Three tips for managing your e-mail

Everyone appreciates the ease that e-mail communication affords. But that ease can turn your inbox into a nightmare if you don't manage it well. Here are some tips for managing your e-mail.

I find it amazing and sometimes a little scary at the ease by which I can communicate with IT professionals and PR folks from around the world - via e-mail alone. But that ease often results in a tidal wave of e-mails in my e-mail box. Over the years, I've developed some ways to manage the products of this great tool. In this blog, I'll share those tips.

Set a time to reply all your mails

Productivity gurus have long advocated setting a time (or two) in the day to reply all your mails at one go. The idea is that the constant dabs of e-mails arriving serves to become yet another source of interruption. Add in the phone and your colleagues stopping by your cubicle for a chat, it forms a formidable barrier to productivity.

The rationale behind the set time for replying to e-mail is that most e-mail messages require a decision, and good decision requires focus. In fact, some people even go as far as to have a recurring appointment marked as busy so they can make time each day to process all e-mails.

Obviously, this doesn't mean you can't scan through your mail occasionally to address mails that are truly important or urgent.

Clear your inbox

I once had a user whose mailbox was packed with e-mails that stretched back four years. No kidding. There were e-mails from as far back as 2004 stashed in the inbox alone. In fact, the only reason it stopped at 2004 was because a member of this woman's staff took it upon himself to clear some even older mails - for which he was severely reprimanded.

While it's a perfectly reasonable desire to want to archive or keep your mails on the off-chance that you might need them again, having a huge amount of mail in your inbox is really counter-intuitive. Let's be honest, the likelihood of your replying to an e-mail escalates towards zero the longer it stays in your inbox. It's like having a real-world in-tray that never gets cleared.

Anyway, in the case of the above user, the number of mails was so numerous that it actually triggered an inexplicable bug that prevented Microsoft Outlook from downloading new mails. Not to mention that it slowed the system noticeably.

File, file, file

File away your e-mails once you've responded to them. File them away even if you're in doubt. Getting e-mails that are irrelevant--or with informational-only contents--out of the way will definitely help in your pursuit of a clear inbox.

Some go one step further and aggressively delete e-mails once they've attended to them. Personally, I prefer the security of having my old mails around.

I file them away into appropriately named folders. If necessary, you can also set up server-side rules to automatically shift regular newsletters or other mails directly into a lower priority folder that you attend to.

What about you? What techniques do you employ to deal with your e-mails?


Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.


I seem to always have between 3000 and 7000 in my Inbox but I regularly clump and save swathes of them into folders because mixed amongst them are gems of info that I want - or details of URLs/dns/etc that I'll need later. However, I'm about to change from one small Vista PC to a refurbished model with a much larger hard drive and more RAM. How do I move my emails across to the new PC and still access them on the new machine too??? John, York, UK


1- Inbox should be a To-Do. 2- Delete email threads but just keep the last one. 3- If you respond, delete the original 4- If you receive an email as an answer, file it. Use subfolders under your Sent Folder using department names for the subfolders and separate folders for people whom you communicate often, such as your direct report. Make a folder 'misc' for odd ball items. Any email received in your inbox that does not require a response or 'thank you' is to be moved to these folders. 5- Use LookOut to search your inbox 6- Empty your deleted items frequently 7- If you inbox is starting to pile up, make a subfolder to transfer some less important ToDo's. 9- Sort your inbox by 'from" and by 'subject' often to clean out items that have been 'done". They will be easier to spot this way. 10- Let your mailbox grow to 7+ GIG and then archive 5 GIG leaving 2 GIG or less, so you don't end up with tons of separate archive folders. 11- Sort your sent item folder by 'from' and move in bulk emails from your direct report and other large volume nmes to keep the sent items below 5000 inbetween archiving. If you use LookOut to search, it does not matter if the email is sorted. 12- Make a folder under sent called "Outside" and use it for 'external' suppliers. Make separate folders under "outside" 13- Use Outlook spam filter or other and clean out the JUNK Mail folder regularly 14- if you have invested time in your contact folder why not make a subfolder "BU20080520" (date) and make a backup copy. 15- configure your email program to save drafts in your Inbox instead of 'drafts' folder. Then when you check your mail, you will see your partially completely email and never forget to complete it. While composing a long email, you can click CTRL S and it will be saved in your Inbox, so if you have a crash/power failure, you will not lose much. These unsent emails will stick out, because the from field is empty serving as a powerful reminder. 16- Make subfolders under your inbox for newsletter subscriptions, long term pending item, templates, training items and personal email. 17- you may want to keep a separate subfolder of your contacts for personal contacts. You may want to keep another folder for job contacts, handy to keep ex-employee details here, that can be a resource one day. These are a few tips ...although everyone's needs are individual, perhaps you can use one or two!


What techniques do you employ to deal with your e-mails?


1. Do not use work email for personal messages. You won't have to worry about managing these and it lowers the amount of distractions. 2. "Set up server-side rules to automatically shift regular newsletters or other mails directly into a lower priority folder that you attend to" ~ One caveat, make sure to set up AutoArchive on these folders to permanently delete old items after a set amount of days or these folders can grow out of control fast. 3. Microsoft recommends no more than 3500 - 5000 items in the Inbox or Sent Items folders (see KB905803). Outlook performance is severely impacted when the item count goes higher than 5000. 4. Use "Search Folders" to help you manage emails. Can be useful for finding large/old/unwanted messages so they can be deleted.


While it is rare that you need something from 4 years ago it happens. It seems to normal to go back the last 2 years though. Someone denies they received an email or that claims they didn't say that. Or just documentation, we have had vendors that don't respond to an email. The file is organized into subfolders holding different subjects. Stuff more than 2 years old I archive into a separate PST file then close it in Outlook. It doesn't seem to me that it would be worth keeping them for more than 5 years but... I would be interested in others opinions on that. My inbox has become my todo list. Items stay in there until I have responded to it. The items there serve as a reminder of things that need to be taken care of.

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