7 Tips for Overcoming E-Mail Overload

Tricks and tools for keeping your inbox in order.

ByABC News
September 7, 2010, 4:43 PM

Sept. 8, 2010— -- When it comes to e-mail, it's easy to feel like you're always playing catch-up.

Especially after a long weekend or holiday away, managing an overflowing inbox can seem like a never-ending battle.

But e-mail experts say that with a bit of discipline – and a few tricks and high-tech tools – it's possible to tame the beast.

Take a look at a few of their tips below.

1. Filters Aren't Just for Spam

Chances are that you use a filter to keep irritating spam out of your inbox, but technologists say you can use those filter functions to keep your legitimate e-mail organized too.

Instead of letting every piece of mail pass through the inbox first, use filtering options to direct them straight on to separate folders.

"Have certain messages go directly into folders that you can look at just when you want to," said Joanne Cantor, director of the Center for Communication Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and author of "Conquer CyberOverload."

Cantor said she uses them for professional newsletters, sale notices, political messages and other kinds of e-mail that she may not want to delete but wants to read on her own time.

Most major e-mail services offer a filter function that lets you filter messages by sender, subject or key words. As mail comes in, you can create a rule that applies to other similar messages. Or you can create folders after the fact.

"These are things that I don't want to completely ignore but I don't want them to interrupt me day by day," she said.

2. Do You Need to Receive Messages in Real-Time?

For some people, always-on e-mail applications are a necessity. But for others, receiving e-mail messages as they arrive can be distracting.

If your job or personal life doesn't require that you respond to messages instantaneously, Cantor suggests changing the settings so that messages only arrive, say, every half-hour or hour.

"Make interruptions less frequent," she said.

Cantor herself has taken her advice to an extreme, adjusting her settings so that messages don't show up in her inbox at all -- unless she knows she's expecting something.

"I make an affirmative choice to look to see if I have mail," she said.

The strategy may not work for everyone, but she advises those who can to limit the disruption.