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Drowning in email? A few lifesaving tips

Drowning in email? A few lifesaving tips
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First Published: Thu, Jul 31 2008. 12 30 AM IST

Updated: Thu, Jul 31 2008. 09 22 AM IST
New Delhi: Do you suffer from mailbox paranoia? That would be the condition where you dread opening your mailbox and seeing hundreds of emails waiting for instant reply—including from the colleague who sits next to you.
It’s a common bug affecting all levels in a workplace today, as email becomes the most favoured line of official communication these days.
But it doesn’t have to be that bad, and as many executives have discovered, an organized inbox can mean an organized life. Here are a few ways to go beyond just “reply” and “delete”:
Deal with it right away
“My approach is very simple—take action instantly. Never defer performing activities while dealing with your mail,” says Vikas Jawa, director, Zoomtra.com, a travel search engine. He believes that the best way is to adopt a quick action strategy and initiate implementation without wasting any time.
The actual work may be done later, but a decision needs to be taken during the time frame assigned to email communication, says Jawa.
Not everybody is that exacting. Too often, people tend to ignore mails, not very sure what to reply. This results in a clogged mailbox, as the mails pile up.
It’s not a new phenomenon—think of the in-tray of yesteryears, with brown envelopes stacked up. That’s when Sunil Sapra’s Zen-like advice makes sense. “Like life, the best way to handle mails is to prioritize,” says Sapra, who is the country manager (India and Saarc) at Watchguard Technologies, a network security solutions company. “Clarity precedes success.”
Curb temptation
“An inbox can be a great distraction, so ideally use it only twice a day,” advises Jeetendra Nair, chief executive of KarROX Technologies Ltd, a Mumbai-based information technology (IT) training company, who spends 60-90 minutes on his mailbox every day.
It’s tempting to keep the mailbox open the entire working day to check the latest updates, but that’s calling for trouble. “I usually open my mailbox twice a day, that’s the first and the last thing I do when I am in the office,” says Jawa. For an effective way to manage the inbox, it is better to resist the temptation to jump around in the inbox in no particular order unless you are in a?mission-critical?role, he?adds.
Create folders
The first step to organizing the mailbox is to create folders. Create folders according to your own preference, say experts. How to organize your folders is a personal thing. Some people keep top-level categories and subdivide it into business and personal email. Underneath those folders you can make sub-folders for each individual client and friend. Or you can keep both the received and sent mails together and organize folders by contact name. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as the goal is to find the all-important email when you need it.
“Delete unwanted mails regularly and archive huge files for backup to keep the inbox unclogged. Also, use a personal mail ID for heavy files,” says Pranav Prakash, president (technology) at IKF Technologies Ltd, an IT firm. Prakash has created priority groups in his mailbox that automatically direct mails to the correctfolder.
Filter your mails
Adding filters to automatically label, or move email when it arrives, so that one can quickly see the type of message and decide how to deal with it is a great way to organize email. When inserting filters, you can specify what criteria to check and where to move mails satisfying the criteria. KarROX , for example, uses Microsoft Outlook’s filter feature to its benefit. “It has features wherein we can quickly search old emails, flag our messages, generate reminders, and even filter our spams automatically by use of the junk email feature,” says Nair.
Know your email server
All existing email servers—Google, Yahoo, MSN and many others—include features to help manage our email accounts better, but few of us bother to familiarize ourselves with these. “Do a one-day training programme on your mail server,” Nair says. “It’s worth the time and money invested. Your productivity will increase multifold and you would have more time for yourself.”
Features in MS Outlook, Lotus, Gmail, and other email servers have features such as calendars, follow-ups, tracking tasks—all of which make mailbox management simpler, say experts. “I am an avid user of Microsoft Outlook. I extensively use different features of Microsoft Outlook, including the tasks, calendar and tracking features,” says Jawa.
Killing spam
Applications such as UTM (unified threat management) program can identify unwanted mails, or spam. UTMs include products such as Barracuda, Ironport and Spamtitans.
“I delete any junk, or unimportant mail that I find in my inbox that allows me to have easy and fast access to important mails,” says Biswajit Pandey, head (marketing) at RPG Cellucom, a cellphone and laptop retailer.
Cancel that subscription
Do you really need to see all the back-and-forth fighting of your old colony’s residents welfare association? Newsletters, catalogues and statements—these are the ones that add to the load in your mailbox in the form of spam. Though they are important, most of the time people leave them unchecked.
“I never subscribe to e-newsletters that fill the inbox everyday,” says Pandey, who spends two-three hours of each working day going through his emails.
Alternative to emails
Pick up the phone and speak if possible. It can reduce email traffic and issues also get resolved faster, meaning less back and forth and fewer emails. Don’t feel beholden to your inbox. The world would still move, and as fast, without replying to each and every mail.
Tips on mailbox management (ILLUSTRATION)
Delegate and empower your team to take decisions. The mail traffic will reduce by half as you will no longer have to send mails back and forth.
If you frequently send emails to the same person, you can create a desktop short cut on MS Outlook that will open a blank, pre-addressed message box.
Clean up your mailbox to reduce the amount of distracting clutter by using the auto archiving feature available on most email servers.
Restricting storage space can force employees to continually sort, delete and store their email messages to stay within the allotted quota.
Don’t just delete mails that you do not need anymore. Be sure to empty out your trash folder periodically to ensure that mails sent to you do not bounce back.
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First Published: Thu, Jul 31 2008. 12 30 AM IST