Simplifying Email Saves Time

It is amazing how much time email can take up. I recently made some changes in the way I work with email and it really surprised me how much time it saves me each day. There are a number of ways you can streamline your email process.

Reduce Volume

The first step should be reducing the volume of incoming mail. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you’ve lost interest in (don’t forget Yahoo, Google, and similar “Groups”). Same thing with Usenet Newsgroups. Are you getting unwanted mail from e-commerce sites? If it is a site you do business with, log on to your account with them and check your communication options. Many have an option to only send you mail regarding actual orders (status, shipping notices, etc.) but no marketing mail. If it’s a site you don’t do business with, but is a reputable site, follow the unsubscribe instructions they give at the bottom of each email. If all else fails, blacklist the sender via your spam or other blocking filter.

Fewer Accounts

Many of us have multiple email accounts. One for business, one for e-commerce, one for family and friends and even one for blogging. If you have to go to different websites or use different programs to check each one, a lot of time is wasted logging in and out checking each one. Multiply that by how many times each day you make the rounds of all your email accounts. If you don’t really need that many, you might be able to drop one or more of them. If possible, migrate all your correspondence to one email address. If you can’t do that, then you should try to get all your email in one inbox. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Forward

One way would be to set up all but your favorite account to forward your mail to the favorite one, or perhaps a new one you create for just this purpose. This also works as a great first step toward  reducing the number of email accounts you maintain. The downside of this method is that you will be handling all mail through a single account, and all your replies will come from the account you are using. This may confuse some recipients. You can mitigate this confusion by placing a note in your signature line explaining what you are doing and suggesting that everyone please start using your preferred address.

Fetch

Some email providers will retrieve your mail from other accounts, allowing you to manage all your mail in one place.  This gets all your mail into one inbox, while allowing each email address to keep its own identity. This is one option if you plan to keep separate email accounts for different functions.

Use A Local Email Client

Back in “The Old Days” everyone used a local program to manage their email. While many people still use an email client, especially with ISP or workplace provided email accounts, web-based email has become much more common, especially among the free email providers. The advantages to the user are virtually no setup, ease-of-use, and the ability to do mail anywhere, on any device with a web browser. The advantages to the provider are a drastic reduction in need for tech support as well as the ability to tightly control the user experience (read “advertise”).

There’s A Better Way

If you are willing to make a one-time investment in time and effort, and possibly enlist the help of a techie friend if you are not so inclined, then you can set up an email client. Using an email client will do several things for you. It will allow you to collect all your email in one place, with a single look and feel. No more bouncing around to different websites and systems. It will give you an ad-free email experience. No more distracting links to your email provider’s other properties, nor ads for products and services you don’t want and don’t need. It will give you total control over your email experience. Size and place windows so they are easier for you to work with. Manage all your contacts in one place, and share them among all your email accounts. Share email easily among accounts, too, even replying and forwarding across account borders.

Time-saving Features

Better filters with more sophisticated rules. Spam protection, blacklisting, and whitelisting to remove distractions from unwanted mail. Download mail in the background so you don’t waste time waiting for each email to load. Specify whether or not to display embedded images. Download all your mail and work offline – great for slower connections and dialup (free up your line for calls while you’re reading and answering email) , as well as for working on the go when there’s no WiFi or 3G connection.

More Time-saving Tips

Receiving and displaying your email as efficiently as possible speeds up email handling tremendously. Streamlining the way you work with email helps, too.

FIFO Handling

Once you’ve got all of your email coming in to a single in-box, you can deal with it in a linear, first-in, first-out fashion. Open the first piece of new mail. Deal with it right now. If an action is required, like a reply, do it immediately. Once you are done, but not before, move on to the next piece of mail. Doing this helps you fully focus on each piece of mail. Unimportant items are quickly discarded. Important items receive your undivided attention and are promptly handled.

Avoid Procrastination Enablers

I used to like to sort my email into different folders based on mailing list, sender, and other criteria. I had filters set up to do the sorting automatically. I was pretty proud of myself, thinking how efficient I was. In reality, I’d just been making it easier to procrastinate. Sure, it all looked organized, but I wasn’t reading and replying in a timely manner. The folders gave the illusion of having done something, and enabled me to empty the in-box faster, but left lots of unread mail. Experience has taught me that the best plan is as I described, handling all mail in the order it is received. No flagging, filing, or other procrastinating. If I don’t deal with it now, chances are it will sit until It ends up being too old to matter and gets deleted.

