Much incoming e-mail can be read once, then promptly deleted-this means less e-mail clutter to wade through. At the least, do a clean-up once a month. Create email folders for specific clients, projects, or subject areas, rather than leaving them in your inbox forever.
You can drag and drop to file each email, or you can create filters to drive emails automatically to a folder you designate. But don't go overboard -- too many narrow, specific folders makes it harder to locate emails later. If your email software doesn't allow you to create folders, an alternative is to use Save As to save emails as text files. Group them into directories by client, project, function, etc.
Use detailed subject headers - sometimes the whole message can be in the header! This saves time when searching for old e-mails later on. Insert "NRN" in subject headers when no reply is necessary. Customize your email software to display all the information you need at a glance. Microsoft Outlook allows you to add columns to your email screen.
Delete unneeded e-mails regularly. You usually only need to save the last message of an ongoing "conversation" - the most recent message contains quote backs of all previous messages.
Keep your inbox lean so it becomes an extension of your To-Do list. Everything you must keep should be dragged into the correct folder. Only emails that require action should remain in the inbox for more than a day.
If you follow the above tips, you won't need to print most of your emails - you can save time by filing and accessing them digitally! However, for a meeting away from your office or a project for which most information is not digital - then printing emails makes sense. Printing emails should be the exception however, not the rule.
Unfortunately, filters are no longer adequate to control spam. Consider a spam blocker that checks incoming emails against a list of "accepted senders" that you create. Two 'permission-only' programs are Postmaster Pro and Spam Arrest.
Create templates for routine replies Last but not least, know when to telephone. Unless you need to send the same message a group, or keep a record of what you said when to whom, the phone may be faster.
About the Author: Jan Jasper has been training busy people to work smarter, not harder since 1988. She helps clients streamline their systems and procedures, form optimum work habits, use technology efficiently, and manage information overload. Her specialty is helping people who've already worked with professional organizers and coaches and are still not able to get it all done. Jan is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press). She recently completed a North American media tour as the national efficiency spokesperson for IKON Office Solutions, Inc. In 2001, Jan was the office productivity expert for staples.com. She has appeared on radio and TV all over North America and is quoted regularly in print. Jan is currently on the board of the Tri-State Chapter (NY, NJ, & CT) of the National Speakers Association.