Woman surrounded by emails

Last week I had a bit of a panic with my newsletter. As always, I check my email just after 10:00 am to see that the message has been delivered OK. However, by 10.15 nothing had arrived, and I was worried that it hadn’t been sent. So, I logged into my email marketing system, MailChimp, to find that the newsletter had been sent, delivered and already opened by several hundred people. So why didn’t I get mine? According to the analytics reports, it had been delivered successfully. You guessed it already, I am sure. It had arrived but was in my spam folder.

Yes, my own newsletter, sent by me, to myself, was treated by the spam filter as something I would not want. That was despite having successfully sent out and received my newsletter online for over 20 years. I wanted to know what was going on.

All of my emails to my various email addresses get diverted to a single Gmail account. In the past few weeks, it turns out that the spam filters at Gmail have had something of a hiccup, reporting things as being spam, when they are not, at the same time as letting unwanted emails through to the inbox.

This has happened at a difficult point because the COVID pandemic has seen a significant surge in spam. The spammers probably have more time on their hands. Plus, I guess they figure that with more people at home, there’s an increased opportunity.

The combination of increased spam and weakened filters means only one thing. You are getting more and more unwanted emails each day. They are taking up about four hours of your working week – almost nine days a year. That’s near enough the equivalent of your annual holiday spent entirely on dealing with spam. Would you take two weeks off just to do that?

It would be best if you got control back; otherwise, you are going to spend more time on unnecessary tasks in your email system. First, go to “Have I Been Pwned” (yes, that is the correct spelling…!). Enter your email address and check the results. If hackers have stolen your email address, it’s almost certainly been sent to spammers. So, it’s time to ditch that email address and get a new one. You might have an address that is your name, such as “graham.jones@”. This could be a convention within your office, or it could be useful for branding. But if your email address has been stolen, changing it will work out better in the long run. For instance, I could change to “gjones@”. There is always a way around email naming conventions that will get you out of the clutches of the spammers.

The second thing to do is to “blacklist” or filter out all those unwanted delivery addresses. Do this in your email program or service, and then all those unwanted emails will never arrive – not even in your spam folder. You will just never see them.

Also, it’s a good idea to add all your wanted address to the “whitelist” as that will ensure they don’t mistakenly go into the spam folder, saving you time searching for emails that have “gone missing”. (I’ve now whitelisted myself, by the way, to avoid last week’s error…!).

If you need an email address to sign up for things or to test things, use a service like Ten Minute Email. This gives you a “disposable” email address. You can use those to access something, but then you will never receive any further information or spam as the email you used will no longer exist.

Taking these steps will give you more time to deal with the valid emails, rather than wasting hours each week on spam. However, taking control of your email is not over then.

Many people waste time sorting emails. There is no need to do that anymore because the search facilities on email systems are good. Just read the email, deal with it then archive it. You can automate this process in most email systems, which will archive emails once they have been read. A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sort their emails into various folders spend about 25 minutes each day doing that and take 37% longer to reply to messages than people who have no folder structure. They also found that if you leave processed emails in your inbox, that adds another 25 minutes to your working day.

The message from this study is clear. Deal with an email, then move it into a single archive. And if you have ensured your spam load is at an absolute minimum, you’ll save yourself a day a week.

Given that we are in a recession and that we are going to need to work even harder to compete and succeed, we need to use our time wisely and productively. Getting your email system under control would be an excellent place to start so you can regain that extra day and thereby do more productive activities.