Your Ideas?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions on handling email in a simple and efficient manner. Comments are open!

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9 responses to “Simplifying Email Saves Time

  1. That’s all very good advice.

    I try to be diligent about unsubscribing from anything that I find tiresome. It’s also good advice to maintain only one email box. I have a second one that I use only for testing and for subscribing to things that I want to monitor for business reasons but don’t actually want to read, like those constant emails from some bloggers trying to sell me an ebook. I check this second account once a week or so when I have a minute rather than several times a day.
    Gip

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      I tried something like that for a while but I wound up getting important mail in every account often enough that I decided to consolidate. While I still have four accounts and six addresses, I read them all in one place. I don’t even have to check anything manually if my computer is on and connected – the email program automatically checks for me periodically and then plays a sound if there is any new mail.

  2. I’m going to disagree with “use an email client”. Email clients create one more thing that you have to back up and migrate from computer to computer.

    Web-based email (such as Gmail) can check multiple accounts via POP3, is available from smartphones/tablets (if you have them), and can be checked from any computer in the world.

    If you want to do a periodic backup of your messages you can do that with Gmail with a program called Gmail Keeper.

    Yes, it’s a backup on your local machine – but if you want to reinstall your machine or move to a new computer you can just reinstall Gmail Keeper and re-download your current messages – no need to migrate your legacy data (which can be a royal PITA with some mail clients!)

    Just my $0.02, of course. 🙂

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Good points, Robert. No doubt why webmail is as popular as it is. I didn’t really consider the backing up part, as I no longer keep my email forever. I know some people do, though.

      As for actually saving time, I still think the email client wins, at least in daily use, though by how much depends on connectivity. In a perfect world of ubiquitous broadband connectivity, it’s of little consequence, but on slower connections, web mail (or IMAP, for that matter) can get frustratingly slow when having to wait several seconds or more for each message to load, and even minutes if there’s lots of graphics. With the mail client, it can be downloading while I’m making cofee, and then by te time I sit down at the computer, all the new mail is downloaded and I can just plow right through them.

      The other consideration, though not the point of this post, is that webmail is “cloud” mail, and I am not a big fan of the cloud from point of view or reliability (though not a major issue) and security (a bigger one).

      You could get most of the advantages of each method by using a mail client and IMAP. In fact, if you use a mail “app” on a phone or tablet, that’s just what you’re doing. In fact, most webmail is just a browser-based IMAP client anyway.

      Thanks for commenting. Funny, while email might be best managed in a linear fashion, it gets hard to discuss that way, being so many variations of several options that are all inter-related. I guess the bottom line is for users to know what is available and choose what he or she can use comfortably and efficiently.

  3. hi mike!
    i like this post. my on screen time is simplified by not subscribing to any blog’s email. i’ve worried that my favorites wondered why not, since i go there regularly… and i guess in the blogging world, numbers matter as to followers, etc. but i started out at the beginning by not subscribing and so i
    just keep all of you in my “favorites.” i log on and see if there are any new posts. i don’t mind not knowing immediately and automatically! i rather like simply visiting each one at my leisure. seems more friendly.
    also… i never leave my address on any commercial site, so never have gotten any spam. just lucky so far i guess!
    cheers,
    tammy j

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      You can keep up-to-date with your favorite blogs without filling up your inbox, Tammy. I use “Live Bookmarks” in Firefox to read the RSS feeds of my favorite blogs. That way I can see who has new content without having to make the rounds of every blog periodically (although I still do that once in a while just in case). Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  4. Tammy, I like your approach. 😉 It sounds nice and simple.

    I have a love-hate relationship with email. I have it minimized as much as possible and I still don’t check it frequently enough. Luckily I only have one account and I try to go in once or twice a month. Also luckily, Patrick has the patience to manage our business account for all after-sales emails. I couldn’t keep up with it if it were just me. He goes in like clockwork and spends ten or twenty minutes a day. Nice and easy. 😉

  5. Great advice on getting all your various emails into one reader. I started with one email on AOL that my wife and I shared. I soon realized that I had to scan through a LOT of stuff of hers to find things actually sent to me. Then I set up an account for me. Then I set up a separate one for work. Then came another one for my own business. It was a pain in the xxx until a techie friend set up a system that dropped everything into one box. When I reply to an email it sends it out on the same account name that it came in on. Don’t ask me how it works ’cause I don’t know, but I’m glad it does.

  6. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    Most email clients are pretty good about replying from the account through wich the mail being replied to came in. Harder to say than to do, I think.

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