How to Deal With Email Overload
When you blog for a living, you get a LOT of email. Like, a LOT of email.
Actually, scratch that: no matter WHAT you do for a living, you get a lot of email. When you EXIST and you have an email account, you get a lot of email, for God’s sake. But when you have a blog, you get EVEN MORE EMAIL, and when you have more than one blog? ALL THE EMAIL. So. Much. Email. Enough email, in fact, that you start to feel like replying to the email is your actual job, and the blogging is just something you do on the side, in rare moments when there isn’t yet another email to answer from someone wondering if you can “just pop round” to their event in central London this lunchtime. Er, are you getting the fact that I get a lot of email? People, I get a lot of email. And until a few months ago, I was getting even more: here’s how I first of all reduced the number of emails I receive every day, and deal with all the rest…
01. UNSUBSCRIBE. FROM EVERYTHING.
I know this is really obvious, but how often do you actually do it? In my case, “not enough” is the answer: I almost never check the “subscribe to our newsletter” option when I’m on a website (Um, you should totally sign up to mine, though!), but I still somehow manage to end up on every mailing list going, and most of them seem to involve daily (or even twice-daily) emails, most of which are sent to every single email address I’ve ever owned. Fun.
Unsubscribing to them all takes a lot of patience (And you should only click the “unsubscribe” link on emails you know are genuine: i.e. newsletters from stores you’ve shopped at, etc. The ‘unsubscribe’ link in dodgy emails – like the ones telling you The Prince of Outer Falloulaland has died and left you $5 million, say – often just tells the sender they managed to get through to a real person, so they’ll just send you even MORE spam…), and is often only a temporary solution, but it’s worth doing, and it’s worth being ruthless about. Seriously, do you even read all of those messages, or do you just tell yourself you’ll check them out later, then never get round to it? Because I do.
I’ve now unsubscribed from all newsletters, all social media alerts and basically everything else that comes with an “unsubscribe” link. I do still get email notifications of blog comments, which I consider to be along the same lines as “personal” messages, but everything else is gone – for now, anyway.
02. SET UP A SPAM FILTER
This time last year, I was getting literally thousands of emails every day. Sometimes I’d get 100 copies of the same damn spam message – and then the next day I’d get 100 more. Add to that all of the newsletters, the Twitter and Facebook alerts, the press releases about National Toenail Awareness Month, and I had approximately zero chance of ever wading through all of that to get to the genuine messages.
A few months ago, it had gotten so bad that every time I refreshed my email it would start downloading another couple of hundred messages. I’d tried using all of the junk filters that come with my email programme, but they weren’t making much difference, so instead I turned to Box Trapper, which is a service provided by my email provider to prevent spam. Once it’s activated, Box Trapper filters spam by requiring everyone not on my whitelist to verify their email address before their message is delivered.
Once you’ve done it once, you don’t have to do it again, and while I’m sure it’s probably a bit a annoying for some people, it has seriously reduced the amount of spam I received, and basically saved my sanity. It’s not perfect, obviously, and there’s always the chance that I could miss something important, but I’ve found that if people really want to talk to me they’ll be willing to spend two seconds clicking the link to verify their email – and if they’re not willing to do that, they were probably trying to contact me about my million dollar inheritance, or trying to sell me viagra, so it’s no huge loss.
03. BEEF UP YOUR CONTACT PAGE
Of course, not all of the irrelevant emails I get are spam. A huge amount come from brands, PR firms, and SEO firms who want me to write about their product. Some of those emails are welcome, and relevant to my blog, but the vast majority of them are on topics I don’t cover, or are asking me to do things I wouldn’t even consider – examples here. Even more are event invitations, and as nice as it is to be invited to something, almost all of those are for events in London (or, in some cases, cities in America). I’d estimate that around 80% of my daily email is invitations to London events or meetups, which I can’t attend, on account of the small matter of me living 400 miles away.
One of the ways I’ve tried to minimise the amount of emails that aren’t spam, but also aren’t relevant to me, is to include some information on my contact page which attempts to provide answers to the questions I get most often, and to make clear what kind of collaborations I’ll be open to. So, rather than simply providing my email address, which is what I used to do, I now have links to my F.A.Q page, and to my sponsorship and review policy, which aims to let brands know what it’s worth emailing me about and what isn’t. I also specifically state on the page that I don’t accept guest posts (I get dozens of emails about this every day), don’t take part in blogger contests, and am not able to respond to emails relating to events outside of central Scotland.
Does it work? Honestly, it’s hard to say. I’m tempted to say that no, it doesn’t, because I DO still get tons of emails asking about all of the things I’ve specifically said I’m not interested in, and it’s hard to know how many I WOULD have got if I didn’t have this information on my contact page. For me, though, the main reason for having it there is so I don’t feel under pressure to sit and personally respond to emails asking me to do things I’ve clearly said people shouldn’t expect a response to. Which brings me to my next point…
04. KNOW WHEN TO HIT THE DELETE BUTTON
Someone asked me on last week’s post whether I actually reply to some of the more insulting emails I get from brands. The answer is that no, I don’t. I used to: I used to reply to every single email I got (Well, other than the viagra offers, and the ones telling me I won a lottery I didn’t even enter, obviously…), but as the volume of email I receive every day has steadily increased, it’s reached a point where – even with my spam filter enabled – if I was to reply to all of them, I wouldn’t actually have time to blog.
Deliberately ignoring emails can feel very rude and unprofessional, and I’m sure there are some people who will look down on me for doing it, but I think you have to draw the line somewhere. You can’t make yourself available to every single person who contacts you, and the fact is that some of them are wasting both your time and their own. My line is drawn at the point where I start to receive emails which are asking me to break the law (all of those “we want you to do a sponsored post but not disclose it” ones), which insult me by asking me to work for nothing or demanding that I post something about their product, or which are obviously mass mailings, addressed to “Dear Forever” or simply “Blogger”: if someone couldn’t even be bothered to find out my name, they’re probably not sitting on the edge of their seat, waiting for my response to that email they sent to me and 500 other bloggers!
05. PUT TOGETHER SOME CANNED RESPONSES
Finally, for the messages that don’t meet the “delete” criteria, I have a series of canned responses ready to copy and paste into an email response. “Sorry, but I don’t accept guest posts,” “Sorry, but I live in Scotland, so I can’t attend your London event,” “Sorry, but I don’t take part in blogger contests…” Sure, they’re quite impersonal, but then again, so are the messages they’re responding to (I don’t send canned messages to people who have obviously taken the time to personalise their message to me), and if I was to sit and craft personal responses to every single generic event invitation I get, it wouldn’t leave much time for anything else. I also feel that if the person emailing me doesn’t know that I live in Scotland, then they probably didn’t actually look at my blog, and just got my email address from a mailing list, in which case they won’t be expecting a highly personal response.
There are, of course, many other ways to manage email effectively, and I have to admit that, even with all of these measures, it’s still something I struggle to stay on top of. I know a lot of people use the “two minute rule”, which states that anything that can be dealt with in less than two minutes should be dealt with immediately, and others operate “Inbox zero” policies, meaning they don’t close down their computer for the night until all of their email has been answered. For me, those kind of solutions tend to be ones I start using with the best of intentions, only to give up after a few days, so while I think they’re great ideas, the fact that they’d require me to essentially change my personality have made them a little unrealistic for me!
What about you? How do you deal with email?