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Information Overload

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Mike Cohen
Information Overload
on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:24:35 pm

At present, I have 1200 emails in my inbox, which covers April and May, after transferring or deleting another 500 or so. At the end of the month or when convenient (plane rides) I sort emails into monthly folders or project specific folders.

I have tried filters, however I have found that if new messages are not in the inbox, which is the first thing you see, I do not always see them in a timely manner. In other words, one has to remember to view the new messages in each folder.

In April of this yer I started using a Blackberry for e-mail while on the road (and for taking those grainy pictures I post here on the COW!) but I also have started using it while in the office to monitor incoming messages, and to try to not be so tied to my laptop.

Today I discovered a wealth of useful plug-ins for Mozilla Thunderbird, the e-mail software we use here.

Now I have tabs across the top of my e-mail display, like in a web browser, displaying quick links to the most used folders - such as for busy clients or projects.

A plug-in that I had wanted for years is now available. If you type the word "attached" or "attachment" in a message and then hit send sans attachment (a very common problem), you are asked if you wanted to send an attachment. Brilliant!

Another useful one is the ability to browse the web from within the email software. For example, if someone sends you a link, you can view the web page without opening your web browser. This saves time in several ways, as you are only viewing the link, not being tempted to check out your favorite websites. Also, although it may take a few seconds to open your actual browser, it is another app that you may not need to actually open at that very moment.

Finally, Clean Subject cleans up the subject line in long threads. Honestly, we do not need to see:

Fwd: Re: Re: Fwd: Re: Re: video edits

Re: video edits will suffice in most cases.

Since my web mail is fairly utilitarian, I have also copied my local folders to my home computer, so if need be I can access all of my e-mail since 1998 at home without lugging the laptop home for this contingency every night. I set the webmail server to retain messages for 30 days, so I need only open Thunderbird at home every 30 days to keep up to date.

Presumably Outlook will do a lot of the same things.

Another useful tool is Google Desktop. This indexes your hard drive, and is much faster than Windows or Thunderbird for searching. If I search "hernia" for example, I get 746 results (popular topic), including e-mails (displayed in web browser even though they reside in Thunderbird), word docs (I don't think Windows XP can search within documents), images (displayed as thumbnails in the browser search results) and whatever else.

Anyone have a similar experience or solution for managing a lot of work-related e-mail?

Mike Cohen



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cowcowcowcowcow
Franklin McMahon
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:15:00 pm


A few email tips that spring to mind...

Send Less

E-mails are like tribbles or gremlins, they multiply exponentially. The more you send, the more you receive. Obvious...but think about it. The more you send...the more you receive. Often if you are getting slammed with email its because you just spent the last 24 hours sending and answering emails. Sometimes one 5 minute phone call can eliminate 12 emails back and forth. And eliminate an open loop you keep thinking about. I always tell people send less emails out..and don't feel you need to respond to each and every item.

Use IMAP

Switch to IMAP and avoid POP. POP email is a little 90's, you'll spend hours copying your emails between computers. IMAP keeps the email on the server, and current email programs keep a local copy. Not only is this amazingly faster, but a message is updated in real time. If you are on your iPhone with an iMAP account and you delete an email you can literally look over and see it "vanish" on your Mac desktop mail. You can always undo it by hitting updo delete message to retrieve the cached local copy. Once you get IMAP on all your phones, laptops and desktops, and everything is in sync and updated in real time, you will wonder why you did not switch to IMAP sooner. IMAP absolutely makes organizing and categorizing faster and easier to manage.

No Gmail

Avoid Gmail for professional work. Years ago I had a popular podcast and we had a gmail account for it, we had all our contacts and 2 years worth of fan mail and correspondence in it. It got hacked into, we could not get in because our password was changed. Google responded by shutting down the account "for our protection" and verified there had been a security breach. They had no further info and after 2 weeks of going back and forth with their tech support ("we have no additional info") we realized that our gmail account was never to be seen again. It's odd google would do this, but the fact is we put 2 years of content into essentially a free service still in beta. It was a hard lesson, but I now always use a hosted domain service that I pay for. Same goes for twitter and facebook, these free services, your account, could be switched off at any time and for any reason, so keep it in mind. If you are paying for a service, at least you have some rights as a consumer, but with free and beta stuff...well...

