Tips for e-mail sanity

There is a growing movement of good people out there called "Life Hackers." Life hacks are tips and ideas to improve efficiency and get things off your mind, they generally have a technology slant. Some of the best commentary and thoughts on this topic can be found on www.43folders.com.

A few of the tips I've found most useful pertain to managing the ever bulging e-mail inbox. 43folders.com recently ran a series of posts called "Inbox Project Zero" I've implemented a few of the suggestions in my office and have found them to be very useful. The goal is primarily to put the e-mail user back in charge of their inbox and schedule by lessening the distractions created by e-mail.

1) Turn off new e-mail notices and alerts. With many of us sitting at our computers and running e-mail programs all day the beep or pop-up alerting that a new message has arrived is an instant distraction to the task currently at hand. Instead, simply check your e-mail on your schedule. Whether it's every 20-30 minutes like myself, every 2-4 hours or just once a day give yourself permission to check e-mail on the schedule that works for your situation instead of the every few seconds demanded by your e-mail program.

2) Aim for zero. Try to leave your inbox either empty or with all of your messages read at the end of each day. It's comforting to know that everything that has been sent your way has been given your attention. If you're on a mailing list or have received a number of e-mails you know you don't need to read, you can often right-click these messages one-by-one or in a group and mark them as read.

3) Filter it out. If you're on mailing lists or often receive messages that don't need replies or action, use filters in your e-mail program to move those out of your inbox and into another folder. This will keep the most important e-mails in your inbox, make important things easier to find, and make the massive amount of e-mails you may get seem less daunting.

4) Use flags. Many e-mail programs have an option to flag messages for follow-up. That way, you can visually keep track of messages you may need to act on, but can't do so immediately. Try right-clicking an e-mail message to see if you have flagging and follow-up alert options in your program.

For more tips, see the archive of Inbox Zero posts at: http://www.43folders.com/izero/