Finding Your “Just Right” Email Solution

It is one of the great mysteries of the professional life that even the most organized and efficient person often can’t beat email overload. Except for QuickBase’s Kyle Copeland of course.

No matter how hard you try, by the end of the week you’re yelling “uncle” as you watch hundreds – sometimes thousands – of emails fill your “in” box. Among the overload: a chain letter from Uncle Billy, a newsletter you unsubscribed to a year ago and six invitations to the same office potluck.

Despite your new year’s resolution of 11 months ago to keep your email under control, you just can’t seem to do it. Because of your swamped in box, you may have already missed one (or two) important notes from your boss, and are frustrated you can’t find a key email from a client.

But don’t despair. There are several ways to gain control of email for good, and it begins with setting up a system that works for you.

Brian Phelps, lead designer at Focus.com, an online community of business experts, says that one way he’s learned to control his email is by using different accounts, such as one for family and one for work-related matters.

He also uses folders for various messages, such as putting Twitter and Facebook messages into one marked “social media,” which he says help you “categorize your emails into digestible segments.”

Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive, says he receives hundreds of emails a day into his 12 accounts, but keeps track of them by using rules to highlight, flag or forward his important messages. He also uses Apple’s Smart Mailboxes to sort through those items he needs to research, he says.

With hundreds of thousands of email in his various accounts, Kordek says he doesn’t get overwhelmed because he focuses on keeping his business account at zero at least once a week and then peruses the others when he can. (He estimates he has 44,000 unread messages.)

“I once took my MacBook Pro to the Apple store for some service. When the technician saw my mail account, he told me that it was the most active/productive and scary thing he had ever seen from any Apple user he has ever dealt with,” Kordek says.

Kordek follows this mantra: “Control your email or let it control you.”

Robert Koehler, a sales performance consultant, has a simple message for everyone who believes they get too much email: “Send less, get less.”

One of the biggest problems with email overload comes when you go on vacation. The deluge that hits you when you return from time off can be overwhelming. Koehler advises auto deleting some groups and individuals while you’re away, and Phelps says it’s important to use “out of office” messages to direct senders to someone else for important business.

“I love ‘out of office’ messages and I try to keep mine humorous so people pay attention,” Kordek says. “Boring ones suck.”

In “More Time for You” authors Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson offer some other tips, such as:

  • Establishing “triage” folders. These should be tagged “delete,” “do it now,” “respond today,” “schedule a specific time on calendar,” “waiting for response,” “file it,” “someday” and “freedom.” If you can handle it in two minutes, that’s a “do it now” folder. The “freedom” folder, on the other hand, is for when you have an overwhelming number of messages and need a place to start. Anything more than two-days old should be moved into that folder.
  • Scheduling time to handle e-mail. This is a practice that can influence others to do the same. It may take some practice, but others will soon get used to you answering messages only every few hours.
  • Getting ruthless. Set aside some time to unsubscribe to newsletters, sales at your favorite department stores and bulletins that no longer make sense for you.

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

More Posts