About Overcome Email Overload with Eudora 5
Other email material by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood:
Humorous looks at email:
Overcome Email Overload with Eudora 5|
Copyright © 2001 Kaitlin Duck Sherwood
Organizing and prioritizing messages helps decrease the amount of time you spend on email, but reducing the number of incoming messages can save you even more time. Obviously, you want some of your email, but some messages are unnecessary. Junk email is one form of unnecessary email, but even non-junk messages can waste your time.
Sometimes, email from strangers doesn't waste as much time as messages from people you know. After all, you can figure out very quickly if a message is junk email. You might even be able to use filters to get rid of it, as shown in File Junk. On the other hand, you might need to read all messages from your boss through to the end.
This chapter shows how to reduce the number of these three types of messages: junk email, mailing lists, and nuisance messages from acquaintances. Some of the techniques require some extra effort at first but will save you time in the end.
Junk email is very annoying. If you don't get junk email now, consider yourself lucky--and take steps to make sure you don't start getting junk email. If you already get junk email, you might want to start over with a new email account, then keep that account away from junk emailers.
Your company's Information Technology department might have a way of getting rid of junk email before it ever gets to your mailbox, saving you download time. You might need to ask for the service, however. Find your company's email system administrator and ask, "Can I get a spam filter on my account?"
The best thing you can do to keep from getting junk email is keep your email address private. Don't put your email address on a Web page, don't put messages up on any of the public Internet discussion forums, and don't give your email address out to retailers.
If keeping your email address private would interfere too much with your use of the Internet (or if your email address is already on junk email lists), consider getting a second email account. As mentioned in Use Multiple Accounts to Group Messages, there are now a number of services that will give you free accounts. You can use one account for public contact and one for private contact, effectively separating your email into two groups: junk and non-junk.
Mailing lists are a great way to communicate with people who have shared interests and goals. However, they can lead to an enormous amount of email traffic. Filters can help enormously by grouping messages from a mailing list into their own mailbox, but that might not be enough. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to save time with mailing lists.
Before reading more about mailing lists, you need to understand that a piece of software--not a human being--administers most mailing lists. This software (called a list server, listserv, or listbot ) allows people to join or leave the list without causing work for anybody else. Yes, there is a human being--the list owner --who has control over the list server, but he or she is not guaranteed to pay any attention to the list server. The list owner might not even read the list messages. It is thus important to know how to communicate with the list server.
When you join or subscribe to a list, the first message usually gives instructions for how to communicate with the list server. It will tell you what options you have and what the list server's email address is. (Usually the list server's address is different from the address you use to reach subscribers. The subscribers are reached by the listname address .)
Be sure to save that first message in a safe place. If you occasionally delete large blocks of old messages, be sure to move that first message into a special mailbox that you don't ever delete. (I put mine in a mailbox with other confirmation messages from automated services.)
If you subscribed to a mailing list by sending an email message, the most important thing to remember is the list server's email address. Putting the list server's email address into your address book will help you find it in the future.
If you subscribed to a mailing list from a Web page, the most important thing to remember is where that Web page is. That page should take you to information about how to communicate with the list server. You should send yourself email with the location of the Web page and file that message someplace safe. (You could bookmark it in your Web browser, but if you have lots of bookmarks, you might have a hard time finding it.)
How to unsubscribe from a mailing list is not as obvious as you would hope. There are many different kinds of list servers, each with a slightly different set of commands. This is why you should save the instructions! Three years from now, you might want to unsubscribe and not remember how.
You could be lucky: list servers frequently put unsubscribe instructions in every message. For example, all messages that go through Yahoo Groups currently have a header with the unsubscribe address, like this:
Other Internet distribution lists frequently add unsubscribe instructions at the end of the message. Some others put the unsubscribe address in a header. Look at the top and bottom of recent messages before doing anything else.
If you have lost the original instructions but still have the list server's address, first try getting help from the list server. Commands like info and help followed by the name of the list might get you more information. Nonsense like slkdfj might also convince the list server that you need help. A message like this will probably get something useful in response:
If that doesn't tell you how to unsubscribe, you can try a few of the common ways to unsubscribe. Usually you unsubscribe by putting one of the following key words in the body and/or the subject header of a message to the list server:
As mentioned earlier, the list server has a different address than the listname address, so sending a removal request to the list name address usually does nothing except make you look really stupid. Not only are "please remove me" messages a way to lower people's opinion of your intelligence, but you might also get swamped with incoming messages. Fifty people might explain the proper way to unsubscribe--and they might not all be polite.
If you can't remember how to unsubscribe from a mailing list and have misplaced the instructions, at least apologize if you ask the list subscribers how to unsubscribe. You might still look like an idiot, but you will at least look like a polite idiot.
If you get a lot of messages from a mailing list, you might want to get the messages in a digest --a single email message that combines all the messages sent to the list in one day or one week. Getting a digest won't reduce the amount of text that you have to read, but it might make the messages easier to deal with. If you can't restrain yourself from reading any message when it appears in your inbox, this might keep your day from getting too fragmented.
With some, but not all, digests, Eudora for Mac OS can burst them--split them into their individual messages. You need to put a checkmark in the box in Special -> Settings... -> Attachments next to Receive MIME digests as attachments . Some digest messages will then appear as attachments. Double-clicking on the attachment will put all the messages from that digest into their own mailbox, creating the mailbox if needed.
As I mentioned earlier, this doesn't work for all digests. This isn't exactly Eudora's fault: different mailing list programs can (and do) assemble digests in different ways. There are, however, a few Eudora plug-ins that recognize more forms of digests than Eudora does. See
If you want to stay informed of only the most important aspects of a topic, you might want to see if you can subscribe to an announcements list. Sometimes, interest groups will have two mailing lists for a particular topic: one for announcements only and one for general discussion. Announcement lists generally have many fewer messages than general discussion lists.
If a lot of the messages on a list are not useful--idiots ranting, chain letters, messages that are off-topic, and so on--you might want to switch to one with some human quality control. On some lists, a human being (called a moderator ) reads each of the messages and decides whether or not to let the message go to everyone who is subscribed. While the moderator might distribute guidelines for what he or she considers appropriate, in the end the moderator gets to decide what goes through. Because of the moderator, you won't have complete freedom of expression, but the percentage of useful messages should be higher than in an unmoderated list.
Mailing lists can generate many messages, but you can usually wait to read and respond to them. Messages from friends and colleagues, however, need more careful attention. Reducing the number of those messages might help you more than getting rid of mailing list messages.
You can affect how many responses you get to your email messages by changing how formal your writing is. People naturally use very formal language to recognize that the audience can't respond easily. For example, here are three situations where people use very formal language. In each, there is a barrier to communicating freely:
Intimate discussions, on the other hand, use very informal language. If you were as formal with your loved ones as with the Ambassador, they would probably wonder why you were angry! Advertisements use informal language deliberately to try to make the message seem more intimate (and therefore more trustworthy).
Email doesn't have clear and common conventions for how to end a conversation, unlike in verbal conversations. In person, body language can say, "I'm leaving now." On the telephone, people say, "goodbye" to signal the end of the call. Email is new enough that conventions to end the conversation haven't developed yet.
You can help create a new standard. I recommend showing that the conversation is at an end by saying No Reply Needed . (Why did I capitalize No Reply Needed ? Because I hope that someday people will abbreviate it NRN .)
If you put FYI in the Subject: header, that will also show that you don't need a response. Use No Reply Needed when you are pretty sure that the receiver wants the information; use FYI when you aren't sure.
"Thank you" and "You're welcome" are particularly uninteresting closing comments. In spoken conversations, they are in context and very brief. They are polite, gracious, and make interactions more pleasant. However, in an email conversation, it might take you a moment to figure out what a message that just says "thank you" is about.
You can discourage messages that only say, "You're welcome" by not sending messages that only say, "Thank you." If you have a question about the favor, thank your correspondent when asking your question:
Some people don't like thanking in advance. They feel that it is rude to assume that the receiver will do the favor. I agree, it is--but so is not thanking someone and so is contributing to someone's email overload by sending them messages that just say "thank you".
Some questions are rhetorical; you don't really want an answer. Unfortunately, without verbal and gestural signals, it is hard for people to figure out when a question is rhetorical. You're likely to get sincere answers to all your questions:
Granted, Jeff shouldn't have sent an off-topic message, but Mabel could have made it difficult for Alicia to see Jeff's message. Then Mabel (and the sixteen others) wouldn't have needed to read Alicia and Jeff's argument about the logo. This section will explain a few strategies for reducing conversations between your correspondents.
If Mabel had responded just to Alicia, then Jeff probably wouldn't have gotten involved in the conversation. Granted, Mabel wouldn't have had a chance to impress everyone else with her insight and wit, but perhaps that's just as well.
Being careful to respond only to the sender also can save you from the most common embarrassing email mistake: sending a message to more people than you intended. You've probably seen how dangerous this can be!
Reply-To-All mistakes can lead to, at best, a lot of messages telling you that you made a mistake. At worst, you'll make people angry and a flame war --an angry argument fought using email messages--could erupt. Either will eat up your time and energy.
Eudora can help you reply to the sender only. Select Special -> Settings... ->> Replying (Mac OS) or Tools -> Options... -> Replying (Windows). If you are using Mac OS, make sure that under Reply to All , the radio buttons next to When option key is down and Address Handling for Reply to All are checked. If you are using Windows, make sure that the box next to Map Ctrl-R to `Reply to All' is not checked.
Reducing the number of people you send a message to isn't always possible. A lot of people might need to read your message. However, you can use Bcc: to keep your correspondents from getting into discussions with each other due to Reply-To-All mistakes.
You might have already noticed that you can see all the addresses in the To : and Cc: headers, but can't see addresses in the Bcc: header. It's not that the sender's email program sends the Bcc: list to everyone, but the receiver's software hides it; the sender's email program never sends the list. Nobody can ever see the Bcc: list except the sender.
(Note: While it is normal for Bcc: addresses to be hidden, I have to admit that there do exist a few obscure email programs that transmit the Bcc: information. This is, however, extremely uncommon--I consider it a bug in those email programs. Eudora does not send the Bcc: list.)
