Wednesday, August 15, 2007

E-mail, Stress, & Filtering

ArsTechnica had an interesting article on 8/14/2007 about E-mail and Stress.

Honestly, it doesn't really surprise me that most people find e-mail stressful. Why? Because they don't use the potential of their e-mail interfaces (e.g. webmail interfaces such as Yahoo's, or even Thunderbird or Outlook) to manage their e-mail. What do they do? They let the e-mail accumulate in their Inbox, and then read it - one by one - and decide what to do with it.

That's probably fine if you only get about 20 e-mails a day. But, most managers and employees at most companies probably get a lot more than that when they're heavily involved in a project.

In the past, I've personally received over 700 e-mails on a daily basis from legitimate sources, and I still get over 100 e-mails a day from legitimate sources. However, I have never found e-mail to be stressful. Why? Because I use a feature of my e-mail tools to manage that e-mail, and organize it so that I can get to exactly what I want when I want it - and I don't have to read it all first to do so. What's this feature calls? Filters.

Filters operate basically the same regardless of the e-mail tool you use in that they allow you to look at various criteria such as message or subject content, who it from, or who it was sent to and perform different actions based on that criteria. Those actions, however, vary from e-mail tool to e-mail tool.

So why am I calling it an e-mail tool? So that I can refer to both web-based e-mail interface - such as Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and others - as well as non-web programs, such as Outlook, Eudora, and Thunderbird.

Below I'll cover 3 of the e-mail tools I'm familiar with and how filters work in them.

Google's mail service - gmail - has filters that allow you to "star" and apply labels to e-mail. Their labels allow you to search your e-mail so that you can get exactly what you want.

Yahoo! Mail has more traditional filters. You have to go into your Mail Options page and then click on the Filters to add them. At least base paying subscribers get 50 filters that they can apply. For most, this should be enough. Filters with Yahoo allow you to direct e-mail to folders based on the criteria - to/cc, from, subject, message body.

Outlook and Thunderbird are very similar that I am familiar with how they do filters. In Outlook, it's called "Rules", while Thunderbird calls them "Message Filters", but they're essentially the same. Both let you do a lot more than simply apply a label or putting message into a folder - you can forward, reply, or do a number of other things.

Outlook has one advantage over most when couple with Exchange in that it can upload filters to be run on Exchange prior to your access via Outlook. Of course, that really only works when you keep all your e-mail on Exchange. But even when couple with Exchange, you can still do all the rules that you have when you're just using Outlook as it will run some on the server (Exchange) and others on the client (Outlook). However, Outlook also has a disadvantage - it can really only handle about 100 rules.

Any how...if you ever find yourself stressed by e-mail, take a few minutes and set up filters in your e-mail tool so that you can properly manage your e-mail. As you get more rules set up, you'll just feel the stress melt away, and you'll find it is a lot easier to notice and find e-mail from people as well.

No comments: