Randy Dean's Timely Tips

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Timely Tips: Volume 1, Issue 2; October, 2004: E-mail Overload (Part 2)

Last month, we discussed a few tips for making your “email experience” more efficient and effective. We recommended that you use discipline and only check your e-mail 3-4 times per day, and also that you follow a three-minute processing rule (if you can read it, file it, respond to it, forward it, archive it, or delete it in three minutes or less, take care of that email RIGHT NOW!) This month, we’re going to stay on the “effective email” topic, and share a few more tips to save time and energy on email, particularly when dealing with spam.

SPAM Strategies

Spam, or simply unsolicited (and mostly unwanted) email, has become both ubiquitous and also highly wasteful for individuals and organizations. Thousands of hours of productivity are lost each year due to spam, and many scarce dollars are going into systems that help to stop the flow of spam into companies. According to IDG News Service, the amount of spam has increased by more than 40% this year alone. Nearly 500,000 spam messages are sent every single day, accounting for nearly 17% of all messages sent. Some organizations are even reporting that 25% or more of all email received is spam. About 1% of those messages are also infected with a virus, thus making spam messages even more dangerous and costly.

While most larger organizations have formal efforts in place to help stop the flow of spam, there are a number of things that you can do individually to help stop this flow also. These strategies may also help you save time when reviewing and responding to email on a daily basis, and of course they will help your company’s bottom line.

  1. Never open an email that you suspect is spam. The act of opening the email often sends a message back to the spammer that reports to them that the email is “live”. They may then sell your email address to other spammers, thus potentially overloading your account with spam. Plus, when you open the probable spam, you potentially open your account to a virus. The best thing to do is to simply delete the message, or follow the steps in strategy #4 below.
  2. Never use your work email address as a response address for any internet accounts or online purchases. If you do this, you are increasing the likelihood that an unscrupulous person or organization will get your “live” email address, and add it to their spam list. The best way to sign up for internet offers and purchases is to follow strategy #3 below:
  3. Have a dedicated personal email account SOLELY for responding to internet offers and making internet purchases. There are several free email services out there, including Yahoo!, Google, and Hotmail. I recommend that you start one of those accounts for these kinds of activities, and ONLY use this account for these kinds of activities. If you also want a personal email account for family and friends, start yet another account. (yes, like telephone numbers, we are now in the world of multiple email accounts – a work account, a personal account, and a “spam protection” account.)
  4. Take the time to use any spam filters that you have access to. If your company allows you to report or forward spam, do just that. Even though it takes an extra moment, if your company has an active spam monitoring program and individuals do their part to report spam, over time, the amount of spam that will get through the filter will drop dramatically. Look at this as an investment in a cleaner email box in the near future. Follow the same strategy with your personal email accounts. For instance, Yahoo! email has a very easy-to-use spam filter – anytime that you receive a message that is spam, you can simply mark it by clicking the “spam” button, and the message will be removed from your email inbox and put in your trash folder. If you want to review these messages, you even have the option of setting up a “bulk” folder in Yahoo!, where these messages will automatically be forwarded, as well as any other messages that Yahoo! suspects are spam.
  5. As a last resort, if you simply cannot get control of the spam in your work email, contact your system administrator, and ask for a new email address. This is never a fun step to take, because it then requires you to send a note to all of your contacts to let them know you have a new address. You may also have to monitor both email accounts for 2-4 weeks to make sure you aren’t missing important messages, but if spam has made your email unwieldy, it is a step that should be considered. If it is your personal account that gets out of control, a similar (albeit painful) solution should be considered. If, when you start over and receive this new account, you follow strategies 1-4 above, you will hopefully never have to get ANOTHER replacement work or personal email account.

One very nice benefit of having multiple email accounts is that it helps you with knowing what is an urgent or important email. If you know that you are being a good steward of your work email account, you can have more confidence that the messages in your inbox merit your attention. The same can be said for your personal email account. And your “spam-catcher” account may only merit occasional infrequent attention.

The whole reason for doing this is to help save time and make your actions more efficient and effective. You can continue to check your work email account 3-4 times a day, as we recommended in the previous issue, check your personal email account only once or twice a day (for instance, before work, during lunch, or after work), and only check your “spam-catcher” account infrequently (when you have recently made an online order or requested internet information).

Another important reason to consider following the multiple account strategy is because it could actually help you professionally. In a recent American Management Association study, 80% of companies responded that they now actively monitor the electronic activities (including email and weblogs) of their employees. Another study by the Society of Human Resource Management found that 75% of large companies actively review individual emails. If you are getting lots of inappropriate email in your work account (either personal or spam), it could actually put your livelihood in jeopardy. By having these separate accounts, you resist the temptation of effectively “stealing time” from your employer for personal purposes. You can also notify friends and relatives that you will only read their emails if they send it to your personal account, thus keeping you focused on the task at hand – building your employer’s business.

And, of course, won’t it be nice to stop reading about the great benefits of cheap Viagra, or those wonderful offers for $63 million dollars from a bank in Nigeria? ;-)


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