About Overcome Email Overload with Eudora 5

About Overcome Email Overload with Microsoft Outlook 2000

Frequently asked questions

About the author/publisher

Press Room

World Wide Webfoot Press home

Other email material by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood:

A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email

Finding Email Addresses

Why I Don't Like Electronic Greeting Cards

Email Bibliography

Humorous looks at email:

The Dark Side of Web Publishing

Email vs. Letters

Hyphenate or not -- Email or E-mail?

Chapter 6 - Spend Less Time on Responses

Excerpted from Overcome Email Overload with Eudora 5
Copyright © 2001 Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

You've cut down on your incoming messages. The ones that still come through are organized and prioritized. Now you need to respond to at least some of them.

Responding to messages usually takes more time than reading messages. Composing is slower than typing: you have to think about what to say, write, rewrite, scratch your head, and rewrite again. Add in the difference between reading speed and typing speed, and you can see that writing a message takes a lot more time than reading one.

Responding to messages more efficiently can therefore save you a lot of time. This chapter will show you how to:

  • Recognize what messages don't need a response. If you don't respond to any messages at all, you'll probably hurt your career and friendships. However, there are many cases where you don't need to respond.
  • Recognize the right time to respond. It isn't always best to respond to a message the instant that you finish reading it.
  • Write common responses once and reuse them. Eudora can help you to respond quickly and effortlessly to common questions.

While these techniques won't completely eliminate the time you spend on replies, they can greatly reduce it.

Don't Respond

It might make sense to ignore some messages. In a perfect world, you would have the leisure to respond to every message carefully and considerately. However, in this world, you have limited time. Furthermore, your correspondents also have limited time: they might not want you to respond.

Don't Say "Thank You" or "You're Welcome"

As mentioned in "Avoid `Thank You' and `You're Welcome'" Don't Thank Your Correspondents Right Away, you probably don't want to regularly send messages that say only, "Thank you" and "You're welcome." It takes time for you and is probably a nuisance for your correspondents. Only send a separate thank-you message if there was an exceptional effort involved. (And if it was that exceptional, send a copy to your correspondent's boss as well.)

It is much better to give thanks in advance or the next time you have reason to send email to them.

Don't Respond to Junk Email

In almost all cases, you should not respond to junk email. While it might feel very good to fire off an angry message or to tell them to stop sending you messages, it probably won't do you much good. A lot of junk email comes from temporary or non-existent accounts, so your message might come right back to you.

Responding might even increase the amount of junk email you get. By giving any reply at all, you let the senders know that your address has a real, live person attached to it. That makes your address more valuable to junk emailers.

If you want to take effective action to people who send junk email, you'll need a fair amount of technical sophistication and time. The excellent book Stopping Spam by Alan Schwarz and Simson Garfinkel (O'Reilly & Associates, 1998) explains the procedure in detail. However, if you had enough free time to take effective action, you probably wouldn't be reading my book.

Don't Answer Messages from Strangers

You do not need to respond to email from strangers. While this might sound mean, the time you spend on strangers is time you aren't spending on the people who matter to you.

If you have any sort of public persona, you might end up getting so many messages from strangers that it can take a long time to answer them all. Thirty minutes, an hour, four hours--at some point you have to stop. While it would be nice of you to respond, it isn't reasonable for people to expect that you will always do so.

    Tip: If you send email to a stranger, be pleasant and acknowledge that he or she is doing you a favor. Say "please" and "thank you" prominently.
Don't Respond to Mailing List Loops

It is a good idea to not respond to any sort of multi-person email arguments. Occasionally, people will get caught in a nasty, self-perpetuating loop between people trying to help and people that they annoy by helping. I saw this happen once:

  • Someone subscribed a large number of people to a mailing list without their knowledge or permission. Furthermore, the list was misconfigured so that the list server address and the list name address were the same.
  • A lot of people tried to unsubscribe.
  • Many people wrote to the list saying something along the lines of, "Look, you idiots, don't write to the list to unsubscribe! Unsubscribe like this ..."
  • A bunch of people wrote to the list saying, "I'm not an idiot, the list is misconfigured!"
  • More people wrote to the list saying, "Please don't send any more messages about unsubscribing!"
  • Even more people wrote to the list saying, "Please don't send any more messages telling people not to explain how to unsubscribe!"
  • People responded by saying, "Come on, don't be so mean! I made a simple mistake--you don't have to jump all over me!"

