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RADAR: 5 quick steps for making email work for you

Email may have started as a communications convenience, but it can also be a tremendous time suck, especially for self-employed writers. Who can’t relate to the frustration of sorting through dozens of electronic mail messages each day? How many important messages become buried among the inconsequential ones, simply because of the constant overflow?

Here’s a simple system for dealing with daily emails.

The secret is simple. Just as desk workers did for decades, the goal is to clear out the in-box promptly and often. That’s the ticket.

Many of these email efficiency tips employ basic common sense and self-discipline. But they may merit revisiting periodically. RADAR can help.

R = Read

The first step is to scan the list of messages, flagging anything that looks suspicious or spammy. Lots of freelancers don’t even open the lion’s share of the emails we receive each day.

Whenever I click to open an email message, I try to examine the sender line closely. Often, scammers will closely approximate familiar friends or company names. Their email addresses generally offer clues on their false identities. For example, suppose a message is labeled as coming from Wells Fargo. But the sender’s actual address is bankbiz @ sender . com. That’s sort of a dead give-away that the message isn’t worth a blink.

Once these mystery missives are flagged and bagged (so to speak), the list is a lot more manageable. Then it’s time to read and move on what remains.

A = Assess

It’s time to open and consider one email at a time and consider its content. This step takes a little deliberation sometimes – and sometimes a bit of tough love. It’s time to take a stand. Does this note include a deadline? Does it call for action? Does it deserve a response?

D = Do Something

This step is critical and needs immediate action. Each message should lead to action or the trash.

Maybe the right course is to send it along to someone for whom it is more appropriate. (This doesn’t include those trivial cutesy stories, tired jokes, already debunked hoaxes, or supposedly remarkable images that seem to recirculate atop endless addressee listings. Please stop forwarding these by email! Isn’t that why social networking was invented?)

OK, occasionally a message may need to be tabled for a short while. In such a case, it’s easy to mark that email as unread, so it stays highlighted (or bolded) for future attention.

A = Assort

Some messages simply must be filed for future reference. These might include book or article pitches, upcoming event notices, research information, and the like. Why not clear out the email clutter and store these in the email file cabinet (if this exists), in computer document files, or as hard copies in office files?

R = Remove

Trash anything that isn’t worth sorting and storing. Then empty the trash. Watch the email account storage capacity reopen. Whew!

Ding. That’s it.

Once the massive list of incoming email messages is cleared, and these simple upkeep tips are implemented, subsequent log-ins are a breeze.

Adapted from public domain artwork

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