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Monday, June 11, 2007

Dealing with Email and IM Overload

Inbox Overwhelmed? proposes filing for e-mail bankruptcy by simply deleting a bulk of e-mail messages. That sounds drastic, but it worked for some people. The opposite worked for me.

I started using a GMail account as a backup e-mail address, the one for forms and registration. At first, I managed the GMail account like I did with my main e-mail account that I use on my computer as opposed to web-based e-mail. It didn’t take long before I couldn’t keep up with deleting outdated sent messages, clearing the trash, and keeping the number of new messages in specific folders low.

I don’t bother with Gmail’s Sent, Spam and Trash folders anymore. The e-mails piled up and reached over 700 messages in each folder. I route e-mail newsletters and alerts to specific folders and purge them. It wasn’t easy to delete a bunch of unread e-mail newsletters and alerts, but I had to be realistic.

As for instant messaging, I won’t give that up. IM to me is what phones are to most of the world. So, I must have one IM service on at all times so my immediate family can contact me. I also carry a Sidekick with me so I can stay connected to my family while away from the computer. It’s impossible to spend too much time chatting through the Sidekick’s IM because the data network is down more than it’s up. Frustrating.

I had to learn to cut things short in a nice way. When friends and family pop in, I judge based on my current work whether to talk to them or let them know our conversation needs to be brief. I know who tends to just chat about nothing important as opposed to chat when there’s something to discuss. So I use that knowledge for managing the conversation.

My advice to those struggling with IM overload is to set rules. Turn it off if you can’t be disturbed. In my case, I simply don’t respond and try to remember to turn on the away message. Considering I use most of my IDs for business conversations, I take care not to write an unprofessional away message. Humor is A-OK as long as it’s G-Rated and respectful.

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