Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Avoiding E-mail Overload

Microsoft has put out a very good guide to help you reduce the feeling that you're getting overloaded by e-mail. The main suggestions are:
  • Slash the number of new messages by unsubscribing to e-mail lists.
  • Respond appropriately by not responding to every message.
  • Take advantage of subject lines so people don't have to read the message to know what it's about.
  • Summarize a message when forwarding and copying*
  • Be disciplined and don't check your e-mail every five minutes. It will be there for you.
  • Use e-mail tools.

The last one is the most overlooked option. Your e-mail client offers some good tools that can manage messages. For instance, I subscribe to several mailing lists. I use Outlook's Rules function to sort the messages into folders as they come in. The messages don't come into my Inbox and I don't get warnings as they arrive. Instead, when I have a moment, I check the folder.

There are also things you can do to help others. For instance, don't click the "Reply to All" button. Too often, people click this automatically, so everyone who recieved the message will also get your reply. There are very few cases where that is necessary; replying to the sender is sufficient. But if you use "Reply to All," people who weren't interested in the first message will get a second message they're not interested in. If you're discussing things among a group, then "Reply to All" makes sense, but not for general messages sent to groups. Alway use "Reply" unless you can come up with a good reason to reply to everyone.

*This is a real peeve of mine. Everyone has gotten the old "Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:" subject line where you have to scroll down four pages of nothing in order to get to the original forwarded message. Don't send off this sort of thing -- or, at least, delete everything except the message that you want to forward in the first place.