You can probably see that Bcc: can significantly reduce the amount of follow-up discussion. Be careful, however: Bcc: has some dangers. In particular, it is easy for people on the Bcc: list to respond to everybody (except, of course, anyone on the Bcc: list) by mistake. This can have very embarrassing consequences if the original sender was supposed to keep the message secret!
It is true that Chris is the one who made the mistake of replying to everyone instead of just to Wilbur. However, Chris couldn't have made that mistake if Wilbur had sent a separate copy instead of using Bcc: .
If your correspondents filter messages based on whether the messages are addressed them specifically, putting their addresses in the Bcc: header might make their filters send your message into a low-priority mailbox.
If you send a message to a group nickname that has a Full Name , your correspondents will only see the Full Name in your message, not all the addresses in the group nickname. For example, suppose that Mabel has a group nickname called honchos which has a Full Name of Hoopston Hollering Hangar Honchos . If Mabel sends a message to honchos , the receivers will see only Hoopston Hollering Hangar Honchos; in the To: header:
If you sometimes want to show all the receivers, consider having two group nicknames, one with a Full Name and one without. For example, Mabel could have one nickname honchos with a blank Full Name and another nickname invisibleHonchos that has the Full Name of Hoopston Hollering Hangar Honchos . If Mabel sends a message to honchos , then all the names and email addresses will be visible in the messages people receive. If she sends to the invisibleHonchos list, no addresses will be visible.
(Mabel doesn't need to maintain two lists. When she creates invisibleHonchos , she can put just honchos in the box marked This nickname will expand to the following address(es) . Adding someone to the honchos list will automatically add them to the invisibleHonchos list as well.)
One of the best ways to get fewer responses is to send fewer messages. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't send email at all. Email is a wonderful thing when used correctly! However, you should consider carefully whether your correspondents really want your message. In particular, be careful about sending anything to a large group of people. The more people who get a message, the more likely it is that someone will misinterpret the emotion, context, or meaning. You might need to read and send additional messages.
There are certain types of messages that will really annoy people. The more people you send such messages to, the more likely it is that you will get messages back that tell you not to do that. The rest of this section describes messages that you probably should not send.
Sometimes, someone on a mailing list will ask for your opinion or vote. In those cases, respond ONLY to the person who originally posted the message. Be clear about your vote, and put it in the subject header if possible:
Chain letters--messages that try to convince people to redistribute it widely--are a form of computer virus. They live on computers and use naive people to spread themselves, taking up time, energy, and disk space along the way.
Be particularly cautious about messages that promise easy riches. You might be liable for criminal penalties if you advertise for a Ponzi or pyramid scheme--one where later participants send money to earlier participants. Do not trust messages that say that the scheme is legal . Those promises are worth as much as it cost to send the message: not much. Check with a lawyer before getting involved in anything that could possibly be a pyramid scheme.
Even well-meaning chain letters can have unpleasant results. The oldest and best example is the Craig Shergold letter. Craig was a nine-year-old boy battling cancer. He sent out a chain letter asking people to send him postcards. They did. Craig has completely recovered, and, as of this writing, is a healthy college student. Unfortunately, thousands of postcards are still coming, causing problems for his local post office.
So while it might sound cruel to ignore the plight of some poor soul, unless you research the case enough to determine that it is legitimate and still appropriate , don't pass on a chain letter. Even if it is for a legitimate cause, it can get out of control.
Hoaxes die if readers can investigate them easily. Thus, watch out for messages that don't have many concrete details. Most hoaxes don't include specific names of victims, perpetrators, or even investigating bodies. Hoaxes usually will not reference web pages or phone numbers that will give further information, nor will they give exact dates. Hoaxes usually do contain a lot of hysterical language and an urgent request to pass the message on to absolutely everybody that you know.
There is a type of self-replicating message that preys on love instead of fear, anger, greed, or pity. These messages have some uplifting content, followed by a command to send the message to people you feel warmly towards. They might look something like this:
Some people really like getting jokes by email. However, the practice is so common and widespread that sometimes people get overwhelmed by the number of jokes that they get. If a joke is so funny that you feel you must redistribute it, put HUMOR: in the Subject: header. That way, your correspondents can delete it quickly or save it for later.
Sometimes your friends and colleagues will send you inappropriate messages--chain letters, "me too" messages, and so on. If you are in a position of authority, you might find subordinates Cc'ing you on more than you care for. Usually, your correspondents mean well. However, if you don't let them know that you don't want such messages, they will probably do it again. That means more messages for you.
Your correspondents probably think they are doing you a favor, so you shouldn't be nasty about it. In fact, if you are not careful, you'll get an angry response back. Some templates for polite educational messages are in Spend Less Time on Responses.
If you get a lot of messages from inside your organization, you might want to pay close attention to Improve Your Company's Email Effectiveness. It shows how organizations can set policies and create technological aids to improve email efficiency.
Go up to Table of Contents
Go back to Chapter 4 - Move Around Your Messages Quickly
Go on to Chapter 6 - Spend Less Time on Responses