Stem e-mail overload

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The three-mailbox system

If you’re struggling to find a useful way of categorizing your e-mail—particularly e-mail that still requires your attention—consider taking a page from the Getting Things Done system (see “The Secret to Getting Things Done”). Rather than filing messages according to subject matter or sender, file them according to when you need to act on them.

To set up this system, create three mailboxes (one for each type of message that demands your attention). Start with an Act On mailbox to hold messages that require action but that you can’t process right away. Next, create a Waiting For mailbox for messages that you can’t act on until someone provides you with additional information. And finally, create a Read & Review mailbox for lower-priority messages that you’ll look at when you have time.

Respond to messages immediately if you can. If you can’t, file them in the appropriate mailbox. Whenever you have some spare time, open the Act On mailbox and deal with as many messages as time permits.

Beef up Mail

If you like using Apple Mail but feel limited by its search and sorting features, two add-ons from indev will give you some needed power:

MailTags: This $25 utility enhances Spotlight searches by letting you apply keywords and categories to both incoming and outgoing messages. For example, you can tag all messages pertaining to your dissertation with the keyword dissertation. Later, if you perform a search in Spotlight, it’ll find all messages tagged as being relevant to your dissertation, even if some of the messages don’t include that word in the subject line or message content (   ).

Mail Act-On: This free plug-in lets you apply specific rules to selected messages, using keyboard shortcuts. Ordinarily, all rules apply sequentially to all incoming messages. But with Mail Act-On, you can create special rules that apply only when you invoke them. For example, you could create a key sequence that means “file this message in my Friends mailbox” or “send this canned reply to this person” (   ).

Tip: When in doubt, keep it

You should feel free to delete spam and any ephemeral messages, such as the announcement of a new product line at your local kitchenware store, as they come in. But don’t be overzealous about tossing old mail. With today’s generous hard drives, there’s little point in deleting legitimate correspondence. Instead, tuck it away where it won’t be in your way, but where you can easily find it if you need to. You never know when you’ll suddenly need to remember the name of the bass player your cousin was dating last year.

[ Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups (Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

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