Drowning in email and looking for a lifeline

07/22/2013 10:08:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstToday, like most every morning, I’m blitzing through my inbox.

The snap judgments that all of use to decide whether to open an email or simply delete it, to read it through or simply skim the first thing that catches our eye, we all are performing triage on our priorities.

This morning I quickly reviewed recall notices from the FDA, an update from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, a letter from my alma mater about the upcoming football season, a newsletter from another produce publication, several notices of new members applying to The Packer Market, a letter about a nomination for The Packer and The Grower magazine Apple Man of the Year Award.

And these are email only in one inbox. My Gmail inbox is also starving for attention, with multiple USDA price reports, various e-newsletters from social media apps, produce associations and LinkedIn groups, Google alerts, forwarded emails from older relatives about a heart-warming story or a cautionary tale of too much government involvement in healthcare, the latest travel offers from Southwest, my “personal horoscope” (“After looking over your charts, it became astonishingly clear to me why I want you to have this medallion in your hands as soon as possible.”), my bank’s billpay reminders and the list goes on.

Wikipedia dates the  use of email as we know it today to 1993.

The Wiki passage on email acknowledges that email cannot always be relied on to be instant communications, since some among us don’t put the same priority on responding to the email as the sender would like. It turns out that text messaging is more effective than email in getting a quick response from some of us. For others of us, we have to be button-holed in person or we may never respond.

Washington Post coverage of the question “How much time do we spending dealing with emails?” said that recent research shows as much was 28% of our days can be used up in that way.

The research suggests that social networking is one way to cut down the clutter and become more efficient.

The use of Twitter and social media Forums like The Packer Market or LinkedIn help us see the big picture of what is important for any particular day. You can find the hot news by involvement in social media networks.

Obviously, smart phones are another key way to keep up with email and respond more effectively. 

As I am in obvious need of this direction, I Googled “how to reduce email clutter” and found this blog post with 10 helpful hints to reduce email clutter. Here are a few ideas from Marcia Ramsland:

1. Read and Respond. Decide what to do the FIRST time you open an email. Do it now or it will double the time it takes to respond. The key is to pause and decide what action is needed.

5. Create No more than 6-10 Key Email Folders. “Responded,” Holding”, or “Archive” are great for once you’ve responded. Move out emails prior to 3 months ago “Archive before (date).”

7. Create “Rules” in Outlook or “Filters” in Gmail. This lets email bypass your In-Box and land in a folder you want to keep such as: the name of an organization, “Coupons” from Costco, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon, or “Personal” for interesting forwards.

9. Set times to do email and don’t let it become your To Do list! Twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon are adequate.

10. Begin and end each day by getting your email down to your Target Number. A single digit or number under 20 email in your In-Box puts you in the driver’s seat of your life.

Sounds like winning advice. I’ll have to sign up for her free email newsletter. Uh, maybe not.



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