From e-bills to loyalty program messages, notes from friends and business requests, email overload can be difficult to wade through email and attend to the important stuff, but your computer can do the hard work for you.
Sorting your mail
We all sort our snail mail into bills, advertisements and personal mail before opening it, so why not do it with email? In Outlook, for example, you can create folders for each category in your Inbox, then use rules (found on the Home tab, or in the Tools Menu, depending on your version of Outlook) to create rules for emails from different addresses to be delivered automatically to specific folders. You can even create exceptions to the rule if necessary (for instance, if the email contains the word “overdue” or is marked with high importance). This allows you to keep focussed on emails that relate to today’s tasks, and leave others until you intend to focus on those tasks.
Responding to everybody
Sometimes it is hard to reply to every email, especially when you’re busy or out of the office. An auto responder may seem impersonal, but it’s better to receive an automated message advising that there’s a reason for the delay than to wait in vain for a response. The message your auto responder sends out is up to you, so you have the choice to personalise it to suit your business and avoid being too detached.
There are a couple of ways to set up automatic responses. If you have a Microsoft Exchange account, you can set “Out of Office AutoReply”. Gmail calls it “Vacation Responder”. Alternatively, rules can be used to send a response to everybody, or only when specific triggers are met; an email from a customer containing the name of your product as well as the word “enquiry” could automatically receive an email with standard information and pricing with a promise of further contact within 24 hours.
If you are using Outlook rules to do this kind of sorting and responding, the computer must be on and connected to the internet with Outlook running, so don’t turn it off when you go on holidays.
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Getting your message out there
Even as a soloist, you are likely to work with a group of other people on a regular basis, whether they are clients, other businesses contributing to the same project, or the group that handles your shipping. To keep everybody in the loop, set up a contact group in your contacts list, and address your emails to that group. No more mistyping a name, picking the wrong contact or forgetting to include somebody, and when the contact details change, you can just update the contact group and keep using it.
On the move
You can’t always be at your desk, so receiving email on your smartphone allows you to respond immediately if the matter is pressing, keep up to date with what’s happening, and avoid surprises when you return to the office. Rules and folders you set up on your computer will work on your phone as well if your email is delivered by an Exchange account, making managing your email while you’re out and about even easier.
The wash up
Keeping up with the ever increasing flood of email does require organisation, but in conjunction with a good spam filter and using the Unsubscribe link on email newsletters once in a while, these tips ought to reduce your email overload to a trickle.
But I’m interested to hear from you: do you suffer from email overload, and how do you deal with it?