Hundreds of messages went back and forth until unsubscribing was fixed.

The more people on a list, the more likely that such an argument will start; the more people on a list, the more likely that such an argument will get out of control.

If you see a list getting locked into a bad loop like this, shut up and stay out of it. Giving advice almost always makes it worse, unfortunately.

Look at How You Were Addressed

You can sometimes tell if you need to respond to a message by looking at the location of your email address in the message headers. In general, you don't usually need to respond unless:

  1. you are in the To: header, and
  2. the message is from someone you have responsibilities towards, and
  3. the sender has a question.

If you are in the Cc: header, then you probably should not respond unless there is something wrong in the message. Most people don't want to get messages like this:

From: betsy@flossrecycling.com

To: liz@flossrecycling.com

Cc: john@flossrecycling.com, jim@flossrecycling.com,

donald@flossrecycling.com, charles@flossrecycling.com,


Subject: Re: Release

I got your message about the change orders.


The one exception: you should respond, even if you are only on the Cc: list, if something in the message is incorrect or a problem. For example, suppose a message gave arrangements for a meeting for next Tuesday. If you know that the entire division will be at a conference next Tuesday, you should alert the sender.

Figuring out how you should respond when you are in the Bcc: header is a little trickier. Because Bcc: is sometimes used to spare people from follow-up discussions, it isn't always obvious if you should act as if you were in the To: header or the Cc: header. You probably want to act as if you were in the Cc: header unless there is an obvious request to you in the body of the message.

Be careful with the rule about direct questions: sometimes the sender will have a question but not ask it explicitly. For example the sender might discuss an issue but never actually say that they want a response:

Subject: report covers

Jeff -


I was thinking about the report covers. Blue might be better than teal.





In this case, Mabel didn't actually ask, "What do you think?" but the question is implied. Treat this as a direct question and give a response.

If you need to respond to a message, but won't be able to answer for a few days, it is polite to send a message back. Don't just say that you got the message, however. Say what you need to complete the action and when you expect that the action will be completed:

To: Charlie Yzaguirre <charlie@electricbagpipes.com>

From: Jessica Robinson <jessica@electricbagpipes.com>

Subject: Re: Friday card game

Charlie -


I don't know if I will be able to join you to play cards. My trial starts on Monday, and I might be busy for five to ten years after that.


I will phone you by Friday morning if I will be able to join you for cards.


Read All Messages on a Topic before Responding to Any

Frequently, you are better off reading all of the messages on a topic before responding to any of them. This will help you avoid time-wasting sequences like this:

  • Jamshid reads a question on a mailing list.
  • Jamshid answers the question.
  • Mabel reads the question.
  • Mabel answers the question.
  • Mabel reads Jamshid's answer.
  • Mabel feels stupid.
  • Everyone else on the list gets annoyed at having to read two answers to the question.

Here's another common sequence:

  • Jose emails a question to Mabel.
  • Jose finds the answer on his own.
  • Jose sends a message telling Mabel not to bother with the question.
  • Mabel reads Jose question.
  • Mabel spends an hour researching the question.
  • Mabel sends Jose an answer.
  • Mabel reads that Jose didn't need the answer.
  • Mabel feels stupid.

Don't be like Mabel! If you read all the messages on the same topic before replying to any, then you will know if someone else answered any questions raised. This will save you from composing unneeded messages. As discussed in the introduction to Organize and Prioritize Your Messages, using filters to group related messages makes it much easier to see if there are further messages on a topic.

You might worry that if you don't respond immediately, you will forget to reply. The best way to remember to reply is to create a response window (with the question quoted) as soon as you see that you might need to respond. Then, read all the other messages. If someone else answers the question, you can close the response window. If nobody addressed the issue, the response window will still be open when you finish reading your messages, reminding you to respond.

If you get a message that has multiple issues, it's best to create one response window for each issue, editing each so it has a quote for only that issue. That way, you can keep track of each issue independently.

Use Prewritten Responses

If you send a few basic messages over and over again, consider saving those responses somewhere so that you don't have to retype them. Eudora will let you store prewritten responses or stationery that you can use to respond quickly.

