Some thoughts on Using Email

As I'm coming up on my 20th anniversary using email sometime this month, I have decided to write a series of articles about how I use email, some of the successes I've had and some of my failures hoping others don't repeat my mistakes. This first article contains some basic email rules. In the next couple days I will also publish articles on how I manage the messages I get and what you can do to keep yourself secure using email.

Rule 1- Get Setup Right
Get a provider that supplies you with a IMAP account. This allows you to have folders set up on the server and sync them with any machine you use. This allows you to administer your mail using your cellphone or a web client. Also make sure your provider uses solid spam and virus filtering.

Rule 2- Have As Few Accounts As Possible

I spent from 1997-2001 consolidating the email accounts I had accumulated over the years. I had email accounts at friend’s domains, yahoo, excite, HoTMaiL (pre MSN), crayola (I mean who wouldn’t want to be burntsienna at crayola.com), as well as on a number of vanity domains I owned. I spent hours checking mail everyday, which was far too much time. Mail got lost, I forgot to check certain accounts and missed events because I wasn't looking at the account that a friend was using. It was frustrating, and quite frankly a waste of time. Now, I have 2 email accounts. One account I own all my business and personal mail. There are a number of aliases, if you send me mail to sean@seanreiser.com, sean@cloisterbell.org, sean@repairsense.com, spr@columbia.edu or nibbler@dwny.org it routes its way to this account. This way I can have business/v cards that have an appropriate domain. I do use filters to help get what's important to the top of the heap, something I'll discuss in a future article. The other account is provided by my current client. Often, when I am doing work for a client their security policy won't allow all messages sent to me to be sent to my server, so I maintain an account on their box. But that's it.

Many people maintain accounts multiple in order to maintain a degree of anonymity. "What if that cute girl from the club turns out to be a psycho and stalks me?". This is why the Good Lord has invented the Kill File, a list of addresses that your mail client knows to automagiclly delete any messages.

Rule 3- Folders are free! Keep Your Inbox as Empty as Possible

I can't stress the importance of not having an Inbox that's a general mish-mosh of business requests, love letters, expired e-vites, match.com rejections, bad jokes and letters from your mom. My Inbox is what I consider the mail I haven't looked at. I get itchey if there are more then 10 messages in my inbox. On the surface this might contradict rule 1, but it doesn't I promise.

Every email I get, once read falls into one of a few categories:

Requires a Response - If at all possible respond right there and then. If not place it in a ToDo folder.

Need to Save - If you need or want to save an email, again use folders. Break them out based on category like Jokes, Letters from Mom, Attaboys, Love Letter, and work. Remember you can have subfolders so "Family->Mom" and "Work->OmegaProject" are legal and .

Everything Else - Delete, Delete Delete. There's no use to keep them, throw them out.