An Empty In-Box, or With Just a Few E-Mail Messages? Read On

From today’s NY Times click here to go to the Times site where you may have to sign in. You can read the story below.

My suggestions beyond what is in this story:

Unsubscribe from every list you don’t regularly use
I normally will subscribe to things based on 1 good story I read. I then find that most of what comes from a site is of little or no value to me and I can always search for it on-line if I need to. I now am more particular about my subscriptions and unsubscribe from old ones that I don’t need anymore. This will reduce the volume of e-mails you receive.

Ask how your information will be used
When out networking, do you give your card out to anyone who will take it? If so, you may be opening yourself up for a lot of unwanted e-mail. Many people networking today still don’t understand that an exchange of business cards does not constitute permission to add me to their regular distribution list. It also does not permit them to sell my information. Give your cards to people you think you can help or can help you. Schedule time with them to meet at a time when you can have a good conversation and develop your relationship further. At that time you may decide you want to be on their distribution list and they may want to be on yours.

Be careful about how your website is setup to mail you
If you post your e-mail address on your website, you make it much easier for spammers and casual viewers to send you a lot of mail you don’t want. You definitely want serious inquiries to come to you without any obstacles. Talk to your web designer about having a button or link to request more information. Have that link open a form and then mail to you behind the scenes. Have that mail go to an address that you will see in your in box but can also be identified as having come from your site. This will reduce your exposure to spammers and give you an idea of how much traffic is coming from the site you are spending money to market for you.

Have separate e-mail accounts for personal vs. business mail
I have friends who like to send me jokes, puzzles, cartoons, etc. I’m sure most of us do. Let your friends know what the rules are. I don’t want this stuff in my business mail. If you do, that’s OK. I know it means I have to check another mailbox. I don’t mind.

Give us a call, we can help.
John Schneyer
Boca Consultants

The NY Times story:

Basics

An Empty In-Box, or With Just a Few E-Mail Messages? Read On

Published: March 4, 2009

SINCE e-mail became a fixture in our professional and personal lives, many academic researchers have investigated the complex mix of feelings brought on by the technology.

We feel guilty about being late in responding, about our in-boxes being disorganized, about the tens of thousands of unread messages that we’re sure we’ll never get to. What is it about e-mail that consumes us — that invades every corner of our personal space, demands ever more sophisticated methods of organization, and makes us wish for extra hours in the day to deal with the deluge? More important, how can we overcome it?

In the last few weeks, I set about finding a cure for e-mail anxiety. It was not the first time I’d done so; I’ve been looking for better ways to handle my mail since shortly after logging in to my first in-box.

Over the years, I’ve discovered many methods that worked for a while, but never permanently. For a while, I set up elaborate filters meant to automatically categorize every incoming message according to who sent it. Another time, I instituted a complicated system of color-coded labels aimed at getting me to understand which e-mail messages I had to respond to, which I had to save and which I could ignore.

But eventually every finely honed trick to tame my mail would collapse, and I’d backslide into a messy, undisciplined in-box. So in my search for a new way to deal with e-mail, I followed one guiding principle: Keep it simple. Any method that made too many demands on my time or my brain was bound to fail.

Fortunately, after much experimentation with various experts’ many tips, I’ve found something that works. Here are the basic rules:

LIMIT YOUR TIME WITH IT Turn off all auto-notifications that alert you to incoming mail, and if you must check mail while you’re on the go, keep it to a minimum. Here’s a good guideline that worked for me: Don’t dip into your in-box more than three times an hour. It’s unlikely that any message is so urgent that it can’t wait 20 minutes for your response — if it were, the sender would call, send an instant message or find some other way to reach you.

CLEAR OUT YOUR IN-BOX Set aside an hour or two to respond to every important message that has dogged you in the last couple months (anything older than that is too ancient to bother with). Next, move everything else into a new folder called Archive — this will be your storehouse of old mail.

Your in-box should now be empty. Think of this as its optimal state — your goal, from now on, will be to keep this space as pristine as possible, either empty or nearly so. To realize that goal, live by this precept: Whenever you receive a new message, do something with it. Don’t read your e-mail and then just let it sit there — that’s a recipe for chaos.

This isn’t always so easy. A day’s worth of mail demands a variety of complex actions, and the daunting task of figuring out how to respond to each message is probably what made your in-box untidy in the first place.

That’s where the next steps come in — an algorithm for dealing with incoming e-mail messages. For each new one you receive, take one of the following actions:

ARCHIVE IT Most e-mail messages require no action or response on your part — messages from Facebook letting you know that an old college pal has commented on your wall, for instance. Skim through these missives (or leave them unread), then shoot them into your archive and forget them.

RESPOND TO IT If the e-mail message calls for an easy answer, send it. Say a colleague wants to know if you’re up for dinner at his place on Saturday, or your boss wants to praise you for a job well done. Shoot back a quick response — “Yes!” or “Thanks!” — and then push the original message into your archive. The productivity guru and “Getting Things Done” author David Allen has a rule of thumb that comes in handy here: If responding is going to take two minutes or less, you’re better off doing it now than procrastinating.

FORWARD IT If the message is better handled by someone else — your boss, your sister, anyone but you — send it off to that person, then archive it.

HOLD IT FOR LATER This is the trickiest option. Some e-mail messages demand complicated answers. You don’t really want to dine with your colleague, but coming up with an excuse will take longer than two minutes. Other messages simply require information not yet available. Your friend wants to know if you’re up for watching the game on Sunday, but you’ve got to check with your spouse first.

You can leave these messages in your in-box with a promise to come back to them soon. (Depending on the mail program you use, you might want to set a reminder or a flag to make it stand out — in Microsoft Outlook, you can click the flag icon, or in Google’s Gmail, the star).

Be careful to avoid letting many such messages pile up. Carve out a short amount of time — perhaps 15 to 30 minutes at the end of the day — to respond to all flagged e-mail. Remember, your goal is to keep your in-box empty. Each message sitting there should serve as a stark, visible reminder of your undisciplined ways.

Notice that my system doesn’t include any complex method for organizing e-mail — I don’t categorize my messages into folders by sender, subject matter, date or any other scheme. That way lies distraction.

E-mail isn’t a test of your skills at making things look pretty; indeed, making things look pretty will only take time away from your goal of actually getting through your mail. Most modern e-mail programs include search engines that are powerful enough to find any message you need without the aid of a taxonomy.

Note, too, that this system is far from new. It was inspired by Mr. Allen’s ideas, and it’s been proselytized, in various forms, by a host of efficiency experts and people who have spent a lot of time wrestling with e-mail.

In particular, I relied partly on a series of essays and lectures put together by Merlin Mann, proprietor of the Web site 43 Folders, which aims to help you get a handle on how much attention you focus on unrewarding tasks, like e-mail.

It wasn’t easy for me to curb my time in my in-box. E-mail was like a drug, and I needed a constant fix. That’s a good sign you need help.

“People arrive at this because they’re feeling overwhelmed,” Mr. Mann said. “They feel like the train is going off the rails.” He was careful to add that much of what troubles people about modern life goes beyond e-mail — but you can think of fixing your in-box as a private victory for modern professionals. Once you deal with your e-mail, you’ll be able to tackle stuff that really matters.

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Dansette