To create stationery with Eudora for Mac OS:

  • Open the Stationery Window by selecting Window -> Stationery .
  • Click on the New button in the lower left corner.
  • Give the new stationery a name.
  • Click on the Edit button. A message composition window will appear.
  • Type in your message.
  • Click on the Save button in the upper right-hand corner of the message composition window.

To create stationery with Eudora for Windows:

  • Open the Stationery Window by selecting Tools -> Stationery .
  • Right-click in the window.
  • Select New . A message composition window will appear.
  • Type in your message.
  • Select File -> Save As Stationery .
  • Type in the name of the stationery,
  • Click on the Save button.

Be sure to be extremely polite in your prewritten responses. If all goes well, you'll be using these form letters over and over again, including times when you are tired and/or the person sending the message is in a bad mood. If you are not careful now, someday you'll get an angry response to your stationery messages.

If your prewritten message is vague, you can use it more often than if it is specific. The disadvantage, of course, is that vague responses are more likely to be ambiguous. (I cover ambiguity in great detail in Reduce Ambiguity.) Sorry. Life is full of difficult choices.

To use stationery, select Message -> Reply With... and select the stationery that you want to use. You can also quickly add text from stationery to a message by dragging the stationery from the Stationery Window to the message composition window.

The rest of this section covers examples of some prewritten responses.

Give Directions

Writing good directions takes a lot of time. It is a good idea to write and save good, clear directions for each route:

To get to Floss Recycling's headquarters from Highway 914:

+ Take the Tubman exit north (towards downtown).

+ Take Tubman Road through three stop lights and turn left

at the Lion's Pride restaurant. That's Goa Way, but the

sign is hard to see.

+ Take Goa Way for six blocks. Floss Recycling Inc. is on

the right-hand side in the big building painted like a

floss dispenser.


To get to Floss Recycling's headquarters from the airport:

+ Follow Erhart Road out of the airport until you come to a

fork in the road; take the right fork. You will then be on

Goa Way.

+ Take Goa Way for six blocks. Floss Recycling Inc. is on

the left-hand side in the big building painted like a

floss dispenser.


If you know that someone is coming from a particular direction, you can quickly edit out all the directions that you don't need:

Subject: Re: site visit

Jamaal --


I'm happy that we will finally meet. I think you will find that Floss Recycling Inc. is a fun place to work.


To get to Floss Recycling's headquarters from the airport:

+ Follow Erhart Road out of the airport until you come to a

fork in the road; take the right fork. You will then be on

Goa Way.

+ Take Goa Way for six blocks. Floss Recycling Inc. is on

the left-hand side in the big building painted like a

floss dispenser.


Respond to Vague Questions

Some people write email that is difficult to figure out. (They haven't read Reduce Ambiguity, yet.) Frequently the question will be too vague, like:

Subject: campus information

Please send me information about the University of East-Central Illinois at Hoopston.


This gives no clue about what the sender wants: admission application deadlines? The number of faculty? The acreage? The number of buildings? The name of the Engineering Dean's dog?

If you are in a position where you get vague questions regularly, you can save time by developing an all-purpose response that suggests places to go for further information. For example:

I'm sorry, but your message wasn't specific enough for me to determine what interested you about the University of East-Central Illinois at Hoopston.


If you were interested in admissions, see



If you were interested in research, see



If you were interested in sports, see



If you were interested in alumni activities, see



You can also try searching the University of East-Central Illinois at Hoopston web from



Good luck in your search.


Hopefully, this will either answer the question or make the questioner understand that he or she will have better luck if they ask their questions more carefully.

    Tip: If you want people who send you vague questions to leave you alone, make your all-purpose answer very long, boring, and impersonal. It will make them think that you are busy and uninteresting.

Even if you can't write a response like the previous example, you can still create a stationery message for responding to vague messages. You might want stationery like this:

I'm sorry, I couldn't figure out what you wanted. Please tell me

+ What *exact* area of the subject interests you?

Please be specific.

+ What level of detail do you need?

+ What level of expertise do you have in this area?

+ What have you tried already?


Frequently, if you tell me what you will do with the information, that will answer several of the questions at once.


"I'm Busy"

You can also use stationery to tell people that you can't give them much attention. For example:

I'm furiously getting ready for the Floss Recycling Expo, so don't have much time for email. I read your message, but unfortunately don't have time to respond thoughtfully. I'll get back to you soon after Floss Recycling Expo finishes on 28 Jan.