Smart Mailboxes and Mail Folders

I use mail folders and smart mailboxes (Mac mail)..the key is moving stuff out of the mail box. The smart mailboxes allow quickly pulling up all email from a certain address. So I can move stuff out of my inbox but still call it up from my save folder when I need to. I also have client folders, when a client oriented item comes in, I move it to that folder. I have an "explore" folder, this is email that is interesting, not mission critical, email I may want to look over later. I also use programs like OmniFocus which has a keystroke to pull individual emails into the program, from there I can move it to a task or project list and in my mail program move it out of the inbox. The main thing is to keep clearing the inbox and move emails where they should be. Organize..not respond to everything right away..just organize everything right away. Clearing your inbox often is like clearing your mind, and helps you to stop thinking "I am sure there are things I must be missing" when you have an inbox of hundreds of unorganized messages.

Frank


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Walter Soyka
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 2:48:33 pm

Frank,

If you're a heavy Mail.app user, I recommend MailTags from Indev Software. It's a Mail plugin that lets you assign tags, projects, and due dates to email and integrates with Smart Mailboxes. It's made Mail much more useful for me.


Walter Soyka, Principal
Keen Live, Inc.
Presentation, Motion Graphics & Widescreen Design
RenderBreak: A Blog on Innovation in Production



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Bill Davis
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 8:05:23 am

It is SO easy to let email become a burden.

So I believe this is an area where you need radical new thinking.

My strategy is threefold. First I keep my Address book as flawless as possible with regard to current email addys of anyone who I'd actually wish to hear from.

The second is to keep a "trash" email account for all the airline confirmations, trade show registrations, and inescapable crap of modern electronic life. Which is handled by opening it everyday, marking everthing in it to delete. Then quickly uncheck ONLY those couple of items that actually have value. (Like the airline confirmation until the flight)

The final part is tougher. Be okay with WALKING AWAY from your personal email address and ALL it's data every now and then. Trashing an old account can be as satisfying as cleaning out the kitchen cabinets. But we seem to do it FAR less often. Be okay with the idea that if someone is important to you - you can control keeping up the contact - and if they're not important enough to track - it's OK if their e-presence goes away.

Essentially I'm saying that even tho it's POSSIBLE to keep everyone in your list that you've corresponded with over the past 5 years - WHY WOULD YOU?

Really, in a Google saturated world. How hard is it to search out anyone's contact info? So your address book should be mostly the EXCEPTIONS. The home team. The best of the best. Trash the rest.

I can vouch for this approach. In the last six months, my two year old primary email account has received exactly 8 spam messages. My 15 year old "trash account" gets 8 every 10 minutes.

So every few years, or as needed, just dump your old email life and start fresh. Send the new addy to those you really care about. And get on with life.

My 2 cents anyway.



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Franklin McMahon
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 12:47:03 pm


Bill I was thinking about doing this. I too have a 15 year old email that collects spam by the minute, but its the email everyone knows me by for a decade+.

I had thought about starting a new one, and with the old one, do an auto-responder that points to a website contact form. So if someone really wants to get a hold of me, they can fill out the form. And if I really want to correspond I can email them back from the new address. The old email I would funnel all to say a free yahoo account or gmail, then if I ever feel like I missed something I would always have an archive to search.

So good to hear you "reboot"...I should do the same...

Franklin

___________________________
Franklin McMahon / Host
CreativeCow.net PODCAST
frank@fmstudio.com
Creative Cow Podcast Page
Creative Cow Podcast in iTunes

Franklin on Facebook
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Mike Cohen
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 1:02:56 pm

We had a similar issue. Our .com emails had been around since 1995 and were clogged with spam. We switched to .net in 2004 but people were hesitant to lose their identity so we left the .com addresses forwarding to our .net inboxes, which kept the spam coming. Once we erased the .com addresses completely the spam vanished.

We have heard about using gmail to manage non-gmail email but I have the same concern as Franklin - google already controls commerce to some degree, why give them more control?

