Mon, Jan 10, 2005 - Page 11 News List

How to organize your e-mail system

EFFECTIVE ADMINISTRATION If your account is full after your return to work after a holiday, follow Mary Branscombe's tips on how to stay on top of e-mail overload


A product manager displays the Maxis Blackberry 7290 Quad-Band Handheld Mobile device after its launch in Malaysia last month. The Blackberry is the first wireless solution in Malaysia, and consists of an integrated handheld for data, internet, organizer applications, short message service (SMS), e-mail over its nationwide GSM and GPRS network and roaming access while on the move. Maxis plans to roll out Blackberry this year at the price of US$631.


How many e-mails did you have to plough through when you got back to work this year?

And how many of those were ones you hadn't dealt with before you left for Christmas?

We're now sending and receiving so much e-mail -- 35 billion messages a day worldwide, according to IDC researchers -- that it is easy to get overwhelmed.

Even after you have read and responded to a message you still need to keep track of it, either for practical or legal reasons.

Multiply the filing and archiving by everyone in your company and you have a headache that is only going to get worse.

The information in old e-mails can be valuable (for business continuity) or very expensive (if you need to produce a message to comply with legislation like the new Freedom of Information Act).

EDS estimates that it spent US$4.7 million finding and retrieving e-mail messages that the company was required to produce for just one court action last year.

The first step is coping with e-mail as it arrives.

Some of that you can do with appropriate rules: you do not want every mailing list or RSS feed you are signed up to clogging up your main inbox, so create a rule that files them in a folder.

Spam Filters

Make sure you have a good spam filter and develop a system for working with the messages you have to act on.

This can be as simple as dragging them into folders based on different projects.

There are also tools that help implement time-management systems, such as FranklinCovey's PlanPlus and Getting Things Done.

The need for discipline does not end once you've read your mail.

As with any other important information, it is important to back it up regularly.

And if you are using an older version of Outlook and your e-mail does not stay on a Microsoft Exchange server, you need to make sure your mailbox does not exceed 2GB or Outlook will have problems accessing it.

For individuals, exporting all the messages in a folder -- last year's mail or a project you've finished -- will give you a file you can burn to CD.

Email Archives

Outlook's AutoArchive feature (under Tools/Options/Other/AutoArchive) can archive individual folders.

You just need to choose how old messages need to be to get archived, and how often Outlook does the archiving.

With other e-mail clients you may have to extract and delete the messages by hand.

Either way, put the archive files on to a server that is regularly backed up or save them on to CD and keep them at another location for extra security.

If you have a Google Gmail account, you can set your normal e-mail address to forward to it.

That will back up 1GB of e-mail in easily searchable online storage, though you might not want to store very confidential messages there.

Companies with lots of users need something more formal.

If you use Exchange, keep messages on the server and synchronize to desktops and laptops rather than downloading them permanently.

That way you can backup e-mails along with all the other documents on the server.

It's more convenient too -- if you upgrade to a new desktop PC, or if you lose your laptop, your messages are not gone for good.

Also, mobile users can read messages from a laptop, mobile phone or via a web browser, so they can access important e-mails wherever they are.

The problem with backing up e-mails using traditional tools is that it becomes much harder to find individual messages -- you have to restore all the messages in the backup, or wait for the help desk to do it, before you can search through them.

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