Saturday, 7 April 2018

Personal Management 101: Taking back control of your inbox and social media alerts

Nine or ten thousand unread emails seems to be normal for typical student these days. And then they wonder why they might not have seen that important email from me! Or why they did see it, marked it as unread, and subsequently forgot to respond. Somebody’s (or many-bodies) inbox needs sorting out!

And here’s some handy tips to help you do just that.

Understand the importance of email

No doubt, you’re used to receiving communications in a variety of formats on a daily basis. WhatsApp messages, Twitter mentions and DMs, text messages, emails to multiple accounts, not to mention communication via Snapchat, Instagram, and all the other social media platforms that you’re signed up to. On top of that there are the occasional to rare phonecalls. Sometimes working out what’s important or not important can be very difficult. I’m even reliably informed that people’s mums prefer to WhatsApp their children than call them these days, so, yes, understanding what’s important can be close to impossible.

Outside of work settings, emails – which revolutionised communication in the nineties (before that it was just fax machines, the postal system, and good old-fashioned landlines, when they were just called telephones because there was no other type of phone) – have quickly gone out of fashion. Everyone has an email account (if not 3 or 4), but for many it’s a less than popular form of communication. Fair enough. Apart from the fact that some very important information is still passed on via email. Those who work in the real world (university lecturers, sports scholarship providers, national governing bodies, prospective employers – the important people, basically) are not just more likely to contact you by email, but in some cases it is the only form of communication open to them. Emails are important! University emails are particularly important, and while you may not want to receive emails berating you for not attending class, they may still be useful and important. Get into the habit of checking your university email account on a regular basis.

Deal with things straight away

Delete unwanted emails when you see them. Respond to emails that require a response straight away – you’re going to have to respond anyway, so why not do it now. If you don’t have time to respond, then why are you checking your emails right now? Find a time of the day where you can check your emails, delete unwanted ones, and respond where appropriate.

Reduce the number of promotional emails you receive

The biggest contributor to unread emails are promotional newsletters from companies which you have purchased things from before. They are emails which you never will, or never have to, read. is a major offender, along with other hotel and travel sites, online retailers, etc. They send you emails for no other reason than to promote further products and services to you. Reducing or getting rid of these is a good starting point.

1. Take note of the people you get emails from that you never read
2. Unsubscribe from their mailing list (all promotional emails should have an ‘unsubscribe’ option at the bottom. Some email providers, e.g. Hotmail, will let you delete old emails from that sender when unsubscribing)
3. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to receive important emails from these people (e.g. booking confirmations), you should still be able to update your preferences
4. When buying online in the future, make sure that you untick the box to receive further promotional information from these suppliers (or tick the box that says you don’t want to receive their promotional emails)

Some providers offer additional tidy-up features and tools to help you stay on top of your important emails. Gmail, for example, gives you the option to separate your inbox into personal, social and promotional folders. It is not completely fool proof, in that some important emails can end up in the social or promotional folders, but it is a good starting point.

Reduce your social media alert emails

Social media alerts are another big contributor to unread emails. All social media platforms will give you the option to select what alerts you receive. In most cases you will only need to know when someone has sent you a direct message that you may need to respond to. You don’t need to know that Jonny responded to Mary’s post or that Paddy liked Jimmy’s picture. When you get an email about something on social media, it should be a prompt to check that social media platform and respond accordingly (not that most people need reminding that to check their social media accounts these days).

Remember junk is not always junk

Occasionally, important emails can end up in your junk email. Check your junk folder from time to time and make sure that no genuine mail is ending up in there. Sometimes emails from senders you don’t respond to, or emails that are sent to multiple recipients can inadvertently end up with the spam folder alongside the offers of money from Nigerian princes, and the phishing emails from fake Paypal accounts. If valuable emails are ending up in the junk folder, take time to mark them as safe, and add the sender to your safe list. If you’re a little unsure if someone is genuine or not, hovering over the sender to see what their email address is, is usually a good starting point. Most scammers have very fake looking addresses.

Get over the FOMO!

We probably all suffer a bit from the fear of missing out. But while we’re so busy making sure that we’re not missing out on social media conversations and updates, we’re actually missing out on what’s going on around us. Yes, the internet can help you stay in touch with friends, help you punch in time while on a bus or waiting in a queue, and be an important source of information, but you should never be living your entire life via the internet and social media. Decide what things you need to be informed of (and the latest Kim Kardashian news probably isn’t really that interesting), what alerts you really need to receive on your phone (remembering that you don’t need your phone to ‘ding’ every time someone shares a rabbit-ear selfie of themselves), what you really need the internet for, and then get busy living your real life. Give the real world your full attention.

Reduce study-time distractions

Many students tell me that they can’t study at home. That there are too many distractions. That the only place they can study is in the library, and that getting to the library takes up too much time. Realising that their phone is the biggest distraction, and learning to put it away during study time, can revolutionise their productivity and how they study. Unless you’re waiting for an important phonecall, you don’t need your phone anywhere near you while you’re studying. Be disciplined. And if you do need the internet to check facts or get additional information, make a list of things you need to look up, and do them all together when you need a break after a productive hour or two. If you are working on a laptop, PC or tablet, make sure that you don’t have notifications popping up in the corner and distracting you from what you should be doing.

There are numerous different ways of communicating. Yes, there will be important stuff that you shouldn’t miss (emails from your university, what’s app notifications from your club, perhaps, and text messages from your mum), but you don’t always need to know what everyone else is doing and thinking every moment of every day. Monitor what is important to you, and take steps to ensure that you receive the important stuff, and are not distracted by they unimportant stuff. Taking a few easy steps will help ensure that you are living the life you want for yourself, not somebody else’s fake social media life.

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