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Organizing Email and Taming the Volume

| James Riley |

In the last post, I talked about how to better manage the flow of e-mails through your Inbox and how to control the time suck of handling e-mail. Out of that, several people asked for some tips on handling e-mail and reducing the total volume of e-mail in their inbox. This blog post is focused on strategies and approaches I’ve found effective.

First, let’s talk about how to organize e-mails. I used to organize my e-mails by using separate folders for each company I dealt with, each person within that company, etc. However, I found that it was just entirely too cumbersome to handle, especially when I was doing a lot of e-mail management from my cell phone. I also ran into issues with not being able to find e-mails. For example, let’s say I was on an e-mail thread with Sally and Bob Doe. I’d file Sally’s e-mails under her folder and Bob’s under his folder. Let’s then say that I wanted to find an e-mail from that thread that I THOUGHT came from Sally. So, I’d go to her folder and look for it, only to find that the e-mail actually came from Bob. Then, I’d have to go over to Bob’s folder, search again and find the e-mail.

With the power of search, I found that I ended up just doing searches of my entire mailbox as it was simpler and faster. The only problem was that the search results were cluttered as they would also show e-mails I’d sent and, depending on how I ran the search, items from my calendar and contacts.

So, the solution was to dump all of my old e-mails into a single folder, called “Archive”. By doing this, all I have to do is click on that folder, run a search and, voila, I can see what I want to see. If you are like I was, you may be a bit tense about the idea of only having one “Archive” folder for ALL historical e-mails. When I first did this, I was a bit hypertensive but, as I started to use it, I realized how simple yet functional it was…I haven’t looked back to the old method of email organization since!

Changing the way you organize e-mails is great but it doesn’t actually reduce the overall volume of emails that come in. To do that, I looked for superfluous e-mails both from legitimate and illegitimate sources.

On the illegitimate source side, we are, mainly, talking about spam. Spam management is a rather complex topic and requires that you take a multi-faceted approach. You most definitely need a solid anti-spam solution that blocks obvious spam but none of these systems will be perfect and cannot solve the problem on their own. (When blocking spam, if you set filters too tight, you catch legitimate e-mail. If you set filters too loose, you avoid blocking legitimate e-mails but you let a lot of spam through as well. It is possible to tune an anti-spam solution to be more accurate but it will always involve tradeoffs.)

A few other things to do to reduce the overall spam volume to your organization are:

  1. Look at your website. While it seems friendly to put your e-mail address on the website, this guarantees you will have a substantial increase in spam. While innovations such as posting info [at] on your website is creative and helps, most spammers are able to easily figure this out now. The most critical thing is to remove e-mail addresses from your website and put in a friendly contact us form. You can even have a person select, on the form, who they want to contact and you can route the submission to the appropriate person. One key here is to make sure you use someone that knows what they are doing to develop this form as some forms render on the “client side” and, as such, they do not appropriately hide the e-mail addresses of your internal team.
  2. User training. The #1 cause of spam is users. Whenever you submit your e-mail address on a website, register at a hotel or whatever else, you get put onto lists. Some lists are more legitimate and you can get off of them but many MAY remove you from one list only after adding you to 10 others…in these cases, unsubscribing only validates that you are a legitimate recipient.

Once we have deal with reducing the spam volume, we can focus on more policy-type elements. Often, a person will get put onto an e-mail thread that results in a firestorm of back and forth e-mails. There are a few things we have found effective in handling this but much of this is policy related so you will want to figure out what to use and not use of these ideas.

  1. Set a policy to only cc people when it is truly necessary. For us, internally, we seek to be conservative when deciding whether or not to cc someone. Do they really need to be included in the entire thread or do they just need a summary e-mail at the end of the thread? Sometimes, cc’ing someone is truly necessary.
  2. Define what a cc actually means. For us, if someone is in the cc field of an e-mail, they are NOT expected to respond. They are simply being kept in the loop and they can interject, IF they feel it is necessary. When you have this kind of policy, you can do things such as create rules in your e-mail client to move e-mails where you’re cc’d to a different folder. I will say, however, I am not a fan of this option as I don’t like having new e-mail show up in various locations…I much prefer, if possible, to shape the policy and user actions up-front.

If you would like help with managing your inbox, looking for an e-mail system that works better, need a good anti-spam solution or anything else, please click HERE to contact us!