Responses to Mass Mailings

As mentioned in Educate Your Correspondents, you might need to ask people to not send you mass mailings. A carefully written stationery message that asks people not to send you mass mailings can save you a lot of time. This section has examples of stationery you might want to use for discouraging nuisance email.

Hoax Responses

Hoaxes can be extremely annoying, as mentioned in Reduce the Number of Incoming Messages. If you get hoaxes regularly, you can use stationery like the following:

I applaud your public spirit in wanting to help all of us out, but this message has all the trappings of a hoax:

+ It uses lots of emotionally charged language.

+ It gives few specifics.

+ It is essentially impossible to verify: it does not give contact information for the original author, names of victims, perpetrators, or investigating bodies. There is no URL for further information.

+ It has no date.

+ It implores the readers to pass it on to everybody they know.


Hoaxes are a form of computer virus: they use unsuspecting readers to replicate and transmit the hoax. For more information on hoaxes, see




I know that you wanted to help, but I get approximately 80 messages per day. Please do not send me any other mass-mailings in the future unless you check them out carefully yourself.


Chain Letters

For chain letters, you could try sending a message similar to the hoax message in the previous section, or you could just explain why you don't want to participate:

I appreciate that you thought of me, but I'm not interested in any sort of chain letters. Many chain letters are hoaxes or illegal. Even those that are valid when they are created frequently spin out of control -- especially if they don't have a date mentioned somewhere.


I am thus unwilling to pass on a chain letter unless I can check it out very carefully myself. And, given that I already get about 80 email messages per day, I don't have time to investigate them.


I know you thought I'd like to read the message, but please do me a favor and don't send me any more chain letters.




P.S. For more on chain letters, see



Humor Glut Responses

If you like getting jokes, but find them distracting, here is useful stationery to send:

I appreciate you thinking of me and like the jokes you send, but I get approximately 80 pieces of email per day, making it tough for me to see what is urgent and what is not. While the jokes are nice, they make it even harder to see what is important.


If you could put 'HUMOR:' at the beginning of a subject line, then I could set up my email program to automatically put jokes in another mailbox. That way I could still read the jokes, but at some time when I am not so busy.


Could you do that for me? I know that's asking extra work from you; if that's too much to ask, then (*sigh*) would you mind taking me off of your jokes mailing list?


Again, I appreciate your jokes but just don't have the time to deal with them in my inbox.


Thanks in advance!


You can then set up your filters to quietly put messages with HUMOR in the subject header into a jokes mailbox, as shown in File Jokes.

Ask for Bcc:

As mentioned in Use Bcc: Instead of To: or Cc:, you'll get fewer messages if you are in the Bcc: header instead of the To: header. If you get a lot of messages that have a huge list of people in the To: header, you might want stationery like this:

Could you do me a favor, please?


In the future, when you send out a large mailing like the one I just got from you, could you please put the addresses on the BCC line instead of on the TO or CC line?


When all the addresses are on the TO or CC line:


1) Everyone can see all the addresses. Some people prefer

to keep their addresses private.

2) Some people (depending upon their email software) have

to wade through all the addresses to get to the body of

the message.

3) If someone does a REPLY-TO-ALL by accident (instead of a

simple REPLY to just you), everybody on the address list

will get that message - which might not be relevant to

anyone but you.


BCC keeps the addresses private, so none of those problems can occur.


I know you weren't deliberately trying to cause problems, and hope you aren't offended by this message. I just wanted to let you know of a better way.




Use Auto-Responders

If you are using Paid or Sponsored mode, you can set up your filters to respond automatically to messages. This is useful but dangerous: you might respond inappropriately if your filters misfire. For example, suppose that Rose Winkle, the chief operations officer, sends Mabel a message on the Payroll Department's budget. If Mabel's filters send a message about rose gardening in response to messages that have rose in the header, Rose Winkle will be pretty surprised!

However, if you are absolutely overwhelmed by messages, you could respond with a generic form that gives some information and tells how to bypass the automatic response and get to you. One way to give people a way past your automatic response is to tell people a secret word that bypasses your filters.

Put the secret word on a separate line to make it more obvious.

Hi --


I get a lot of email, much of it unsolicited commercial messages. I thus ignore any message that comes from an address that I don't recognize.


