Overcome Email Overload


These exercises, unless otherwise marked, are for both the Eudora and the Outlook version of the book. Note that what Eudora calls filters and mailboxes, Outlook 2000/2002 calls rules and folders.

Some exercises ask for examples of messages. If you don't have an example of such a message, use a message that went to a friend, relative, or co-worker.

If you have an exercise that you think is worthwhile, please email it to me! If I like it, I'll include it and give you credit for submitting it.

Chapter 1 -- Introduction

  1. For the next week, count and categorize all your email messages. Estimate how long you spend on each category of message.

  2. Name three broad strategies for reducing the amount of time you spend on email.

  3. Why is email harder to manage than paper mail? Give at least three reasons.

  4. What strategy do you use for keeping track of the messages that you haven't finished with?

Chapter 2 -- Prioritizing

  1. Describe how filing paper memos is different from filing email. Think about differences in How do these differences affect optimal filing strategies and folder/mailbox organization?

  2. List three ways of separating "to-do" messages from messages that you have finished with.

  3. List three advantages of having a personal email account.

  4. Describe three different criteria for organizing categories or folders. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

  5. Describe three different ways to show groups of messages in a way that makes it easy to see which ones are related. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

  6. If you were in charge of adding features to your current email program, what features would you add? (Say which email program you are using.)

  7. (Advanced) Olle Bälter's paper, Keystroke level analysis of email message organization, suggests that it is relatively easy to have too many mailboxes. How would filters/rules affect his conclusions?

  8. (Advanced) Bälter and Sidner's paper on Bifrost describes a slightly different strategy. Compare and contrast the technique in Overcome Email Overload with the one described in this paper.

Chapter 3 - Filter/Rule Recipes

  1. Write one filter/rule condition (using the same notation as used in the book) that will match all of these messages but none of these messages:

  2. Write a filter/rule condition that will match all of these messages: but none of these messages:

  3. This chapter gives a number of phrases that are found almost exclusively in junk email. List five more.

  4. This chapter gives a few phrases that are usually found in time-sensitive messages. List four more.

Chapter 4 - Move Around Your Messages Quickly

  1. For your email program, list all of the steps you need to take to move a message to another folder. (Say which email program you are using.)

  2. For your email program and your current way of using it, list all of the steps you need to take to mark a message as "done".

Chapter 5 - Reduce the Number of Incoming Messages

  1. List three types of unwanted messages. Attach one message of each kind.

  2. Describe how to unsubscribe from a particular Internet mailing list. (If you do not currently subscribe to an Internet mailing list, subscribe temporarily to one.)

  3. List the advantages and disadvantages of getting mailing list messages in digest forms.

  4. For one week, keep track of all the questions that you answer by email and all the responses you get to your answers. For half -- and only half -- of the questions, put "No Reply Needed" at the end of your answer. Describe the differences in the responses to your answers.

  5. Deliberately insert rhetorical questions into messages to five different people. How many people answered the rhetorical question?

  6. Find and attach one example each of "me too", hoax, chain letter, joke, and affectionate messages.

  7. (Advanced) Heylighten and Dewaele's paper, Formality of Language: definition, measurements and behavioral determinants on formality has a slightly different theory of formal language than presented in the book. Explain -- using the Heylighten and Dewaele model -- why more formal language would make correspondents less eager to reply.

Chapter 6 - Spend Less Time on Responses

  1. Write clear, detailed directions on how to get to your home, office, or classroom. Give at least two different routes.

  2. Write a response that you could use if someone send a message of the form "please send me information". Make it long and boring: cover at least six possible interpretations of the question. (Extra credit if the grader falls asleep while reading your response.)

  3. Many viruses now spread by email, e.g. the "SirCam" virus. Using either the "SirCam" virus or a current problem virus, write a filter/rule that recognizes infected messages, sends a pre-written response that includes information about the virus and how to fix it, and deletes the infected message.

Chapter 7 - Reduce Ambiguitiy

  1. Words that "point to" other words are called deictic words. Write an email message that uses at least three types of deictic words.

  2. Edit this message to eliminate deictic words. Invent stuff as needed.

  3. Write a message that is ambiguous without emphasis. Write a second message that is the same as the first but with emphasis added.

  4. (Advanced) Heylighten and Dewaele's paper, Formality of Language: definition, measurements and behavioral determinants mentions a class of deictic words that the book(s) don't mention. Determine what that class is and write a message that uses at least three words of that class.

Chapter 8 - Convey Emotional Tone

  1. What does this emoticon mean to you? :-P

  2. Attach a message whose tone somebody misinterpreted.

  3. Rewrite this message to show that Mabel is a bit uncertain about her answer.

Chapter 9 - Make Messages Legible

  1. Attach a message that has poor word-wrapping.

  2. Find an HTML message and hand in its "raw code" -- what someone with an archaic email program would see. (This will probably mean cutting and pasting.)

Chapter 10 - Get and Keep Attention

  1. Write a good subject line for this message.

  2. Write a good subject line for this message.

  3. Write a good subject line for this message.

  4. Write a message to a Dr. Frobisher asking for more information about phlentacular draining. Dr. Frobisher has never met you. Invent stuff as needed.

  5. Rewrite this message.

Chapter 11 - Improve Your Company's Email Effectiveness

  1. List the various distribution lists that your company already has.

  2. Give an example of a message that would probably not have been sent if your company had one of the technological aids discussed in Chapter 11. (Also mention which technological aid would make the message unneeded.)

  3. Find documentation of your companies email policies and attach them. If your company has no email policies, document that as well -- perhaps get a message from your CTO or HR director saying, "we don't really have a policy.

  4. If you were in charge of policy at your company, what policy would you make and why?`
If you have ideas for good exercises, please mail them to me. I will credit you on this page!
Kaitlin Duck Sherwood
Updated 18 September 2001.