Managing e-mail 101

The killer app can be a real time-killer

By 2002, we’ll spend more than four hours each day reading and answering an average of 50 work-related messages, according to a Ferris Research report on managing e-mail overload. Even now, we commonly deal with 30 business messages daily, up 50 per cent from a year ago.

Just ignoring the mail is not an answer. As anyone who has failed to respond to an important note knows, it’s sometimes more time-consuming to ignore an e-mail than to answer it. So, one way or another, we’re going to have to deal with that electronic mail mountain.

Ferris Research offers some tips and e-mail tools.

Set up folders to organize mail. Ferris suggests an Urgent folder for top-priority tasks; an Ageing folder for mail older than 30 days; and putting all CC messages into a folder that doesn’t require action. You might also create folders for tasks, and one for messages tied to upcoming events that don’t require immediate answers. Beyond that, sort messages automatically by sender and date.

Filter junk e-mail into the Delete folder – a clue is a subject line offering “one-time opportunity.” Scan its contents occasionally to be sure you don’t miss something useful.

See if your e-mail program lets you view the first few lines in a message as well as the subject line; it might be enough to handle the message.

Rely on integrated group-scheduling programs such as Exchange, GroupWise, and Lotus Notes to automatically update your calendar.

Write boilerplate text to answer common e-mail inquiries, and consider automatic replies as well. Increasingly sophisticated software can read e-mail, categorize it, refer it and prepare draft replies.

Ferris suggests setting a time in both the morning and afternoon to handle e-mail, and dealing with each message only once.

Deactivate the alert for new e-mail. There’s only so many times a person can hear “You’ve got mail” in whatever form.