I spent a few icky hours this weekend going through my email in-box, trying to sort through all the stuff that came in since early 2006 that I never dealt with.
Yikes! It’s embarrassing how many emails just fell through the cracks and I never responded to. In my defense, I do answer 98% or 99% of my email quickly. But I get an enormous amount–hundreds per day, if you count all the separate emails in the digests of the numerous email loops I subscribe to.
What goes wrong sometimes is that somebody will email me with a request that takes more than a minute or two to answer. So I move on to the next one, fully intending to answer it later “when I have more time”. Often, I do get back to it.
But sometimes, I don’t. What happens is that more email comes in, and the one I intended to answer drifts up past the top of my in-box.
When that happens, it’s trouble, because if it’s out of sight, it’s out of my mind, probably forever. As I sorted through the email from the last 18 months, I came across any number of old requests that I had lost track of. A lot of people must think I’m too snooty to answer my email.
I’m embarrassed. But I’m also human.
My goal is to get better at dealing with email this year. One way to deal with the problem I described above is that I’ve created another email folder labeled “Answer Today”. My plan is to never leave email in my in-box. As it comes in, I’ll either deal with it immediately or move it to the “Answer Today” folder. Then when the daily work is over, I can get to those things and answer them. Hopefully today. So nothing should get lost in a bulging in-box with thousands of items in it.
That’s the theory anyway. I’ll let you know how it works.
That raises a question for you all. What tricks do you use to tame the email monster? How do you handle the flood?
ML Eqatin says
Your family deserves your time more than a bunch of semi anonymous people out there on the web. So what if you didn’t answer your email? Did you play with your kids? Ten years from now, that is what will really matter.
As to the rest, there is the ’email form letter’. I have two businesses and one defunct non-profit for which I get email, and the requests fall into the same several categories. So cut and paste, add one personal line, and off you go.
Otherwise, forget it. If its really important, they’ll tag you again.
Don’t answer this!
You’re lucky you get a flood. I’m lucky if I get a trickle
I don’t get anywhere as near the amount of emails you do but unattended mail is still a pain. Personal mail I try to deal with straight away. I try to clar the in box, failing that I try to keep it to no more than about 10. But from time to time that blows out. *sigh*
You know the ones that frustrate me most? The forwarded funnies or D and Ms. I keep the ones that I think are worth passing on and it’s these that clog up my mail when I don’t do that straight away. I immediately delete the D and Ms that promise me something if I forward lots of them or if they try to put the guilts on me.
Caprice Hokstad says
I can’t say I have that monster to tame. I probably answer more of my group subscription mail than I should, making people sick of seeing my name pop up in the responses (like the way one might get sick of seeing a certain person’s useless comments keep showing up on a blog).
It’s the price of fame, and not being famous, not a burden I have to deal with. To tell the truth, I often wish I received more email that actually NEEDED more than a click of the delete key. Not a monster, mind you, just a manageable pet. 🙂
I regularly clear out my inbox. I always make sure I answer business related e-mail the day it arrives. Sometimes personal mail ends up waiting a day or two. Subscriptions tend to pile up though, so every few months I go through and delete what I’ve forgotten to send to the recycle bin. And why is it called that? I mean, if I send it there, I don’t want it. There is no recycling involved.
Carrie Neuman says
I’ve turned off the emails on my email groups. I go right to the webpage and see what’s going on. I’m also a big fan of folders. Good luck, Randy!
I have four different email addresses – one for personal, one for writing, one for junk mail, and another for a business I am just starting. Any groups that I am on I receive in a digest, instead of individual emails. If I can’t get to something right away I may make a note on my To-Do pad which I have sitting by my computer. If the email is a long one requiring large quantities of time or actions away from my computer I will print it out and add it to my to do file. In gmail you can star emails so they are easy to return to later (as well as attach a label to – similar to a folder). So my gmail account tends to be well organized and I address these ones first. My personal account I will address next and my junk email (I call it this because it is the email I use whenever I am required to give an email address out on a website and I don’t really want to receive things from them)last. My new business email is not that active right now, but it will become first to look at as the business gets past the start up phase.
Judith Robl says
Boy, Lynn, you sound really organized. How do you remember passwords for four different email accounts? I’m lucky to remember one.
Randy, it’s uncanny how our lives seem to parallel. I spent week before last — and it took the whole week — filing stuff from my inbox. I started with nearly 3000 emails, some of which needed no reply.
Like Caprice, I don’t have your email monster to tame. My groups are all on digest. Yahoo is great about sending spam to my bulk mail folder. At the end of the day, when I have “cleared” my inbox, I move my bulk mail to the inbox, and re-report it as spam. I don’t know whether that is necessary or not, but it gives me a psychological edge. It feels like I’m doing something.
And I resolved to do this EVERY DAY, a resolution I’ve kept for over a week, now. Quick, pat me on the back before I break my arm.
Cori Fedyna says
I agree with ML Eqatin’s reply. You should use discretion when answer emails, because if it is taking too much time from your family and your personal down time, it isn’t worth it.