One problem is vague subject lines. If a thread goes back and forth for weekes and the subject line never changes you then need to search for the particular communication you are looking for. I try to change the subject line even when responding to an email just to be more specific. The problem with doing this is that people who view as threads by subject line won't be too happy.

Mike


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cowcowcowcowcow
Ron Lindeboom
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 2:34:09 pm

EMAIL PROBLEMS: I tried the "dump it all and the important ones will get through" approach a while back. In my case, it didn't work at all. Everyday I get new mail from people writing with ideas, feedback and opportunities that they want to run past me -- and no, I am not talking about Solassi Mokumbah (the son of the former warlord of Lower Solumbakhtuu who needs help moving money from their account to a safer haven in the United States).

My ron@creativecow.net account is now over 8 years old and every spammer on the planet has it and passes it around. I tried a new address but I have hundreds of key contacts that I do business with regularly and many were slow to adopt the new address and many more just ignored and didn't update their address books.

I even had to resort to calling many of them and soon figured out that any time I'd save with the new address would be lost if I had to keep calling people to explain "I really AM changing my email address, please use the new one."

OUR SOLUTION: One of the ways that we fought back was by augmenting our all-Linux server backbone with an Apple Xserve server running Leopard OS and acting as our mail server. When we looked into a Barracuda spam firewall, it was about $17,000 at the time, plus a monthly subscription fee for their updates that they send. But the Apple server cost us the base price of the coupla grand or so for the server and OS and Apple handles the filtering. No monthly subscriptions, it is just built into the OS and new rules and exceptions come out with the updates.

How well does it work? Far from perfect but we went from thousands of spam mails a day to a manageable less-than-a-hundred a day by making the move.

Would I use an Apple server for anything else in a major traffic site like the COW? Well, let's be nice and say it this way: There ain't no way in hell, baby. No way. Nada. Never. Nine. Gimme Linux any day of the week.

But when it comes to handling email in a company setting, throw a Mac server into the mix. Let Apple handle the filtering and just forget the problem.

That was our solution.

...oh, and Abraham the Boy Wonder™.

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry






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Patrick Ortman
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 8:11:42 pm

Wow, Ron- thanks! I had no idea it was just "built in" on the Apple hardware.

I like using the filters in Mail, but I end up forgetting to check, say, the PR folder often enough. Oh well.

---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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Ron Lindeboom
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 8:36:46 pm

If you need any help understanding the process, please feel free to ask Abraham Chaffin in our Web Design forum.

He can explain it far better than me. ;o)

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry






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Lisa Farr
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 4, 2009 at 9:31:15 pm

Make three folders: To Do, To Read, and To File

Choose a time once a day, preferably in the morning, to 'do' email. Every email in your inbox goes into one of the three folders or the trash. Using filters will help do this automagically.

To Do file emails get dealt with in priority order. To Read emails are good for those little chunks of time between other tasks, like waiting around for a meeting or an airplane. Any email in the To Read file for more than a few weeks gets trashed or filed.

To File emails get put into a proper filing system when I have a 'filing' day, which could be every week or every month depending on how slammed I am. At least I have one place to look, and if I'm lucky enough to have an assistant this is a great task to delegate (elance.com anyone?).

This system works for paperwork as well.

Another pitfall with email is that it will expand to fill all available time. When I'm getting tons of email, I limit my email time to when I 'do' email first thing in the morning, once after lunch, and once toward the end of the day. If I'm dealing with something time critical I'll *gasp* use the phone. Only checking email a few times a day I'm dealing with a bunch of emails at once and not the onesy-twoseys that arrive constantly. It's counter-intuitive to spend less time on email the more email you're getting, it worked really well for me.


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Franklin McMahon
Re: Information Overload
on Jun 5, 2009 at 3:06:28 pm


I like this folder scenario! Good advice...

___________________________
Franklin McMahon / Host
CreativeCow.net PODCAST
frank@fmstudio.com
Creative Cow Podcast Page
Creative Cow Podcast in iTunes

Franklin on Facebook
Franklin on Twitter
Franklin on LinkedIn
FranklinMcMahon.com



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