Taming the email Inbox… a few tips

Email is a wonderful thing. It’s also a horrible thing. It’s gotten to the point where people get so much email, they’re not even reading it any more. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to a colleague, did you get my email about the such and such, and they just look at me blankly.

“I never got your email,” they respond. We walk over to their computer and sure enough, there it is – even marked as read – but my colleague has no recollection of it.

It’s called email overload.

I get somewhere in the neighborhood of one thousand emails a day. A good many of those are spam and thanks to good email filtering before they even get to my inbox, I don’t have to sift through most of it. That spam doesn’t even get to me. The ISPs (Internet Service Providers) don’t want to waste precious bandwidth on spam either. It costs them money.

The email program I use on my computers (PostBox) does a second good sweep of anything my email service doesn’t get, which cuts down even more on the spam.

But that still leaves me with more email than I can possibly read and respond to in a day. I needed a way to cut down on what was making to my email Inbox a daily nightmare. Mixed in with legitimate correspondence from business colleagues and friends, was a lot of email that while I couldn’t actually call spam, it was still more “correspondence” than I wanted to read.

I’m talking about legitimate companies that I’ve done business with once or many times that send me so much email (several times a week) that it too becomes Inbox clutter. Do I really need an email every day from Hanes because I bought boxers from them last April? I think not.

Ticketmaster
Target
Pottery Barn
West Elm

All perfectly fine companies (well, except Ticketmaster), but I’m good with not hearing about every sale or free shipping offer.

And add to that list many more software and hardware companies that I do occasionally buy things from, but I know where they are and I’ll be able to find them on my own if I need something without them sending me all of those emails.

So last week I started a purge. I went through my email Inbox and at the bottom of every company I really didn’t need to hear from every day or every week, I went to the bottom of their emails and I clicked on unsubscribe.

For any of you who have had email for more than 10 years, you know clicking the unsubscribe link on any email message used to be inviting more spam. Before the government started regulating what was spam and what wasn’t and ISPs began to crack down on spammers, clicking unsubscribe just used to scream out, “Hey we have a live email account here! Sell this one to every spammer we know!” It didn’t unsubscribe you from anything and your email address got added to a lot more unwanted spam lists.

Today, things are a little different. At least with the legitimate companies. If I click unsubscribe on an email from Target, you can be damn sure they’re going to unsubscribe me. They don’t want people receiving email from them and clicking the spam button because if enough people do, they’ll get added to the spam list that the email services keep and pretty soon they won’t even be able to get through to people who actually want to get their emails. It would just be bad business otherwise.

No, in Target’s case, I ordered something from them once and they put me on their email list because maybe I checked their opt-in email box. Or didn’t uncheck it or something. Fine. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t unsubscribe to their emails now if I feel I’m getting more information than I want from them. It works out just fine.

Me and Target. We’re good.

Years ago I started a little trick to see how my email address was getting spread around. My business email has a catch-all, which means I can type anything instead of “billy” before my @domain.com (notice how I didn’t actually put my email address in this blog posting? Another good tip) and it will still get to me. So if I ordered something from Pottery Barn, I would enter my email address with them as potterybarn@ my domain name.com. That way I could see who Pottery Barn was selling my name to. Turns out they own West Elm as well because my emails from West Elm were sent to the potterybarn@ address.

Same thing with online forums and other companies I would do business with. Some are long out of business, but their names live on as my company specific email address gets passed along over the years.

You can check to see if you email provider has a catch-all that you can set up to allow you to type anything before the @ sign in your email address and it will still get to you. Many business accounts have this feature. Or you can set up an internet email account you only use when ordering online or subscribing to something internet related. That way you can keep your important personal or business email separate from your internet clutter.

But back to my email purge. There are some companies and organizations that I do regular business with that I’m more inclined to happily receive regular email from. Those I didn’t unsubscribe from. It’s those companies that I bought something from in the last century or even last year that I don’t need constant communication with.

Unsubscribe.

It’s already made a difference. I’m more productive because I’m not interrupted with sales and special offers 30 times a day in my Inbox. As I mentioned in a previous blog, adjusting the time my email program checks for email from every minute to every 15 minutes has helped as well.

Every legitimate company has an unsubscribe link on any email they send. Billy Sheahan Photography even has one here where you can easily subscribe or unsubscribe to our occasional email postcards and other news. I take it very seriously. I don’t want to be spam in your Inbox either.

If I come across an email from a company that doesn’t have a one click way to opt-out, then they get marked as spam and eventually the spam police will block them with all of the ISPs. Simple as that.

And if you have a Facebook or Twitter or other similar social networking account, you can cut down on a huge volume of clutter in your email Inbox by opting out of getting an email every time one of your friends writes on your wall or gets a new Farmville barn. Think about it. Do you need your day interrupted for every status update? If you do, you may need to rethink your day.

All of those updates will still be there when you decide to login. And your email Inbox will be better for it.

One other important email tip for you. And this is very important:

NEVER EVER click on an email link that you aren’t absolutely sure is legitimate. There are a lot of what are referred to as Phishing Email Scams that pretend to be from your bank or PayPal or ebay or UPS or whatever that at first glance appear to be from a legitimate company warning you that your account has been compromised or something and you should click on the link to reset your password.

Those emails are a trap to get you to reveal your account information and password. They may have legitimate looking logos in the email, but more often than not, clicking on them will send you to a fake site designed to steal your information.

The most heinous phishing scammers are usually in foreign countries and you can tell this by their odd or grammatically suspicious English language skills. And most legit companies have spell check as well. Just sayin’. Chase Bank email writers know the difference between you’re and your. Hopefully anyway.

So if you’re not sure, don’t click on the link. Instead, open up a fresh browser window and manually type in the address you normally use to interact with that site. If there really is a problem, you’ll find out that way. Or call your bank or the company directly on the phone to check it out and avoid the internet altogether.

The photographs on todays blog are of the beautiful sky this evening here in Chicago. Hopefully if you choose to follow a few of these email tips, your Inbox will be similarly beautiful.

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