Email Overload and Prompt Replies

In today’s environment, information flows to the extent that merely filtering out the good data from the bad is a huge amount of work. The information superhighway is stuck in eternal gridlock during a blizzard, with the volume of information increasing at an exponential rate while the ability to locate quality information consistently decreases.

Your e-mail is no different. There is the large volume of spam. The joke your cousin e-mailed you (which has been circulating for two years, and you’ve read it three times before). A message from an university friend trying to arrange a visit. Newsletters from several magazines you read on a regular basis. An urgent request from a client for some data. The list continues.

To maintain a semblance of control over your inbox, you may want to try implementing the following strategy. If you have other suggestions for dealing with large volumes of mail, please let me know.

  1. Maintain separate e-mail addresses for personal and business, and be strict about it. I have 5 e-mail addresses that I actively maintain, and each serves a different purpose. One is for personal, one is my company e-mail address, one is provided by my employer, one is for mailing lists, and one is for business not part of any regular work (for example, messages from this blog). The lines between the addresses are strict, and it helps filter the level of importance for each e-mail immediately.
  2. Clean your inbox daily. This means reading each e-mail, either responding immediately if required, or marking it for further attention later.
  3. Use folders or labels for organizing the e-mails you have already read. I personally prefer the Google model of using labels, as some e-mails may need to be referenced from multiple categories.
  4. Set aside time each day to deal with your e-mail. If the volume is high enough, you may need to do this multiple times during the day. During those windows, deal with the high-importance e-mails and leave the others for later. Then set aside a time at the end of each day to read through the remaining e-mails.
  5. Check your e-mail frequently for new messages, or set up a notification process. Google has an application called Gmail Notifier which will show the first few lines of each incoming message as it arrives. Outlook will do the same. This prevents the build-up of high importance e-mails.
  6. Check your spam folder daily to ensure there are no real messages mixed in, and then empty the folder.
  7. If you read a message, and there is a quick response to it, do it immediately, even if it’s not very important. That takes it off your list of things to do.