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Handling e-mail Overload


Since the day email was introduced, first in corporate environments and then to the consumer at large, email overload and how to handle it has been a vexxing problem. The problem has only grown with time instead of getting better. One of the most major trends in email systems today is how to handle email overload. For some email is so out control they are missing key correspondence while at the same time spending an inordinate amount of time sifting out the good stuff.

Two Approaches to Attempt to Grapple with the Problem

One could say there are two approaches being taken to deal with the problem with each approach having its own benefits while at the same time not limiting oneself to using only one of the two strategies. Mail can be dealt with before it reaches the client or upon reaching the client or both.

Server Based

There is one significant server based technique I’ll discuss called Sanebox. Some feel this is a blessing while others feel this creates more confusion than that which it helps.

The idea behind Sanebox is some mail needs reviewing immediately whereas other mail can be deferred. You can clean up your inbox for critical mail while deferring less critical mail till a quieter part of the day.

Sanebox works using algorithms that it looks at to determine what is high priority mail for you and that which it thinks can be deferred into a Sanelater box. This can actually be made more granular. Important mail is routed to the inbox where you give it first run attention while the unimportant is routed to the Sanelater box. You might also have a bulk box, news box etc. As you’re working through the mail, you might find stuff in the inbox that can be deferred. Sanebox is trainable and by putting mail in some other box, that’s where it will go in the future. You might also find stuff in the other boxes which really should be in the inbox. This is the most important form of training as if you accidentally delete something here, problems could really occur.

The more you work in Sanebox, as the theory goes, the more accurate the division of mail gets and you get more to the critical work faster. Some feel though, you are just deferring the inevitable. Not quite so. If you are really under the gun and there is a pile of mail in news, a quick eyeballing of it might reveal nothing of significance so deleting it in one quick swath is probably safe. Probably is the operative word here and if you do this, you have to hope you’re right. However, a lot of time can be saved if this is the case.

Other Advantage

The other advantage a systems level approach has is it will hit all your devices mailboxes in the same way – mobile, pad etc. This can then be quite profound as the client based approach will be what it is for the client your working with.

Sanebox does seem to have a following and some tools integrate the product into the local client. The ability to train the system; set parameters around how mail is handled; look for mail with something unique in it and put it in a certain box all provide control and the one thing when there’s too much email is you feel that you are completely out of control.

Client Based Approaches are Very much in Vogue

The second place you can tame the beast is at the client level and that is what is happening. Numerous clients are coming out to try to tackle email more quickly. One technique, even if you need to come back to it is either to set a reminder to return to the inbox later or the next day. The idea here is to get your inbox as close to empty as possible as the length of the inbox can be overwhelming.

Merlin Mann takes a very aggressive approach to email and has liked clients that tend to follow in this mold. You can look at Merlin Mann’s site on email where he elucidates explicitly the folly of getting caught in the stuff.

Clients of this ilk

Choosing a client for your email that is proactive is important. There are now very good clients for the Mac that assist not only in reducing your mail (swipe your way to inbox zero) but by supporting efficient interactions with other programs speed up your results.

Apple Mail Add-ins

Even Apple mail, when looked at it from first blush, is a nice client. However, there are now numerous add-ons for Apple mail to aid in it’s processing and they work. Not all are created equal of course and some you will find more appealing than others but I particularly like Indev’s set of add-ins not only for the assistance they bring in the processing of the mail but that which they add around the support. There are basically three products that I find work synergistically to add value to mail. There are other add-ins that are also valuable and they add much to the process.

Third Product Mail Clients Exploding

Third party products are exploding to help us stay on top of mail. Different yet similar approaches are taken by these clients so find the one that works for you the best.

As an example, in IOS I like Dispatch and Mail Pilot. On OSX I like Mail Pilot but it makes errors and reliability is critical to efficient mail management. So for OSX I’ll use MailMate due to the incredible accuracy of this client and it’s integration with third party products. These things are helpful but still, at the end of the day, we have a mail avalanche to deal with.

Combination Approach of Sanebox with a Client I Like

Sanebox can be working on the one side and the client you like best while the client does its thing and this does save time. The old fashioned scripts that we are one time building for our clients are not nearly as in as they used to be. The clients that do scripting well would be something like Outlook. Yet, this is slightly dated when we look at the new.

Combining approaches, can lead to some sanity, which is the way to go. There is no Nirvana if our approaches take us down a rat maize impossible to get out of.

Time to Tackle the Mail

Look at your own mail habits. Maybe everything is rolling along quite fine and the old adage of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it holds very true here”. However, if you’re find that your mail is dragging you back from your real work it’s time to consider alternate styles.

The payoff can be substantial. Yes, a mistake or two can lead to unpleasant outcomes but that in some ways is a bit of the process of learning to get past these and move forward. The taming of this shrew can be more than well worth it to you sense of satisfaction, health and progress.

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