Take control of your inbox to avoid "e-mail bankruptcy," computing expert says

Friday, June 8, 2007

With e-mails messages flooding their inboxes, some people have declared "e-mail bankruptcy" by deleting old messages and starting fresh or swearing off e-mail altogether, according to a recent Washington Post story.

But a University of North Texas computing expert says "e-mail bankruptcy" doesn't have to be the answer to an overloaded inbox.

"As one who relies on e-mail on a daily basis, I can understand how overwhelming it can be to face a list of unread messages," says Dr. Philip Baczewski, director of Academic Computing and User Services in the Computing and Information Technology Center at UNT. "However, the best strategy with e-mail, as with finances, is to manage your activity so that you don't get to the point where bankruptcy is your only option."

Baczewski has contributed to a number of books on Internet and e-mail topics, including "The Internet 1997 Unleashed," and "E-Mail Virus Protection Handbook." He says Americans today are expected to have e-mail addresses, and answer e-mail messages as soon as they receive them.

"The reality is that expectations should vary depending upon the circles of relationship associated with a particular e-mail message," he says. "I expect to get a reply from someone else in my office. I don't expect to get a reply from any number of public figures who may have made themselves accessible via e-mail. Likewise, I am more likely to immediately answer someone who is in a close circle of association, such as an office mate or professional colleague."

Baczewski offers the following tips for those struggling to control their e-mail inboxes:

  • Ignore some e-mail messages instead of reading or answering every message.

"I think it's polite to answer or at least acknowledge communication from others, but I prioritize my responses," Baczewski says. "If the e-mail comes from someone with whom I have an established professional relationship, I will always try to respond in an appropriate time frame." Baczewski says he tries to reply within a day.

  • A little organization will go a long way.

"Use your e-mail filter rules to automatically put mailing list subscription messages and such into their own folder. This allows you to browse such messages and read only the ones which are of interest to you," Baczewski says. He adds most e-mail systems can identify spam and put the messages in a special folder so you can browse them later and catch any messages that might have been flagged spam by mistake.

  • Don't oversubscribe yourself.

"Back when e-mail and Listserv mailing lists were a new phenomenon, it was common for those new to the technology to subscribe to every list that piqued their interest, resulting in a flood of e-mail. Even these days, it's possible to have too many sources of e-mail," Baczewski says. "If you are judicious with your subscriptions, then the e-mail you receive will more closely match your interests and you'll be less likely to ignore it."

  • Stay current.

"If you ignore your e-mail, then you'll be putting yourself on the road to certain e-mail bankruptcy. Applying these tips help make e-mail a much more manageable and useful medium," Baczewski says.

  • Finally, set appropriate expectations.

"Don't tell someone to send you an e-mail message if you know you won't have time to respond. Use the communications medium with which you are most comfortable," he says. "If that's the telephone, then give out your phone number instead. And as tempting as it is, don't use e-mail to avoid people."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108