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10 tips to better manage your e-mail

EnvelopeThis is not just another article about combating SPAM. Although there are some pointers to reduce your SPAM, this article focuses mostly on taking advantage of e-mail features that you likely have but don’t know about.

I often hear people complaining about getting unwanted e-mail from their friends, family, co-workers, etc. I have a hard time understanding why people stress over a couple of unwanted e-mails. Chances are, they are not managing their e-mail effectively and at the end of the day have an Inbox with unwanted and wanted e-mails all blended together.

Here are ten steps that I have taken to better manage my e-mail:

  1. Use a good e-mail program
  2. A good e-mail program will save you time. Compared to webmail, e-mail programs are faster, you can drag and drop messages, and it is easier to select multiple messages. E-mail programs present many other nice features that you do not get using webmail. I personally use and highly recommend Mozilla Thunderbird. Thunderbird is an open-source (and free) e-mail program that is fast and easy to use.

    Microsoft Outlook Express is another good, free e-mail program but lacks some nice features that comes with Thunderbird like built-in SPAM filters and a handy quick search.

    Other people have also recommended Eudora, but I have not tried it.

  3. Use IMAP instead of POP3
  4. Most e-mail providers offer two ways (protocols) to download your e-mail: POP3 and IMAP. The most common is POP3, mainly because it has been around the longest and it is usually the default choice in e-mail programs. Few people even realize that there is an alternative way to download e-mail using their e-mail program.

    The most significant advantage IMAP has over POP3 is that it keeps e-mail messages and folders on the server allowing you to maintain the same structure in webmail as in your e-mail program. IMAP is a far more sophisticated protocol than POP3 and presents many more advantages over POP3. However, users with a slow Internet connection (e.g. dialup) will probably still prefer to download their messages with POP3.

  5. Create folders in your Inbox
  6. Sorting is very important to increase the manageability of your e-mail. Fortunately, it is very easy to sort your e-mail. Simply create some folders within your Inbox folder for messages of a certain topic or from a certain person or group.

    For example in my Inbox folder, I have a folder called “Ultimate” for all the messages that come from my Ultimate Frisbee team and a folder called “Blog” for all messages that come from my Blog. Any time a message comes in from my Ultimate team that I want to keep I simply drag it to the “Ultimate” folder.

  7. Setup filters to automatically sort incoming e-mail
  8. Since I get a ton of messages from my Ultimate team, especially when we are planning for a tournament, I want messages to automatically go into the “Ultimate” folder. I don’t want to be dragging twenty or thirty messages per day into the “Ultimate” folder.

    Fortunately, good e-mail programs have filters that you can create for new messages that arrive in your Inbox. You can filter based on the sender, subject, body, and other parts of the e-mail message.

    To filter messages coming from my Ultimate team it could be tricky because there are many possible senders, subjects, and body of the message. I would have to input all of the e-mail addresses of the people on my team to filter all Ultimate messages to the “Ultimate” folder. Luckily, we use Yahoo! Groups to manage our mailing list and all messages I receive from the mailing list have “[badspirit]” in the subject. I simply setup a filter to move any messages with that string in the subject to the “Ultimate” folder.

  9. Use webmail on the road and keep your e-mail program working at home
  10. Many people struggle to manage their e-mail when they are on the road because it is setup nicely on their computer but not so nicely in webmail. Most providers offer webmail with their e-mail service that allows you to check your e-mail using a web browser. Although most webmail programs do not offer the robust features of an e-mail program, they still allow you to keep up with your e-mails when you are away from your computer.

    A trick that I often use to keep filtering my mail while I’m away is leaving my e-mail program open on my home computer. This enables my e-mail program to sort my incoming e-mail into the folders that I have created in my Inbox and filter out the SPAM. Now when I use webmail, all the new messages are nicely sorted into the appropriate folders, SPAM is in the “Junk” folder, and I can easily manage my e-mail.

    This trick only works well with IMAP but you can probably get it to work with POP3 too.

  11. Use multiple e-mail addresses
  12. If you have several e-mail addresses, use them separately! I have five distinct e-mail addresses: one for zenutech.com, one for touesnard.com, two for spydar.com, and one for oslivehelp.com. Not long ago I was forwarding all of these e-mail addresses to a single e-mail account. Essentially I was “unsorting” the mail by directing it all to a single Inbox. Sure, I only had one e-mail address to check, but the cost of sorting the incoming e-mail coming from multiple e-mail addresses greatly outweighs this benefit.

    Once I realized this, I immediately stopped forwarding my e-mail and setup an IMAP account in my e-mail program for each of my e-mail addresses. Now I had an Inbox, Sent, and Deleted for each of my e-mail addresses. This makes it much easier to find an e-mail message that you have received, sent, or deleted.

  13. Disable “catchall” e-mail
  14. The last few tips are SPAM related because let’s face it, no matter how good you are at managing your e-mail, if you are getting a lot of unsolicited e-mail it does make it harder. The strategy here is to prevent SPAM from ever getting sent to you.

    The “catch-all” e-mail feature was first implemented so that you would receive any e-mail message sent to your domain name, even if someone misspelled the first part of the e-mail address. So say my e-mail address is monkey@touesnard.com, if someone forgot the “e” in monkey and put monky@touesnard.com the e-mail would still reach me.

    Unfortunately, once spammers realized this they started targeting random domain names, knowing that someone was receiving the message. A lot of SPAM is actually sent blindly at a domain name without even having a full e-mail address. Shutting off “catchall” on my oldest domain name (spydar.com) proved to have the greatest impact in reducing my SPAM.

  15. Do not publish your e-mail address on the web
  16. You should not at any time publish your e-mail address on the web because once it has been found by a spammer, the SPAM may never stop. Not publishing your e-mail address is not always as easy as it sounds. Many people must publish their e-mail address for various reasons.

    If you must publish your e-mail address, it is a good idea to setup an e-mail alias that forwards to your e-mail address and publish that. This allows you to disable the alias if you start getting a lot of SPAM and create a new alias. For example, your e-mail is jharper@xyz.com. You can setup the alias johnharper@xyz.com that forwards e-mail to your e-mail address jharper@xyz.com. If you realize johnharper@xyz.com is getting a lot of SPAM, discard it and setup johnh@xyz.com.

    If for some reason you cannot setup an e-mail alias, there are ways to make it difficult for spammers to get your e-mail address from a web page. For example, making your e-mail address an image prevents the text from being read by a SPAM bot. Also, encoding your e-mail address in Unicode can help with the hope that SPAM bots are not decoding Unicode text they encounter.

  17. Use a provider with a strong SPAM defence system
  18. It is important that your e-mail service provider (likely your internet connection provider or web hosting provider) has a solid SPAM defence system in place to protect you from unwanted e-mail.

    SPAM is usually sent from servers in a foreign country or hijacked servers and that are blacklisted once they are discovered. With a solid SPAM defence system in place, your provider should stop these e-mails before they ever arrive in your Inbox.

    Most providers do have these systems in place but it is also important that they are maintained and monitored for effectiveness. Some providers also provide you with controls to tweak your SPAM filtering settings, giving you optimal filtering control.

  19. Use good SPAM filtering software
  20. As mentioned in tip #1, some e-mail programs like Mozilla Thunderbird, have built-in adaptive SPAM filtering. Others like Microsoft Outlook do not. However, there is other software that you can get to add-on to programs like Microsoft Outlook. A common Outlook SPAM filter is SpamBayes.