Organizing Email - Sorting Incoming Email

Believe me, I know how bad email can get. Before I began my mail organization efforts, I would get over 1,000 messages on many days. That was all "valid" email - that doesn't include spam messages that my system automatically puts into a spam folder. The reason for this influx is that I run many websites and am the primary point of contact for them. I get press releases, review requests, interview requests, member cries for help, forum issue alerts, and much, much more.

Over the years I have tried many techniques for keeping this workload under control. I have found that the key to organizing email is to get your mail package to help you out as much as humanly possible, and to pre-sort information as much as you can. Here is what I do.

Setting Up your Email
You need your email system to work like a filing cabinet. You need to organize. First, set up a main TO-DO folder. This is going to hold all items that need to be worked on. I actually name mine aaaToDo so it sorts to the top of the list alphabetically. Next, below this main folder, create sub-folder categories by task. For me I have a folder for BellaOnline, one for Wine, one for Romance and so on. I even have sub-folders beneath some of those areas. My BellaOnline folder has a sub-folder for press releases, for example.

Now, to get mail to get into those categories. When mail first comes in, set up rules as much as possible to auto-sort the mail into to-do folders. Here are some sorting ideas:

* By Sender
If you always get Amazon mail from a certain Amazon address, you can sort those automatically into an Amazon to-do folder. Only bother to do this for high volume senders - there's no reason to slow your mail package down so it checks every message for the username 'xyzzy@aol.com' if this person has only ever sent you one message.

* By Subject
Try to have all website contact messages come in with a key word subject. If someone writes me from the "Member Help" area of BellaOnline I tag their messages with "Member Help" as the subject line. That way I can auto-sort those messages into a specific folder and deal with those issues all at once.

* By Key Word
I run a low carb site at BellaOnline and get a lot of email from visitors who need help with their recipes or menu plans. I can have all messages that say "low carb" in them go into my low carb folder, so I can work on them together.

It can really save you a LOT of time if you work on all messages of a certain type at the same time. Let's take low carb. If I have my low carb administration pages open, my low carb forum, and then sit there answering 20 low carb messages in a row, I can easily find the articles they want, update the pages they say have typos, get that all sorted out quickly and easily. If instead I tried to answer one low carb email, then go answer a member question, then go answer a forum question, I'd be popping all over the place and it would easily take twice as long to finish the set of tasks.

Anti-Spam Filters
Make sure your anti-spam filters are always up to date. On my BellaOnline website, over 90% of all incoming email is spam right now. That is a HUGE volume. I have an anti-spam filter running on the BellaOnline server that pre-screens that all. The spam never even gets to our mailbox to be processed. This saves a HUGE amount of time in mail downloading and processing. The better your anti-spam filter can help you out, the less junk you have to weed through on your own. If you can afford a pre-screener I *highly* recommend it. The one we use is by Katharion.

Virusses are even worse. They don't just slow you down - they can destroy your system. Make sure your system is set to update daily to know about the latest virusses.

Remaining Mail in your Inbox
After the pre-filters auto sort most of your email, and the spam is dealt with, it's time to manually handle the remainders. Anything that's left, throw it into to-do folders yourself. Get your mail all sorted. Once it is sorted, then you can work through it topic by topic. That way you can work on all related items, and get those cleared out. It's much easier to do that then to leap from area to area based on the date received.

Set your to-do folders to show the number of messages IN each folder, not just the new message count for each folder. In Microsoft Outlook you do this by right clicking on each folder and setting its properties. It is really helpful to see how many messages actually reside in each to-do folder so you know what you have to work with.

Once you have all your email sorted into to-do folders, it's time to
Manage Your Email
Prune your Incoming Email Stream

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