If you are looking for information on roses, please see



If you are looking for information on the Hoopston Hollering Hangar Honchos, please see



If you are a real human being and that didn't answer your question, send your message again but put the word


in the subject line. I'll see the word and read your message.


Sorry to inconvenience you.


To respond to messages from strangers that don't have the secret word in the subject, you need to change the default (last) filter in your filter list. (See Default Filter: I Don't Know You):

when the message comes in or manual filtering is selected

if Subject: contains KERSHNUGLE ,

then Skip Rest

when the message comes in or manual filtering is selected

if «Any Header» contains . ,

then Reply With -> stationery that you choose,

Transfer To -> z-UnrecognizedAddress , and

Skip Rest

You should put these filters after ones for getting rid of junk email. Otherwise, you will respond to junk emailers automatically.

Notify That You're Out of the Office

One of the most common uses of auto-responders is to let senders know that the receiver will not be able to read a message for a while:

I will be at Floss Expo from Monday, January 18 to Friday, January 27. I don't know how often I will be able to check my email until I return.


If you have urgent questions about the Payroll Department, please contact Chantelle Williams at x2202.


Unfortunately, because of how email is delivered, setting up an out-of-office message isn't always easy to do. You could set up a filter to always respond, but the filter will only be activated if Eudora is running. If you turn off your computer before you go (or if it crashes right away), nobody will get your out-of-office message.

Where does your email go when your computer is off? It stays on the email server --a computer that is on all the time and whose job it is to receive and hold your mail. Thus the "right" way to set up an out-of-office message is to tell the email server to give an out-of-office message.

There are many different email server programs, and each has its own way of doing out-of-office messages. Worse, you might not have access to the email server. The best thing to do is to go to your Information Technology group and say, "I want to set up an out-of-office message on my email account. What do I need to do?" (You might also suggest that they set up a Web-based interface for managing out-of-office messages; see Out-of-Office Messages.)

    Tip: If you set up an out-of-office message, don't forget to turn it off when you get back.
Dangers of Auto-Responders

Auto-responders can be very handy, but you need to be careful. Your auto-responder can get caught in a loop. Take the following situation:

  • Mabel goes on vacation.
  • Andy sends Mabel email.
  • Andy goes on vacation.
  • Mabel's email program sends Andy a message that Mabel's out of the office.
  • Andy's email program sends Mabel a message that Andy is out of the office.
  • Mabel's email program sends Andy a message that Mabel's out of the office.
  • Andy's email program sends Mabel a message that Andy's out of the office.
  • repeat until Andy or Mabel get back from vacation...

Any sort of automatic response can get into a loop, but out-of-office messages are particularly likely to get caught in this kind of loop. During a vacation in January 2000, a major U.S. university had so many "I'm out of the office" loops that they had to take the entire email system down.

You should thus be very careful about autoresponses, especially out-of-office messages. Here are some steps to take to avoid loops:

  • Do not reply automatically to messages from your hobby or announcement mailing lists. (You might want to temporarily unsubscribe to your mailing lists until you are back.)
  • Do not reply automatically to bounce messages--automatic responses that tell you that a message that you sent couldn't be delivered.
  • If possible, only send one message per week to any address. If someone sends you a lot of messages on a regular basis, he or she could get bored with your auto-response.

You should probably ask your system administrator for help setting up your automatic responses.


  • Recognize that you don't have to answer or even read every single message.
  • Attach your thanks to other messages. Don't send a thank-you in its own message unless the effort was exceptional.
  • You do not need to respond to strangers.
  • If you ask questions of strangers, be sure to be very polite. Say "please" and thank them in advance.
  • A long and boring all-purpose response will discourage further correspondence.
  • If you are in the Cc: header, you shouldn't respond unless there is something incorrect in the message.
  • Read all messages on a topic before responding to any of them, but open a response window immediately if you think you might need to reply.
  • Use prewritten responses.
  • If you use an automatic response system, give a magic word so that people can get your attention if the prewritten response doesn't answer their question.
  • Don't respond automatically to mailing lists.
  • Don't forget to turn off out-of-office messages when you return.

Go up to Table of Contents
Go back to Chapter 5 - Reduce the Number of Incoming Messages
Go on to Chapter 7 - Reduce Ambiguity