Every Day Connected

5 Tips to Beat Email Overload

Email overload creating problems? Try these tips to reign in your habit -- without losing touch.

I turned off the accompanying ding a long time ago, but for years, the small rectangular box that pops up the lower right-hand side of my screen and tells me I have new email has been a constant. It provides something that we in the digital generation seem to crave: instant information gratification.

Then one day last week, after a particularly distraction-filled evening, I decided I’d had enough. I marched my fingers across the mouse pad to Outlook settings, found the option for email notifications and shut it down. No more box.

If you too are tired of being a slave to your email, try this -- and these five other tips:

1. Check email only every __________.
Programs such as Outlook and Entourage will automatically check your mail in the time interval you select. If yours is currently set to check email every 3 minutes, bump it up to 10. If it’s already at 10, try 20. Already there? Go for 45. Go for as long as you possibly can; your email will wait.

An even better mindset: Instead of saying that email is not allowed during a certain time, focus on what is allowed. For example, I might say, “I’m going to work on this story for one hour.” What’s allowed? Work. What’s not allowed? Everything else. When email isn’t singled out as the forbidden fruit, it may tempt you less.

And if it doesn’t mess with your work requirements, check your email only once or twice a day. Pick a quiet hour when nothing else will compete for your attention.

2. Create a separate email account for marketers.
Special offers from stores and websites that have collected your email address over the years usually arrive in the wee hours of the morning. As a result, you end up starting your day with a cluttered inbox. Unsubscribe from email offers you haven’t used in more than six months, and start converting the others to a separate webmail account that you use solely for this purpose. Check the account once a week.

3. Use folders and filters to organize email.
Keeping your email in one giant inbox not only ensures you’ll keep getting off task, but also makes it harder for you to find the information you’re looking for. Create filters that always deliver messages from certain senders to certain folders so you can deal with them when you’re ready.

4. Use IMAP, not POP, to sync your email accounts.
If you have webmail accounts and sync them to a program such as Outlook, you usually have two options for downloading messages: IMAP and POP. With IMAP, all your actions in one inbox are synced to your other inbox. So if you delete 30 useless emails from your Gmail account using Outlook, you won’t see them the next time you log into your webmail. POP, on the other hand, keeps separate copies of your messages on the main server and your computer. So if you really want to erase those 30 emails forever, you’ll have to do it twice with POP: Once on your computer and once through your webmail. IMAP is the timesaver.

5. Keep your email program closed.
If you keep your email program running all day, you’ll be tempted to check it more often than you know you should. So try keeping it closed -- except for the predesignated times you’re going to check it.

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