Tips for Managing Your Email

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Today’s post is about managing your email.  Managing your email may not directly relate to managing your money, but it certainly affects your productivity, peace of mind, friendships, work, and money management issues such as notifications of sales, bills coming due, account statements, low balance notifications, and many more.    I’ve read about people who get swamped with email and want to give it up.  My boys check their email much less often than their texts accounts.  But I think that email is one of the greatest inventions of all time allowing you to keep in touch with family and friends more easily than letters and stamps, send notifications to large groups, deal with issues without playing phone tag, forward interesting articles, get notification of sales, subscribe to newsletters, and stay in touch with the big wide world in myriad ways.  But best of all is being able to deal with all of this at your own time and place including desktop, phone, tablet, and web.  Of course everything has both positives and negatives, and the flipside of email is not just spam and phishing, but being swamped with unwanted or just too many emails.  It’s so easy to get overrun if you don’t keep up regularly.  So here are some tips to ensure your email is more of a benefit than a chore.

Here are the easiest ways to manage your emails.

  1. Have at least two email accounts. Your main one is for friends, family, and anyone you really do want to hear from and will check regularly.  The second is a junk email account that you use whenever you have to provide an email address to get access to a website, but don’t necessarily really want to get a lot of emails from.  You may only want to check this account once per week, read the few emails you really want, forward to your main account ones you want to deal with later, and delete the rest by selecting ALL and deleting pages of emails at one time.
  2. Keep spam from clogging your accounts. I consider there to be two types of spam.  First is the actual spam and phishing emails from people that you never have had any dealings with.  Most email providers will filter out the most obvious ones, but you can easily deal with the rest.  When spam does make it into your inbox, mark it as spam so future ones go directly into your SPAM folder without distracting you from the good ones.  Most email clients have a button to mark that sender as spam so future emails are sent directly to your “spam” folder.  You might also create “rules” or “filters” that match certain criteria regardless of the sender, such as any subject line containing certain words like “Nigerian prince”, “tactical flashlights”, “incredible offer”, and other phrases from spam email.  You might scan this folder now and then to ensure a good email didn’t get sent into the spam folder.  And of course managing your email includes never clicking any link within questionable emails to avoid malware on your computer or network.
  3. Banish unwanted emails – The second type of email that I consider spam (but technically isn’t) is email you no longer want, but you did subscribe to and have dealings with at one time: websites, stores, newsletters, organizations, ex-associates, etc.  You can deal with these the same way as real spam:  mark as “spam” so your email account sends future emails to your spam folder or apply “rules” or “filters” to send to spam or delete.  I do this to most email organizations and websites I’m usually not interested in, but may in the future; for example, to check out future sales the next time I’m shopping for tech or travel.  Then every couple of days, I take one minute to scan this spam folder to see if it has anything I’m interesting in right now.  But for email from organizations you never want to hear from again, you should “unsubscribe”.  Most legitimate email will have instructions at the very bottom on how to unsubscribe from their mailing lists.  This only takes seconds and most organizations will comply within a few days.  GMAIL even has a button that will do this for you:  select an email, click SPAM, and click “unsubscribe”.
  4. Prioritize your good emails – If you don’t have time to deal with all your email right now, then prioritize it. This works whether you check email constantly or once a day.  I strongly recommend you scan your main email account every day (for example to see if you have any from your father!).  This is the best way to ensure you don’t miss important emails, but also helps prevent your inbox and you from becoming overwhelmed.  When time is pressing, just deal with the ones that are of immediate interest or importance, then come back to the others when time permits.  Most email clients enable you to prioritize emails you intend to come back to later whether it is “starring”, flagging, or colorizing them.  Then come back to them on the weekend, bus, or quiet times first thing in the morning or last thing before leaving work or signing off your computer.  If there never seems to be enough time to return to lower priority emails, then be ruthless in scanning and deleting (most senders will never know).  For ones you don’t delete nor give priority to, move to another lower priority folder to return to later; that way they don’t overwhelm you or your inbox.
  5. Use for follow-ups – I check my inbox regularly, but it never gets below ten emails or so. This is partly because of ones I know will take more time and partly because I use my inbox as a follow-up reminder.  So when I’m scanning my inbox for new or important emails, I also scan existing ones to see if it is time to follow-up on something.
  6. Old emails – You likely will have some emails you want to keep and these should go into various folders like: Memberships, Accounts, Job hunting, Receipts, Kids, Travel, Projects etc.  I delete most of my read email, but I know some managers who keep everything.  Many email accounts (especially at work) limit the size of your email folders, but even if they don’t, you will probably want to periodically prune the size to keep it responsive and manageable.  Periodically, I bulk delete items in my “deleted”, “trash”, “projects”, and “sent” folders that are older than four months.  If deleing anything worries you, then “Archive” old emails instead so emails are retained and searchable, but in a location that doesn’t overwhelm your main inbox.

Get Started Managing Your Email

With these managing your email techniques, you should be able to keep your inbox under control with just 10 – 15 minutes on busy days, and then longer on less busy days.  So find a quiet time, apply these techniques to get organized, keep current on important emails, and ensure your TWO email accounts help rather than overwhelm you.  One last reminder, home is home and work is work, and rarely the two should meet, so stop sneaking a peak at, sending, or replying to work emails at home.

Comment below with your favorite tips for managing your email.

About John Kimball

Over the past few decades, I have experienced most of these financial issues with both mistakes and successes. I sure wish someone had told me these things when I was first starting out. So many times I have cried out, "I want a do over!" when I learned a new financial lesson or tip. I aim to pass along to you the financial insights I have gained from experience, reading, analysis, and living the financial aspects of managing, saving, investing, and spending your money. I am an analyst with a large organization and happily married with two children on their way to an expensive college, no doubt. I read numerous financial blogs, websites, newsletters, magazines, newspapers, and books to bring you the latest news, insights, tips, and lessons combined with decades of experience.

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