The Email Monster

Cedar Rapids websiteImagine that you received 10, 20, 50 pieces of regular mail through your post office each day and, after scanning it,  all you did was toss it on your kitchen counter. What would your kitchen, or whole home, look like after a year, two years, more? Unusable is what. That’s what is happening to many email accounts. Email is for quick, temporary communication or transfer of information. If you neglect controlling your email account, it will become virtually, or literally, unusable. If you want your email account to be useful and manageable, there are simple things to do that are quick and easy once you get used to doing them:

  1. Avoid hoarding. We all have a tendency to keep emails we “might need.” You will never need the vast majority of emails. When in doubt – throw it out.
  2. Print. Every computer user knows technological stuff breaks sometimes. Important information should be printed on real paper.
  3. Delete and Empty. First, delete every email you can as soon as you have the information from it you need. Then you need to empty your Trash folder, because emails are not really gone until you do both steps.
  4. Unsubscribe. By law, most people who send you marketing or other repeat emails have to include a way for you to unsubscribe in each email. This law was created because email can so easily get out of hand. If you don’t pour over every detail of the promotional emails you receive, they are probably not needed and you should unsubscribe by clicking the “Unsubscribe” link at the bottom.
  5. Save lives, not junk. Most email systems have an upper limit on the size an email account can grow to. These limits are set to prevent the natural tendency of email accounts to grow uncontrollably. If you go over the limits, incoming emails are rejected by the server. That means you will not receive important, even critical, emails because you haven’t cleaned the unnecessary items from your email box.
  6. Use your Address Book. We often keep emails because it is easy to reply to another email from whomever we wish to send an email to. Not only does this use valuable space in your email account, but every message sent back and forth contains the prior emails (and usually the attachments). So that means you and the other person are sending multiple copies of the same emails back and forth over and over. Instead, simply click on an incoming email person’s name, or small icon beside it, and they will be added to your address book. Then to send to them, just start typing their name or email address and the “To:” field will be filled without having to type it in.
  7. Use folders. Some inboxes accumulate hundreds, or even thousands of emails, which can make finding things impossible. You can create folders for temporarily saving groups of related emails, such as for an active project. That not only makes it easier to find something when you need it, but it subtly forces you to think “Should I file this in a folder or just delete it?”.
  8. Don’t phone it in. If you use your phone to access your email account, you may think you have things under control, but you may not. Most email accounts are not set up to delete messages from your email server when you delete them from your phone. That means that no matter how diligent you are with your phone, you must log in directly to your email account periodically to remove the original emails, because you have just been deleting copies.
  9. Don’t get personal. You should probably not use your business email account for personal emails. This not only contributes to uncontrolled account growth, but it is unfair to your employer to use their resources and it opens up your personal communication to scrutiny if there were ever legal issues with the business (even if it has nothing to do with you). You can open a free account like gmail for personal use and not compromise either.

Email is a convenient, productive tool. Use these tips and common sense to keep it that way. Otherwise, the beast will devour both you and your ability to use it effectively and efficiently.