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Cure E-mail Overload

-- by Mike Elgan

Are you feeling uneasy, apprehensive and anxious at the office? Does a feeling of dread come over you every time you open your e-mail application? You may be suffering from an increasingly common malady known as e-mail overload. This discomfort is brought on by an overwhelming quantity of electronic messages, but there's no need to panic, because we have the antidote. Follow these steps, and you should enjoy a complete recovery.

The Cause

Two things cause e-mail overload. The first is the unfortunate reality that you don't control the amount of e-mail that comes at you. The second is the nagging awareness that you're responsible for knowing everything contained in every message sent to you.

The cure is to manage the flow of messages both into and out of your inbox.

The Cure

First, open wide, and let's take a look at that inbox of yours. Most overload sufferers let mail build up in their inboxes because they're afraid they'll need the information in those messages some day. The cure is to save all your messages-I mean all your messages-in the most compact and searchable form possible. This will give you the confidence to delete them from your mail application.

Here's how I healed myself: I set up my mail program-Microsoft Outlook-to keep messages in my deleted mail folder when I exit. As I get messages, I delete them after I've read and dealt with them. Once every three weeks or so, I move all the messages in my Sent Items folder into my Deleted Items folder.

I sort them by subject, select all messages, then choose File/Save As. I name the file based on the current date-say, 9-12-97.TXT- choose the Text Only (*.TXT) file type and click on OK. Then I get a cup of coffee (it takes about 15 minutes to save all the messages into a single text file.)

When I get back, I put the TXT file into a folder I call E-MAIL. I delete them from the Deleted Items folder (which actually deletes them rather than just moving them)

E-mail packages vary, so I can't give universally valid instructions. But you get the idea. You may want to save messages in their native format (by dragging and dropping them from your e-mail application into a Windows Explorer folder on your local drive)

Whenever you need to find some information you received via e-mail, just use Windows' Find utility to search your E-MAIL folder for it. Save all attachments in a folder named by date so you can delete them a year from now or whenever you feel it's safe to do so.

And remember: Never use your inbox to store messages you've already read. As soon as you read a message, delete or move it.

That should help you deal with the e-mail that reaches your inbox. Here's how to head some off at the pass:

Use an e-mail package that supports auto replies. When you're out of the office, have it reply to every incoming message, saying you're out. That lowers expectations and prevents less-important messages from coming in.

Don't provide listservs and mailing lists your main e-mail address. Get an America Online or freemail account for that.

If you see a long thread forming, pick up the phone and get the whole conversation over with.

A Ten-Step Reduction Plan

Follow our good-citizen rules so that you don't contribute to e-mail overload:

  1. Keep messages short.

  2. Copy as few people as possible.

  3. Don't automatically hit Reply to All.

  4. Write highly descriptive subject lines.

  5. Use bullet points instead of long, running paragraphs.

  6. Don't send substance-free replies, such as "Thanks" or "I agree!"

  7. If a message doesn't require a reply, say so.

  8. Make sure each message has only one main point.

  9. Before you send a message, reread it for brevity, clarity and accuracy.

  10. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall once in a while instead of sending more e-mail.

Mail Call

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Lotus cc:Mail Release 8

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Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0

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Microsoft Internet Mail and News Free download
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Netscape Mail

Included with Netscape Navigator 3.0
Netscape Communications Corp.
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Pronto 97

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QuickMail Pro 1.5 $69.95; free upgrade
CE Software
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Four11 Corp.
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Z-Mail Pro 6.1

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Windows Magazine, October 1997, page 250.

[ Go to October 1997 Table of Contents ]