Monday, May 9, 2011

3 ways to avoid e-mail overload

Juggling a full-time job with a freelance career means that I have several email address. I consolidate them to an extent, having most of them forward themselves to my main real-life account (thank you for that, gmail). But avoiding email overload is a challenge.

As I've mentioned before, my inbox can get out of control. Also: I work with a great team of people who are scattered across the U.S., which means that I can't use the cool trick that Nataly and Miss Britt love; if I don't check my email first thing in the day, I don't know what the California part of my team was discussing after I logged off last night, or whether there's a last-minute news story I'm supposed to cover ASAP. Since my teammates are spread far and wide, if we're not emailing one another then we're instant messaging (and that's in between the twice-daily teleconferences), so I can't check email only at set times.

What's a busy working mom to do?

Over at The 99 Percent, Jocelyn K. Glei offers up 10 ways to avoid email overload. Her tips are more about sending email than they are about coping with the volume you receive, and some of them don't work for me, like number 8: Don't Send "Thanks!" E-mails (aren't we removed enough from one another as it is? Saying "Thank you" or acknowledging that you've received what someone has taken time to send just seems like one of those niceties we shouldn't be so willing to throw out the window). But the article got me thinking about ways I could handle what's already in my inbox, and manage what will inevitably be there by the time I finish this blog post. Here are my tips:

1. Sort your mail before it gets to you. Most email systems automatically separate out the junk, but take it one step further and use your filters to sort messages into folders as they arrive. Do you freelance? Designate a folder for each client, so you can tell at a glance who needs attention. Do a lot of online shopping? You might not think of those online offers as junk, but they do clutter up your inbox. Have them go into their own folder (or, better yet, set up a separate email account so you don't care if advertisers get that address).

2. Have a handful of set replies. It's impossible for me to respond thoughtfully, or even coherently, to each email as soon as I get it. If I don't reply at all, then chances are I'll get a follow up email in my inbox in a day or two -- more clutter -- or the original will end up buried in my inbox, where I'll find it, um, never. If I send quick reply acknowledging that I've gotten the email and saying when I'll be able to reply more thoroughly, everyone is happier -- even me.

3. Keep your work separate. No matter how many email addresses I have, I never, ever, consolidate my main work one with my personal one. Why not? Well, for one thing, corporate emails aren't really private; some companies actually check what's in your inbox. For another, it's nearly impossible to set limits on your workload if you carry your work with you everywhere you go (hello, smartphone). Having my work email flow into a different inbox on my iPhone means that I can check it when I need to, but ignore it when I want to. And that works for me.

What works for you? How do you manage your email?

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