18 November 2005

My email management strategy

Here's how I manage my email.
  1. I try to keep fewer than 20 messages in my inbox. If I have more messages than that, it makes me worry. I feel responsible for those inbox messages.
  2. To whittle down the inbox, I do several things. First, if it's an email I can respond to in 5 minutes, I take care of it right away. Otherwise, I do one of three things: I delete it, file it in another folder, or forward the email to a different email address (more on that later).
  3. I set my email checking interval to once per hour, to minimize interruptions. This may not be an option for everyone.
  4. If you're a fast typist, you may want to consider a text-based email program like Pine. I use it because I can do everything from the keyboard and it loads faster than web-based programs like Webmail. Reading, deleting, forwarding, and filing emails is really fast via the keyboard -- avoid the mouse!
  5. I keep two email accounts. I have my work account and my Gmail account. All important work-related mail and personal correspondence goes through my work account. Things like ad flyers from electronics stores, news article links from my father, and word-a-day emails go to my Gmail account. Sometimes if there is a work account email that I need to think about but isn't very pressing, I forward that email to my Gmail account.
  6. Sometimes if there is an important issue that I need to think about later, I will carbon copy (cc) myself. For example, if I'm working on a project with my advisor and I write up an explanation of my work, I will cc myself on the message I send. I do this, because the sent box is not sufficient (see below).
  7. The blind carbon copy (bcc) option is useful if you don't want people to look at the email addresses of the other recipients. For example, a department administrator might email some students to tell them they are in danger of failing a course. It's not efficient to send that email one-by-one to each individual, but privacy is also important. Then bcc is the right choice.
  8. The sent box is basically useless. It's difficult to search and many of the emails are trivial one-liners. Also, your email system may periodically delete messages from the sent box since they eat up the most disk space. I never leave anything important in it. I only use the sent box as a backup in case I accidentally delete an email that I had wanted to save and there is a copy of the message in my sent box.
  9. If I'm writing to many people on a regular basis, I try to use an alias. What that means is that I can type a single word, say "dormfriends", in the to: field and the email program will automatically insert the addresses of my 20 dorm friends. If I'm writing to a large number of people for work related reasons (for instance, a seminar group), then I use a mailing list.
  10. If I were to invite friends to a big party, I would consider using a web-based service like Evite.
  11. I use my work email account for reminders. I use a free service at 101 Reminders. It's a web-based calendar that will email me reminders (for instance, "go to the gym at 7 am"). I can set options like email me once a week on the same day, on the same date each month, one day before the event, four days before the event, etc. It's very useful to use email reminders not just for events but also for pending actions (say a reminder to email your out-of-town friend three weeks from now to schedule a visit).
  12. I haven't tried this, but many people keep a collection of "boilerplate" emails for common responses. There is even software that will semi-automate this process for you.
  13. Finally, there are filters. I don't find that I need them, but when I become an "important" person, I'll probably use them.

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