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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Organize e-mail

Dear Sue: I need to find a way to deal with and organize all of the e-mail I receive. I haven't been able to find anything written on the subject, but there must be someone who has figured out an effective way to handle e-mail. Do you have any tips on the subject?

- Evaluating e-mail

Sue Says: You are not alone -- around 70 percent of the employees in Fortune 1000 companies say they are overwhelmed by the volume of e-mail they receive, according to Breck England, director of communication solutions with the Franklin Covey Organization.

The principles of managing e-mail are similar to the principles for sorting standard mail. Most people go through their mail and sort it very quickly -- trashing junk mail, separating the bills, magazines and personal letters into piles. Things that need to be saved get filed; the rest gets the round file.

England offers these guidelines for effectively managing e-mail:

  • Put first things first--prioritize incoming mail. Read important mail first (not necessarily the messages flagged urgent). Mail from your customers, manager, or team members might be more important. 
  • Use the features of your e-mail system to filter out mail you don't want or need. 
  • File messages you need to save in the right folders. 
  • Delete mail from unknown sources without opening -- it may be worse than time consuming and irrelevant-it may contain viruses. 
  • Delete (without opening) mail that comes from known sources if you're pretty sure it's irrelevant to you. The subject line is the best indicator of relevance. 
  • Respond immediately to e-mail, even if it's just to give a quick summary answer. 
  • Delete from your mailbox messages you have read. Don't let opened mail accumulate. 
  • Check mail regularly, remembering to open high-priority items first.

Knowing that most people go through their mail quickly, and automatically trash large amounts of the e-mail they receive, it is important to do what you can to insure your mail will be opened.

Many people put all of their time into writing a message, giving little thought to the subject line. The subject line is the first thing read, and critical in helping people determine whether the message is relevant and important enough to take the time to read

Take the time up front to create a subject line that is as enticing and as informative as possible.

Try to summarize your message in the subject line, and give your reader a reason to want to read further. Keep in mind that most people will not read past the first screen of an e-mail message, so keep your message short and to the point -- and on one screen whenever possible. It not only benefits the reader, but aids the writer as well.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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