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The Writer’s 15 Step Guide to Keeping Your E-mail Organized {when you receive 200+ messages a day}
Karen Wiesner

The Writer’s 15 Step Guide to Keeping Your E-mail Organized {when you receive 200+ messages a day} The virtual world poses yet another shocking difference from the real world: What would you do if a van drove up to your house and unloaded an enormous box of mail every single day? If you’re anything like me, your cyber mailman delivers anywhere upwards of two hundred e-mail messages per day. I’d venture a guess most of us don’t get that much mail at Christmas, let alone in a week, and we’d probably pass out at the mere sight of 200 pieces of mail arriving in “hard copy” and needing our attention. Yet most of us manage to go through that much e-mail on a daily basis-even if it takes all day to do it and it leaves us with little or no life outside it.

I have very legitimate reasons for receiving so much mail, as I’m sure you do:

-write for four publishers, in a variety of genres.
-I do a monthly column that is contingent on receiving letters from my readers, which I then use for the column.
-I’m in a large number of writers groups who keep contact via e-mail listservs.
-Since I write an annual nonfiction on e-publishing, I have to keep abreast of what’s happening in the medium (via listservs, groups and newsletters.)
-I compile more than one group newsletter, each on a different topic and mailed out either quarterly or every other month.
-I’ve made dozens upon dozens of friends that I keep in touch with often.
-I get fan mail, requests for interviews, reviews, information, articles, etc.
-Then there the e-zines that offer promotional opportunities to me as a writer as well as useful information.
-And so on.

This isn’t all of the e-mail I receive, but you get the picture. I’m sure many of you have a list of legitimate reasons for receiving so much e-mail too. Since we’re resigned to the fact of receiving that much mail, how in the world do we keep track of everything enough to allow our days to involve more than reading and responding to e-mail?

Your E-Mail Program is Your Friend.

Everything you need to get organized and stay that way is in the program you use to send and receive e-mail. Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape, AOL or anything else you might use has features for systematizing you mail.

Your Inbox…

When you receive e-mail, it comes in automatically to your Inbox. That’s where we’re going to start on getting organized.

Step 1: As soon as you download your e-mail each day, go through the list of letters from top to bottom to read and respond to urgent e-mail (such as those from your publisher(s) or promotional opportunities that need instant replies), as well as deleting any spam you might get.

Step 2: Once you’ve done that, start on your listserv messages. I have mine come in the form of digests, which contain approximately 25 messages apiece. I find it much easier and certainly faster to receive digests of the messages, rather than individual messages, for each listserv I’m on. Instead of receiving those 25 messages you have to open one by one, you open only one. This will save you time. Consider that you’ll receive individual letters faster and you really can’t go by the subject lines in individual e-mails to give you a clue what the actual message contains. People are lazy, careless or ignorant and many times won’t change the subject line even if they’re talking about a completely different topic. I’d worry I might be eliminating something important if I didn’t open and glance at it before deleting it. With digest, you can simply scroll through the contents and skim the messages, reading those that interest you and passing by those that don’t.

Step 3: If you need to respond to something, evaluate whether it’s urgent (and respond immediately if it is), if it’s something you can answer in less than a minute (and do so) or if it’s something you need to respond to but not ASAP. In the latter case, cut and paste the message of import into a new e-mail, giving yourself a good idea what it’s about and how soon you need to respond in the subject line. Then send it to yourself.

Step 4: If there are promotional opportunities in the digest that aren’t urgent, cut and paste them into a new e-mail, again using the subject line to remind yourself what’s in the letter and the deadline before sending it to yourself.

Step 5: Once all your digests are read and deleted (they’ll be send to your Deleted Items folder automatically, and we’ll talk about that more later), respond to personal, non-urgent e-mails (i.e. friends, writer’s groups or those for work. In my case, those for my monthly column, newsletters I compile or something else I’m writing.)

Step 6: Following that, skim through e-zines and newsletters, cutting and pasting items into new e-mails to send to yourself if you need to.

Step 7: Send web site URLs to yourself if there’s something you want to view later, whenever you have time. If it’s critical, visit the web site right away and take care of business.

Step 8: If there’s an article or bit of information you want to read closer at a later time, cut and paste that into an e-mail and send them to yourself.

Step 9: Now that you’ve responded to all the really important stuff, download any new mail. Hopefully you won’t have too many, mostly the stuff you sent to yourself. Go through the steps above once more to get that list down. This shouldn’t take much longer than 15 minutes unless it’s a heavy mail day for you.

Virtual File Cabinets…

What you should be left with in your Inbox is now ready to be organized. To organize, you use the virtual equivalent to file cabinets-folders. Each e-mail program should have something similar.

Here are a couple examples of some of the folders I’ve created for my e-mail:

-Inkspot Column
-Eclectics Newsletter
-EPTDG Update
-Promotional Opportunities (or To Do)
-Web Page Updates
-Miscellaneous (a nice catch-all)

I also have sub-folders within these, such as:

-Inkspot Column

-EPTDG Update
-New Publishers
-Promo Chapter

Step 10: Now that your e-mail has been pared down, it’s time to transfer them into the appropriate folders, thereby leaving your Inbox empty of everything except those things you plan to do ASAP. I always feel like I deserve a medal when I get down to this step.

