As we've been discussing this week, "time sinks," are those online activities that eat up a lot of our time. So far, we've discussed Facebook games, and social news sites. Now, let's talk about e-mail. E-mail is a bit like food. It wouldn't be practical (or possible in most cases) to go cold turkey on it, but for some of us, it can get out of control in a hurry. Here are some of the ways e-Mail can take over your life, and how to regain control.
Groups / Listservs
These are mailing lists that you ask to be added to, for the purpose of communicating with the other people in the group or keeping updated on events or specials. This nearly always seems like a good idea in the beginning, until someone in the group gets chatty, or a few members have a disagreement, and exchange 59 e-mails in one day. A good way to get these under control, if you don't want to remove yourself from them is to adjust your settings so that you receive less frequent (i.e. weekly)"digests" of the discussion threads. This will help you resist the temptation to become embroiled in petty conversations, while still keeping up-to-date on what is happening with the group.
These are lists that you end up on, usually because you've given your e-mail address out for some other reason (to enter a contest, participate in a poll, make a purchase, etc.), and ended up on one or more contact lists. Often these lists are shared and passed on, and after a while you're on lists from companies or organizations you've never heard of. Another good way to get on a lot of contact lists is to post your e-mail address on your blog. If you are familiar with the organization you're
being spammed receiving information from, and you wish to have it stopped, it's best to use the "unsubscribe" link that is usually present at the bottom of bulk mailings. If there is no such link, simply reply to the e-mail with "Unsubscribe" in the subject line, and that will usually do the trick. If you have no idea who the sender is, it's better to just mark their mailings as "spam." (There's no need to validate your e-mail address for phishers.)
Multiple e-Mail accounts
Checking numerous e-mail accounts several times a day can get time-consuming. An e-mail client like Outlook Express, which helps consolidate your e-mail can be helpful. Another option is to simply forward all of your e-mail to one web-based e-mail address.
Spammers you can ignore easily. Friends are not so easy to ignore. With the increasing popularity of smart-phone technology, there is now little difference between IM's (instant messages), text messages, and e-mails, in terms of how quickly people expect a response to their messages. One way I've found that helps me to get this under control is to lower my friend's expectations, and only answer e-mails from most of them during certain hours (usually in the evenings).
Last week I took a little time off to get caught up on some things, and one of the things I worked on was getting my e-mail under control. At the beginning of the week, I was literally receiving over 400 e-mails a day. My e-mail had taken on a life of its own. I wasn't able to really spend time responding to the people I wanted to talk to, because of having to sift through and delete e-mails I didn't want. It took time, but I started actually going through each and every e-mail to see who it was from, and deal with it accordingly. Now, I'm receiving about 50 e-mails a day, which is manageable, especially because most of them are from people I actually need or want to hear from. I think I've learned my lesson about letting this get out of control, and about dealing with spam and phishing as it creeps in - we'll see. ;-)
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.