Using Autoresponders is Not the Way to Manage Email

I saw a Feb 2007 article in CareerJournal (Wall Street Journal Website), and my mouth dropped open when I read the advice below. It is so wrong.

“Emails that don’t require an immediate reply can pile up as you respond to more urgent messages. To get them out of the way, send a quick reply to each with a canned message such as: “Thanks for writing. I’ll get back to you on this as soon as possible,” says Ana Weber, a controller at Binder Metal Products Inc., a Gardena, Calif., manufacturer, who is a part-time career and time-management coach. Then store them in a folder labeled “unread” as a reminder to attend to them later, she says.”

An autoresponder that pops back to every message people send you is on my list of 27 email pet peeves that I’ve collected. Coming from someone who teaches people how to manage email overload and addiction, has written a book about it, and travels nationally doing it, let me tell you…don’t do this.

An autoresponder like this does nothing but contribute to more email overload. You have not helped the writer, and you’ve piled up more work for yourself that you’ll probably forget about.

This is better.

  • Keep the Inbox to one screen by not using it as a database, to do list, calendar, or tickler file.
  • Get organized (paper, Inbox, and computer files) so you can find answers quickly.
  • Use the best software (Outlook) and learn all its tips and tricks.
  • Establish a routine that works for you (and the boss and co-workers).
  • Get into a meeting with your Inbox and deal with each message as you open it.

For detailed help on managing email overload and addiction, check out my book, Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2003. For hands on training at your place or mine, visit The Digital Breakthroughs Institute.

Don't Let Spam Slow You Down

I’m still getting too many nods “Yes” when I ask seminar and workshop attendees if they’re still getting a lot of spam. If you are too, take these steps to end it.

Use a good provider. If you’re using Joe’s Internet Service with servers in his basement, he’s probably not using the best technologies to block spam on the server side…before it gets to you. Use one of the big boys such as AT&T for Internet access and make sure your Webhost meets the same requirements (e.g., Network Solutions).

Keep your clickable email address off the Web. There is no valid reason for putting your live, clickable email address on the Web. Spambots scour the Internet looking for the @ symbol and all that comes with it. Spell it out with “at” instead of the symbol…people will know what to do. It’s a good idea to Google all of your email addresses to see where they show up. Get them removed! Then sign up for Google Alerts so you’ll be notified if they show up anywhere later. And remember that Google can index any documents, PDFs, and Flash files so keep your full email address out of there.

Get a powerful spam blocker. Technology is available to stop spam in its tracks. I highly recommend Cloudmark Desktop because it works in the background and doesn’t challenge people who want to reach me (a potential client or journalist shouldn’t have to get permission to send me a message).

Turn up the security volume in your email software. I use Outlook 2007 and have my security set at High. To check yours, click the Actions tab, point to Junk E-Mail, click Junk Email Options. On the resulting Options tab, choose High.

Get a new set of email addresses. If after all this you’re still getting a lot of spam (not likely), change your email addresses and start over. I know it’s a hassle, but you can’t afford to spend another minute deleting spam. Or at the very least, get rid of info@, sales@ email addresses…you’re making it too easy for the spammer because all they’ll need is your domain.

Deal with the few that will still trickle in. After you’ve made these changes, you’ll probably still get one or two spam messages a day. It doesn’t do any good to add them to your blocked senders list because they’re coming from a one-use email address. Instead (in Outlook), hold down the Shift key and Delete (it’ll bypass your Deleted Items folder).

Stop using autoresponders. If you decide not to do any of this and you continue to use autoresponders (e.g., out of office replies), you’re autoresponding to the spammers. You’re letting them know that yours is a legitimate email address and the floods will keep rising.

Email is too important and something can easily fall through the cracks if you don’t stay on top of it. In my book, Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2007, I include lots of tips, tricks, and strategies for managing your life. And for hands-on training at your place or mine, check out my workshop (also available online).

Peggy Duncan, Time Management Expert