Personally, if I were you, I would post the ones that you find your target audience would find most interesting as you are doing…and well, answer a few more emails that engage you, and don’t feel guilty if you don’t answer the rest.
You are more useful to the lot of us burgeoning writers through your blog and website. Write more books. Listen for new ways to make your platform bigger (tv and radio).
I’ve been listening to Steve Harrison on a free teleconference seminar. Of course, he wants you to drop $10K on his marketing program and advice, but listening to his 1 hour tele discussion teaser, writers can get lots of clues on how to promote their work better. (He promoted the Rich Dad, Poor Dad writer Robert K whatever , and Canfield, Chicken Soup for the Soul.) They made millions of $$$ thanks to Harrison. There are other impressive stories as well. And in some of the seminars, he spells out specific steps. Anyone could execute it. Some prefer hand holding and need to get the steps right. Harrison is also a good networker. That’s how Harrison makes his living.
And you know what else? I think the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad was poorly written. If you haven’t read it yet, I already know that the verbosity and repetition of material would drive you nuts. What does that say about good marketing?
If nothing else, Harrison gives you a new perspective which you can use in mapping your career direction.
I get lots of emails too. Write a good auto bot and tell your followers that you read their email and thank them for their feedback. This way you will keep them on the hook (as you have me) with your blog and website.
That said, unless you feel compelled to reply to this email, go hug a family member instead. ~~~Cori
C.J. Darlington says
Great subject. I’m finding myself in the same boat more often these days (though I’m not quite yet in the receive hundreds a day slot). I use Eudora, and that program allows you to tag your e-mails with colors. The different colors mean different things to me. Red is business related e-mail. Green is personal. Blue is odd stuff. And the list goes on …
However, I’m finding the best thing I can do is actually respond to everything that comes in—even if it’s just a line or two. People prefer a response (even if its short) to no response at all. But I still have the same trouble sometimes, Randy, of putting an e-mail off til later because it doesn’t warrant a short response.
Lynetta Smith says
I have found that gmail works great for me. I “star” each email that requires a response or an action from me, so when I open my account, I can readily see my to-do list. It also has an archive/search feature, which allows me to find any email by keyword or sender. That way, if I think I may need the information again, I can just archive it and it goes out of my inbox, but it’s still accessible. You can make as many labels as you need to, and each email can have multiple labels.(Other google features are really great too!)
I still get a “way too full” inbox from time to time, but since I’ve switched to gmail, it’s been a whole lot more organized.
Sally Bradley says
My method has been the same as yours, Randy, and I’ll agree that it isn’t working! I’m taking today to get through it all and get my inbox empty.
I’m a big scheduler–I get nothing done if I don’t have a set time to do it, so I’m considering setting aside one half morning a week to play catchup. We’ll see if it works!
Folks, this is the 21st Century…use a web based email system. (I’m a Gmailer myself) Create a couple of folders…
(For action – emails you can answer now or within 24 hours)
(On Hold – emails you cannot answer immediately but can be answered by the end of the week)
(Permanent – for emails you want to keep forever)
Archive to keep your main box clean…..you can always search your archive
Clean out your Action folder daily and your Hold folder weekly.
Here’s a link on using Gmail as your inbox to rule the world.
Brother Quotidian says
1. Yahoo’s “throw-away” email addresses are nice, because they can show up in your inbox with a flagging color. I use them to subscribe to web sites, forums, blogs, etc. When I get messages with colored flags, I simply delete them.
2. Folders at Yahoo mail and Gmail (and, perhaps, others) allow mail directed to throw-away addresses to be compacted into a single folder, making deletion efficeint.
3. Folders, folders, folders.
Darcie Gudger says
Dude, if you find the answer, PLEASE let me know! My hubby likes an empty in box. Unfortunately, I’m one of those “out of sight out of mind” people. If something goes into a folder, I almost NEVER look at it. I simply forget it’s even there! Therefore, a week after DH scrubs the in box, there are over 300 e-mails lurking. That’s AFTER I go through and move junk to the junk filter.
Figuring out the e-mail issue will help my marriage 🙂
My inbox became so much more manageable when I set up rules for putting certain emails directly into certain folders–like email for groups I belong to. They don’t clutter my inbox. I can get to them when I have time. Then I try to clear my inbox each day. When the newletter and group emails aren’t there, it is much easier to do.
In my folders, I delete many, many of the emails, but if there is a tidbit of info (on industry or craft) that I want to keep, I copy that piece, along with the sender’s name, in a file with other similar information and save it for future reference. Then I delete the email. Even if I get behind on this, it doesn’t clutter my inbox, only that particular folder!
Pamela Cosel says
I am sending to you via your personal email address blog postings from Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, his process about this very thing — how he deals with huge amounts of email. His blog is titled, “From Where I Sit,” if anyone else is interested. The man writes very intelligent and useful postings. I hope it helps.
I highly recommend gmail’s filter program. I created standing labels for subscriptions and set my filters so anything from key addresses is sent straight to its folder. The label turns bold for new mail, along with the number unread in that category. (I like that I can label one email many ways, also.)
Any of my multiple addresses that can be forwarded (which sadly doesn’t include yahoo because they charge to do that) is sent to gmail for its incredible sorting ability. There is a setting applying the sent-to address to every reply so you won’t accidentally confuse emails.
Stars are emails to keep track of. I also have a label for things that need to be dealt with soon, and all long-term storage is labeled with a ‘z’ in front of the title so it’s not bulking up the more visible top of my list. As the labels are alphabetical, you could do this with other letters to keep things in the order you prefer.
Hope this helps! (says the walking, talking gmail advertisement *grin* It’s the best program I’ve ever used.)
Andra M. says
Looks like everyone’s already given you good advice, so I can’t add anything different.
As for me I have a “Follow Up” folder for the things I must not forget. As soon as I open one I need to follow up on (duh), off it goes into that folder.
Sure, I don’t have the bulk of emails to swim through like you do, but still responding to what I do have doesn’t take that much time, as long as I keep a schedule of when I do respond — such as 10pm right before I go to bed.
Once done, I can then clear them out and start over for the next day.
Andra M. says
Oops. I wrote the wrong email address in my last post!
Where’s my coffee . . .
Story Hack (Bryce Beattie) says
One thing I would suggest to anyone is reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. He has a huge amount of great ideas for getting through projects of any kind (not just email) faster.
Also, here’s a video interview of uber-blogger Robert Scoble by Tim Ferriss about how he deals with email.
In fact, here’s the blog article that surrounds the video.
Only the best and the brightest ever really seem to read FAQs, and so it can be useful to set up some automatic responses and templates. Once software addon for outlook that helps doing this is called cannedresponses, you can check it out here. http://cannedresponses.4team.biz/default.asp
I’ve never used it myself, but it looks like it might help out.
Also, I recently cut down the number of times I check my email per day down to two. I’m amazed at how much more I get done during the day. And quite frankly, none of my contacts has suffered for having to wait a couple more hours.
Joleena Thomas says
I keep folders and try and keep the inbox down to only around fifteen.
Remembering to subscribe to digests in writer’s groups is important, so the emails get grouped together as one. Sometimes people overlook that.
I don’t have filter systems because I don’t have to deal with the level of mail you get Randy, but if I did, I would use the technology and have the mail sort itself through its application.
Have important people you are dealing with know the “Key Subject Line” for the month and have that bypass all of the general mail. That should help.
Also, having a number of accounts for different purposes is a way you could help to separate things–not too many though.
My office computer accidentally deleted my entire inbox and archives. Rather than go through the lengthy process of having it all restored, I waited to see what would happen. You know what? Nothing did. If it’s REALLY important, it will come back again. Why don’t you let yourself off the hook and delete anything past a certain date? Start with a clean slate.
I don’t have tamed email, but i recently set up a few more accounts. so I can keep personal mail separate from blogging and separate from business.
I agree: gmail has been the vorpal sword that slays the email monster for me. I set up kind of a long list of labels (folders), and some email gets several labels. I never use the “star” button but it would serve well as an “answer today” reminder button. Gmail’s spam filter is great: I didn’t even realize I was getting spam till I noticed the tally number next to the “spam” folder. Most spam goes to my “decoy” email address, which I also check every couple of days, and which I always use when filling out forms on the web or in person. The important email gets forwarded to gmail, labelled and saved searchably forever.
The great thing is that I can quickly find ALL email that have anything to do with a certain person, project, or problem. When email does fall thru the cracks or is answered and forgotten, I can pull it up and everything related to it, even if I am out of town (which happens regularly for days at a time).
I’m up to 356MB of gmail storage– the other nice thing about gmail! None of it is on my computer. Recently a very local blackout hit just when I needed to be composing a crucial email: I hopped on my bike and rode to Boba Loca and had everything I needed right there at their public-use computer.
I keep folders organized by category. Some for stuff I subscribe to and want to keep, like marketing, PR, article or book content or inspiration, etc. and some I will need to respond to immediately. I do occasionally, unsubscribe to groups and newsletters where the content turns out to be a big waste of time.
My regular “inbox” is reserved for friends and acquaintences who “forward” a lot of cute stuff, much of which I delete without reading.
Jim Thompson says
I’m another Gmail fan. The spam filter works well, allowing only one in a couple hundred spams into my inbox. Then, if I don’t know the sender, I flag it and click “Report Spam.” I like to keep active e-mails up front in my inbox. If I don’t get around to taking action on them within a reasonable time, I “re-prioritize” them to the garbage.
Why do they call junk e-mail “spam.” I’d as soon call it by what it is, “CRAP.” Spam is a useful potted meat, if you have a death-wish.
Paul D says
I don’t have an email monster to tame. I get maybe a dozen emails a day.
Carly Brown says
Ok, I feel compelled to respond. I REALLY appreciate what you all are saying, new information is a great thing. Randy, this ones for you. STOP apologizing: gross waste of time. As you say you are only human, give yourself a break!!!! I believe that what you do is so much GREATER than your in-box. Keeping yourself organized: GOOD. Apologizing for it all over the place: BAD.