Help for getting your email under control

This post is for anyone who, like me, has been overwhelmed by your email inbox. I keep two inboxes, one for work and one for personal stuff. My work one doesn’t usually pile up beyond about 150 messages (which still takes several hours to clear out), but I finished a busy summer in August with over 1700 messages sitting in my personal box (no, I’m not that popular–it included lots of Facebook notifications and things I subscribe to). For friends and family who wonder why you sometimes write me and then never hear back, this is why.

Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero series ended up being very timely. His tips have helped me keep my email somewhat at bay for the first time in years. Here are a couple of simple things that have helped the most:

  1. More than anything, a new attitude towards my inbox. Rather than letting things sit in there forever, I try to only look at a message once and then do something with it.
  2. Absolving myself of the guilt of not having returned messages friends and family wrote me six months ago. Not that I didn’t want to return those messages, but I had to accept that I was never going to get to it, and keeping those messages sitting in my box was hindering me from responding to the new stuff coming in from friends and family.
  3. I dumped Microsoft Outlook and moved to Mozilla Thunderbird as my new (free, open source!) email client. Microsoft isn’t to be blamed for my email woes, but Thunderbird does have a couple of plugins that have really helped out, and I have also learned Thunderbird’s features and shortcuts better than I ever learned Outlook’s. The jury’s still out, because it’s a little quirky with a couple of things, and it could be that Outlook can actually do everything I’m now doing with Thunderbird, but open source provides a couple of advantages you just don’t get with Microsoft.(By the way, I’m continually amazed at how many of my missionary friends still do all their email online and don’t even use an email client like Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Eudora, etc. My advice: Get an email client! Once you do, you’ll wonder why you ever went so long without one. Picture not having to wait for an entire web page to load in order to read each message and never again having internet hiccups make you lose a message. Download all your email to read offline, quickly read it by click, click, clicking on the different messages, and then send all your new stuff at once as soon as you go online again.)

If you’re in need of an email rescue operation, check out the Inbox Zero series and see what Merlin’s advice can do for you.