Message Management

FRAMINGHAM (07/24/2000) - Kevin Miles might be the most efficient e-mail user around. As chief technology officer for Mix Inc.'s, a Kansas City, Mo., online marketplace for specialty retailers, Miles receives as many as 75 e-mails per day.

While that's not an unmanageable number, it's enough to keep many people's in-boxes cluttered and eventually results in a number of directories stuffed with old messages.

But Miles, who uses Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes, says he has about 100 archived messages, a stark contrast to the throngs who keep all pertinent messages handy just in case. Miles' golden rule: He only keeps a message if it's likely to be useful during the next year.

"I try to take action, delete it and move on," he says.

While Miles spends one hour per day sending and receiving e-mails, he is the exception to the rule. According to Ferris Research, a San Francisco firm that has been compiling statistics on workplace e-mail usage, American workers with access to corporate e-mail are spending an average of 2.2 hours per day reading 19 messages and sending another 14. Ferris projects that within a year, workers will spend 2.6 hours per day reading 34 e-mails and sending 23.

David Ferris, the firm's research director, says the increasing amount of time workers spend on e-mail is causing them to work longer hours. The problem, he says, is worse among IT professionals.

Miles manages his e-mail by breaking his incoming messages into three groups: action items, such as internal communication or customer interaction; informational messages, such as administrative updates or research; and junk.

The key is the swiftness with which he answers everything that requires a response. By keeping his e-mail flow under tight control, Miles ensures it never becomes an obstacle to his productivity.

"As much as I'd like to say e-mail is a nuisance, it's not," he says. "It clearly helps facilitate communication."

Golan Zohar, a technical manager for Whale Communications in Fort Lee, N.J., a network security software vendor, agrees, although his approach to managing e-mail is different. Zohar receives a more manageable 30 e-mails per day, but spends about 30% of his time reading, responding to and managing his e-mail.

That's because he is an e-mail pack rat with thousands of messages archived for convenient reference.

"I save everything, and I almost never delete my trash," he says. "You never know."

Zohar goes to great lengths to make his mailbox manageable. In addition to employing a system of multiple directories - for filing messages by topic, product, sender and so on - he set up Microsoft Copr.'s Outlook's built-in rules to route messages to the appropriate folders automatically. Zohar points out all this work is necessary given the growing role of e-mail in workplace communications.

"Everything is done via e-mail," he says. "If you want to purchase something, you send an e-mail. If you need to travel, you send an e-mail. If you want to have a meeting, you send an e-mail. If you want to talk with someone, you send an e-mail."

Miles and Zohar have it easy compared with Karey Barker. Barker, director of network systems for global public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard in St.

Louis, says she spends 80% of her day reading, sending, looking for and referring to e-mails. She estimates she receives as many as 150 e-mails each day.

Barker relies on filtering software to weed out spam and has programmed her Outlook rules to automatically sort incoming messages by sender or subject.

Just as important is the diligence with which she manages her in-box throughout the day.

"I like to keep my in-box clean," Barker says. "Otherwise, it makes me feel very unorganized."

Barker says Fleishman-Hillard educates its staff on managing e-mail. Among the practices it recommends to employees:

Act immediately on messages, whether that means responding, filing or deleting.

Empty deleted and sent items folders daily.

Participate in internal training sessions on using and getting the most out of e-mail software.

Dana Gardner, an analyst with Boston's Aberdeen Group Inc., says organizations will need to be proactive about making the management of e-mail a priority as the volume of messages continues to rise.He predicts companies in larger numbers will outsource Web-based e-mail as such services introduce more robust management tools.

Despite the gloom-and-doom predictions about e-mail's affect on IT workers' lives, Zohar chooses to accept what's coming rather than brace for it.

"I don't see a need to combat this," he says. "Why fight the future?"

Kontzer is a freelance writer in San Jose. He can be reached at

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