Text by C. Scott Wyatt
You likely have four or more email addresses. It’s common to have more than a dozen email addresses, especially if you carefully segregate work, school and personal email accounts.
I manage at least 20 email accounts. Good mail management techniques help me deal with a thousand emails on some weekdays. The suggestions that follow reflect my battles with inbox overload and accidental replies from the wrong email accounts.
Keep your work email apart from other accounts, if possible. Use one account for purposes like shopping and discount programs. Learn how to create rules in your preferred email application.
Don’t leave hundreds of messages in your inbox.
There are broadly three common forms of email service: POP, IMAP and proprietary.
The POP standard dates back to 1984. Post Office Protocol generally copies email to your local computer and then deletes the message from the server. This made sense in the 1980s and ’90s when costly server storage space was limited. If your computer suffers a hardware or software failure, any lost mail is gone forever. Avoid POP email accounts, if you can.
IMAP, Internet Message Access Protocol, was finalized in the 1990s. IMAP leaves messages and file attachments on the server unless you configure rules for deletion. Even “deleted” messages remain in a folder named “Trash” on the server. The standard IMAP folders also include Drafts, Sent, Junk and Archive. Everything sent or received remains until you empty the Trash folder. Even then, some network systems retain copies in the Archive for a set number of days.
Microsoft Exchange is one of several proprietary email systems. Although most email applications can access Exchange servers, sometimes things don’t work. I’ve had strange things happen when using anything other than Microsoft Outlook with an Exchange-based email account.
If given a choice, configure email accounts for IMAP access in your email applications. IMAP allows you to access and read the messages from several devices. I read messages on my phone or tablet, knowing that I can prepare longer responses and attach files from my computer later.
For years, I tried to access all my email accounts in a single program, Thunderbird. Download the desktop application from thunderbird.net if you want a good single-purpose email solution. Thunderbird connects easily to all the major email services and handles standard POP and IMAP email perfectly.
However, I also found myself accidentally sending replies from the wrong email accounts. That’s not allowed in some regulated industries. Some employers also have strict email policies.
I have several university email addresses. Each summer during orientation, the IT departments remind instructors and staff to use university accounts only for university-related business. Never use outside accounts, we are told, too. IT reminds instructors to never email grading information because emails can be forwarded or accounts compromised.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, FERPA, limits information disclosure regarding students. The law prevents me from discussing grades with parents because most university students are young adults.
To ensure compliance, the schools keep a record of all student-related communications. When there is a grade dispute or other student issue, the university can access a faculty account. It would be unwise to use a university account for any private correspondence.
After one too many accidental replies from my personal email accounts, I now access university email via webmail systems exclusively. On campus, I use whatever email application IT has installed, which is usually Microsoft Outlook. I never check personal email via university computers.
My ancient Yahoo email account serves as my spam magnet. I use the Yahoo address for discount offers, shopping apps, mailing lists and other purposes sure to result in junk mail. It seems that every casual dining restaurant chain must have that address.
Our cable service email address is the household account, where we receive utility bills, city information, school updates, medical alerts and so on. Thanks to IMAP, the same messages go to all our devices, so my wife and I both receive important emails.
Personal Microsoft, Apple and Google email accounts keep various subscriptions and app purchases separate. Google’s gmail.com address has become the default for most people.
Every email system I use includes rules and filters for sorting email. Search for “rules” in the help of your email client. Rules check the from, to and subject fields of a message, and then perform a desired action.
Common basic rules move mail from your inbox into another folder. As I receive email in Apple Mail or Thunderbird, the messages are sorted into folders by topic. This simplifies skimming my inbox.
I created an Amazon folder that receives two dozen messages or more daily. A rule moves emails from amazon.com from my inbox into this dedicated folder. I check the folder only if I’m expecting a delivery.
With more of us working at home, email traffic has increased. Thankfully, email can be managed.