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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of Academic Computing and User Services
A recent Washington Post story appearing in the Dallas Morning news, highlighted the concept of "e-mail bankruptcy" as some people's solution to an overwhelming amount of e-mail in their inbox. E-mail bankruptcy is when you just erase everything in your inbox and start over. You no longer owe anybody a reply and you start with a fresh slate. The question is, how long until you are again facing e-mail bankruptcy? As one who relies on e-mail on a daily basis, I can understand how overwhelming it can be to face a list of unread messages, however, the best strategy with e-mail, as with finances, is to manage your activity so that you don't get to the point where bankruptcy is your only option.
While it may be possible to survive in the modern world without e-mail, it's become expected that everyone has an e-mail address and that they'll answer your e-mail as soon as they get it. The reality is that expectations should vary depending upon the circles of relationship associated with a particular e-mail message. I expect to get a reply from someone else in my office. I don't necessarily expect to get a reply from any number of public figures who may have made themselves accessible via e-mail. Likewise, I am more likely to immediately answer someone who is in a close circle of association, such as an officemate or professional colleague.
I have to admit that there have been times when I've grown bored or just not kept up with mailing list traffic. In these cases, I've either "cleared the account" and started reading the current threads, or unsubscribed and gone my merry way. The nice thing about mailing lists is that a response is not expected (that's less for you to owe, e-mail-wise.) The way I've been able to deal with those messages is by segregating them from my other e-mail messages.
With these ideas in mind and a bit of organization, it's possible to keep e-mail from overwhelming your life and I offer these tips that may help anyone who may be feeling the weight of a large inbox.
If you follow these tips, then you are less likely to be on the road to e-mail bankruptcy. One of the most powerful tools you have in most e-mail clients is the ability to set up filters and to group e-mail into folders. I've used this technique for many years and it takes quite a bit of the pressure off of the inbox and makes it much easier to prioritize which messages will receive your more immediate attention. With a little preparation, you don't have to dread your inbox every morning.