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#252: Taming the Email Monster

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, March 02, 2010
I am sure I am not alone but my email is out of control. I can't get to all the requests I get and feel like I am getting a reputation for being nonresponsive. Any suggestions?

There is no simple answer to this but there are a few tricks people use to resolve this growing (no pun intended) problem. First is controlling what gets to your inbox in the first place, even before we get to separating important from urgent emails. It is easy to get on any number of email lists and have lots of unsolicited mail. Get yourself a good spam filtering program (note that several "Do Not Email Registry" websites are themselves scams to get your email address). Also, instead of just deleting unwanted mail that sneaks through, put it into a junk folder and save it for unsubscribing later. Most people who provide an unsubscribe option will honor it. Every little bit helps.

Second, use filters to redirect mail into groups: clients, personal friends, mail to each of your email addresses. I use specific email addresses for various types of subscriptions, online offers, and for people I don't know. As I receive email from those addresses (they are sometimes resold despite privacy policies to the contrary), they are routed into folders to which I should, may, or won't respond. Finally, when I get a few days behind on mail (e.g., when I am on travel) I sort mail by thread or sender and can often respond in groups (i.e., a common response to several people on a common thread).

Tip: Let people with whom you correspond know that you have some rules you follow, and deliver on that expectation. For example, if you are the sole addressee in the "TO:" field, you will get back to them in X hours/days and if you are in the "CC:" field, you take it that the sender does not expect an answer from you. Also know when a "Reply All" thread is out of control - either pick up the phone and resolve the issue or remove some names for the large list in the (often growing) list. In many cases, behavior can be more effective than technology in getting some control over the monster.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  efficiency  information management  process  your consulting practice 

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