The more storage space you get at home, the more junk you’ll be putting in it. E-mail is no different. In the end, you’re getting more junk mails even though you actually subscribed to theses newsletter or forum updates. They are of no use because you’re so sick of looking at them. This is where you will have to ask yourself. Do I really need all these e-mails? Weigh the benefits of the e-mails with the frustration and energy to clean your inbox,

Over time, you’ll be subscribing to more and more newsletters and other updates. To keep your e-mail manageable, you’ll frequently need to evaluate whether these e-mails you get regularly are providing you what you need. If the answer is no, start opting yourself out of their mailing list. This can be a chore, but the real trick is do it bit by bit. I assure you over time, you’ll see that your number of e-mails you get will not balloon out of proportion. It means that you can actually get a sense of control over your 400 e-mails.

On the personal level, you will also frequently get jokes from friends or relatives that often don’t share the same interests. You know what I mean, it’s those jokes that you need to read three time before you get it. Well, politely ask them to take you off their joke’s mailing list.

By now you should be feeling a sense of relief to this nagging e-mail problem. Many professional people today face this barage of e-mails from work. Often times, we are CC’d on mails just because the project needs to keep us in the loop. Frequently, I get daily reports, automated e-mail alerts or updates. That’s in addition to dozens of newsletters that I’m subscribed to. With so many e-mails, how do you know which ones to reply to or look at it? It is confusing but even more frustrating and stressful. Don’t forget stress is a contributing factor to heart disease. In the next few tips, I will be discussing mostly on how to organize your e-mails and prioritizing all your e-mails so you can respond to the most urgent and important e-mails.

Tip #5: Prioritize your e-mails with a good folder system 

folder.jpg

 A good organizational structure in your mailbox is needed to handle these 400 daily e-mails I get. Whether it’s a folder system or labelling system from Gmail, you’ll need to create a few temporary spaces for these e-mails. These spaces or folders help you quickly separate the urgent and important e-mails. Within ONE MINUTE, you will be able to clear your inbox and get a sense of what’s important and needs to be dealt with immediately. Humans have the inability to cope with Big numbers. Such as having lots of e-mails waiting in your inbox. It’s our animal instinct that kicks in. You’ll be frozen staring the monitor. Just like a deer crossing a busy highway. The only way to help you cope with this issue, is to break things apart into smaller manageable chunks. That’s where there folder system comes into play. The biggest mistake is we tend to respond or read each every e-mail in the inbox immediately.

“The biggest mistake is we tend to respond or read each every e-mail in the inbox immediately”

You may already have many folders or sub-folders in your e-mail. So what you’ll need to do is to create 5 to 10 temporary or working folders for you to store these unread e-mails until you have the time to do so. The rest of the folders will be used to archive your older e-mails. I’d suggest starting off with 5 working folders. Here’s how your default folder system would look like:

– Inbox
– Spam
– Sent
– Draft
– Trash

With dozens of other folders already in your e-mail program, creating those new working folders may end up being positioned in the middle or bottom of the folder list. Since these folders are temporary and they will need your attention in the near future, you will want to place these working folders near the top of the list. In a web based e-mail, a quick way to create this list is to enumerate them. Just like this.

– Inbox
– Spam
– Sent
– Draft
– Trash

– 1. Project Vista
– 2. Hiring
– 3. Xmas party
– 4. Newsletters
– 5. Friends
– Other Folder
– Other Folder
– Other Folder

Again, keep the number of working folders under 10 simply because if you have too many, you’ll not be able to look through all of them. Now with each e-mail in your inbox, you will be able to to move them to the right folder for later review. Just a quick scan e-mail subject headers will be suffice for you to make the decision as to where they belong.

Tip #6: Automatize your email filing or labelling

The whole point about having folders or labels is so that you can separate what’s important and urgent. So move all the not-so-important and not-so-urgent e-mails to the folders or labels that you have created. Whatever that’s left in your inbox are your urgent e-mails tht you need to read or take action. If you are like me getting all the e-mail subscriptions and forum updates, these e-mails will be moved out to a separate folder called “Newsletters” which I will look at them when I have the time. Additionally, I also receive electronic alerts and daily reports regularly which I do not have to look at them immediately. These e-mails will be moved into their respective folder.

With Yahoo, Gmail or Live Mail, you can use the Filtering feature that allows you to automatically move these e-mails in their respective folder. The filters will allow you to create rules by filtering the From header, To header, Subject and Body.
 

gmail-filter.jpg

With the proper filters setup, most of the e-mails should have been automatically moved over to their proper folders for later review. The remaining e-mails that don’t get filtered up will be in your inbox. All you have to do now, is just manually move these e-mails to their proper folders.