Step 11: Either now or later, do those ASAP things in your Inbox.

Step 12: Whenever you have free time, move into the individual folders and prioritize each message there by urgency and/or deadline.

Sent/Deleted Items…

If you receive a minimum of 200 messages a day, you’re going to have as much “trash” as you would if you received “real” mail. Even if the cyber variety can be easily hid, it still takes up a lot of room and slows down your entire system if you don’t do your housekeeping.

Step 13: Clean out your Sent and Deleted Items folders often. If you don’t have a lot of them, you could do them individually. Otherwise highlight the entire list and hit delete to permanently eliminate them from your system.

I used to ignore these until I simply couldn’t put it off any longer. My program ran at the speed of dead snail because I would have 3000-5000 messages in both my Sent and Deleted Items boxes. Even highlighting and deleting them as a whole took more than 15 minutes. Make emptying these folders part of your daily organization of e-mail.

Step 14: Get into the habit of CCing yourself on any message you think you might need a copy of later and immediately transfer that letter into your Miscellaneous or a more appropriate folder.

Step 15: Most e-mail programs also offer a neat option similar to a trash compactor. You can compact folders to free up space on your computer. I recommend doing this at least once a month.

If you find yourself overloaded with e-mail at times, consider suspending (going “no-mail” on) the less important mail you receive temporarily until you get caught up again. If you can’t ever seem to get caught up, cut out any mail that you can afford to miss permanently.

The key to staying organized in this chaotic world of cyber communication is to set priorities in how you read, respond and organize your mail. If you remain disciplined to the principle of method-to-your-madness, you can have your mail and a life too.


Karen Wiesner, named a "leading romance writer" by The Writer Magazine, is the best-selling author of the Gypsy Road Series, the Angelfire Trilogy, Dare to Love Series as well as upcoming Wounded Warriors Series (coming 2002) from Hard Shell Word Factory http://www.hardshell.com\. Her fiction novels from Hard Shell have been nominated for Romantic Times' 1999 E-Book of the Year, the Frankfurt Award http://www.iebaf.org/default.asp and multiple EPPIE's http://www.epicauthors.org. In Late 2001, Hard Shell Word Factory will publish ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING Q&A, the compilation of Karen's now-defunct Inkspot column. The book includes bonus columns never previously released.

Karen is also the author of ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING The Definitive Guide {The Most Complete Reference to Non-Subsidy E-Publishing}, a bestselling, Frankfurt nominated writer's reference. The Guide was a finalist in the 1999 EPPIE and won the 2000 EPPIE for Best Non-fiction. It was excerpted in the 2001 Writers Digest Novel & Short Story Market and made the Inscriptions Books of the Year list http://www.inscriptionsmagazine.com/BOTY.html. The 2002 Edition will be published by Avid Press, LLC http://www.avidpress.com shortly.

Avid Press is the publisher of Karen's first paranormal romance, SWEET DREAMS, which was a Reviewers' Top Pick for 2000 http://www.ebookconnections.com/Eclectic%20Reader/reviewers'_2000_picks.htm, received a coveted 4 1/2 star Top Pick review from Romantic Times Magazine and was a finalist in the prestigious 2001 Daphne du Maurier Award http://www.rwamysterysuspense.org.

Karen won the 2000 Inscriptions Engraver Award http://www.inscriptionsmagazine.com/Engravers.html for best online columnist, the Year 2000 for eXcellence in E-publishing Award: E-author from ebookadvisor and was a recipient of The Simply Charming Award for outstanding promotion of e-books. She was also nominated for the 2000 EPIC Florence Moyer Service Award. Upcoming releases for Karen include: A book of poetry, titled Soul Bleeds The Dark Poetry and Other Wanderings of K.S. Wiesner (Atlantic Bridge Publishing http://www.atlanticbridge.net, mid-September 2001); another non-fiction/writer's reference titled THE PRODUCTIVE WRITER {or how to avoid carpal tunnel with all those revisions} (Avid Press, LLC, Early 2002); a 5-book, interactive children's series called Making Good Choices (the first book in the series, "Taking Responsibility Builds Trust" will be released Late 2001 (Writer's Exchange E-Publishing http://www.writers-exchange.com/epublishing/); a children's story written with Linda Jablonicky, called THE CODY KNOWS CHRONICLES (CrossroadsPub.com, Late 2002); as well as the first book of the Wounded Warriors Series, RELUCTANT HEARTS (Hard Shell Word Factory, Early 2002.)

Projects in the works for Karen: a mainstream romantic suspense called NO ORDINARY LOVE, the second book of the Wounded Warriors Series--WAITING FOR AN ECLIPSE, as well as a psychological thriller written with author Christine Spindler http://www.christinespindler.com titled DEGREES OF SEPARATION.

Visit Karen Wiesner's website at http://www.karenwiesner.com

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