Tip #7: 5 Steps to Manage your E-mails

So now your inbox is more organized than ever despite the 400 e-mails you get daily. Isn’t that a relief already? It’s not over yet, we are only half way done. The next thing you’ll need to do boils down to 5 different steps to manage them effectively. By doing so, you’ll gaining control of your Inbox and be way to achieve great work productivity.

a. Review and Spam – First thing I always do is to check on the spams I get in my inbox. The moment, I see a spam mail, I’ll just flag it or move it into the spam box. Once that’s done, I’ll quickly take a look at the Spam box to make sure no legitimate mails have been filtered by accident. When that’s done, I’ll always try to keep the Spam box clean by deleting all the spam mails.

b. Review and Delegate – at work, you’ll likely be getting alot of e-mails that requires your action and attention. Alot of times, we make the mistake by acting on them. However, we should always ask if this task is best done by me or someone else who is specialized for this. This is the most effective way to get work done anyway. So having said that, by doing this, we should be able to reduce the amount of unnecessary workload of you.

c. Review and Response – with 400 e-mails broken down to more manageable chunks, we should be able to deal with the most urgent and important e-mails. With this set up, your inbox will be cleaned and almost empty except for the few e-mail you get throughout the day. These e-mails you get, you can rightaway review them and respond to them on the spot. If the e-mail doesn’t require your attention immediately, move it over to another folder for later reviews. Focus on the most important and urgent ones. When you have the time, don’t forget to go through these e-mails of lesser importance at a later time. Your goal is to always keep the Inbox and temporary folders clean and empty.

“Don’t forget, you must always think you are the one who is in control and not your e-mails controlling you!”

So on a very frequent basis throughout the day, I will always keep an eye on the inbox. Quickly review those e-mails, move them to another folder or respond to them if they are urgent and important. Then maybe once a day, or twice a week, I will review some other e-mails such as my Newsletter folder.

d. Review and Delete – with the mails in separate folders, it helps you in making priority decisions. For instance, a folder for Jokes litterally means…it’s not important while a folder “Project X” will indicate to you that it’s of high important e-mails relating to some existing projects. With this setup, you should be able to review through many more e-mails and deleting the unnecessary ones rather quickly.

Don’t forget, you must always think you are the one who is in control and not your e-mails controlling you! The hundreds of newsletter you get, you don’t have to pay attention to them at all. Remember, they will have to work harder to catch your attention so that you’ll take the step to open it and review them. As well, don’t be afraid to delete some e-mails in bulk if you ever don’t feel like reading through all the newsletter. You deserve a good mental break from time to time. Trust me, you won’t miss much. You’ll definitely feel better knowing that you get your own space back and have a sense of control.

e. Review and File – Well there will be some e-mails that you know you can’t delete them nor that you need to respond to them. It would be a mistake if you just let them pile up in your inbox or some temporary folder. The trick is to move them into a move permanent folder. In Gmail, you can label and archive them. Again, proper naming of your folder will help you retrace theses e-mails quickly. Folder names such as Purchases, accounts, family, friends, etc

Tip #8: Pull and don’t be Pushed

One great way to get more control of your inbox is stop subscribing yourself with newsletters. Instead, with RSS feeds, you can use a free web-based or software tools like Google Reader, Bloglines, Yahoo Mail and so on to keep track of your favorite blogs, news, forum and other content. Newsletters relies on pushing content to you whether you want it or not. Where ese RSS feeds require you to log into the account to ‘pull’ the content. Obviously, pulling content will give you more control over information overload. There is a drawback. The moment you stop checking out the RSS feeds that you subscribe to, then you’ll also be missing out on important blogs or news updates.

A good balance would be to subscribe to newsletters for those sites that consistently give you good information and the rest you can use a feed reader.

Tip #9: Keep Inbox Clean

In the end, it’s all in your head. Yes indeed. You will need to make the choice to subscribe yourself to newsletters, signing up to free stuffs on the web or keeping your inbox cluttered. The technology is there for you to use it.

So remember, your goal is to keep your Inbox as clean as possible. At most, tone it down to no more than 10 e-mails at a time.

Tip #10: Start with Baby Steps.

Like anything in life, it’s easier to start now and do it in small baby steps. So don’t fret too much about it. Start with step 1 and work your way up. In the end, it’s important to maintain the Discipline and follow through of your plan to unclutter your life from the 400 daily e-mails!

In the end, get it started now! In no time, you will rejoice your freedom again!

Suggested Readings

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life

Take Back Your Life!: Using Microsoft Outlook…

The Productivity Handbook: New ways of leveraging your Time…

Dealing with E-Mail (Essential Managers)

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Comments»

1. Pinki - March 24, 2007

Hi Justin,
Thanks for a wonderful blog…I like the pictures more..relevant to your each point..Nice one..get going.Lots moreto learn out of this blog.:)

2. Justin Lim - March 24, 2007

You’re welcome pinki! glad you like it. Soon, I will make a small e-paper for readers here to download. 🙂 thanks again!

3. ChocolateDog - April 11, 2008

well it’s not the kind of news that is worth discussing. i wonder why are you all here so excited?

4. 88a39668a0ee - May 9, 2008

88a39668a0ee…

88a39668a0ee88eeba9b…


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