How to Get the Most Out of Your Email

Imagine you drive a new car that performs well above the requirements for public roads. The top speed is over 100 MPH, it handles sufficiently well, and it gets you from point A to point B without fuss. Your car meets your expectations and is reliable, so you probably don’t think much about it, but you definitely expect it to perform the same every time you drive it (probably for many years to come). Now imagine that your car can no longer perform as you expect: the top speed is only 40 MPH, it constantly veers to the left, there’s an awful knocking sound, and you aren’t sure it will even start each time you turn the key. You’re likely thinking “well, I’ll just take it to the auto mechanic and they’ll fix it,” but that may end up costing thousands of dollars and require you to be without a car for a while. What if there were things you could do to fix (or prevent) these problems yourself?

Such is the case with email. A fresh, empty mailbox on a new computer is about as good as it gets. Everything is fast and responsive, your email client opens quickly, and you never see the dreaded “not responding” message or spinning circles that infuriate you. Nothing lasts forever, though, and your email can quickly become a source of frustration. In the case of the car, regular maintenance is required, such as getting the oil changed, rotating the tires, or just cleaning it out occasionally. Email also requires regular maintenance. This whitepaper will explore some ways to keep your email performing like new and help make it a joy to use, rather than a burden.

I Hate Email, But I Need It

It should come as no surprise to anyone in the business world that email is consistently listed as the most important method of communication by many companies. It’s so critical, in fact, that users expect email to be available 24/7/365 and accessible from any type of device. However, availability and accessibility are not the only requirements to having an enjoyable email experience. What many users may not realize is that their own actions directly impact the speed and usability of their email.

You may have noticed that nowhere have I mentioned that companies list email as the most enjoyable activity in which users engage (or even enjoyable at all). Many users tend to think of it as a constant, annoying companion who periodically reminds them how behind they are or who needs what from them. Part of having a good email experience (if not enjoyable) is in coming to terms with your wordy, little friend and making the best of a necessary “evil.”

Spam I Am

One contributing factor to email annoyance is spam. The totals fluctuate quite a bit, but recent numbers put global spam volume at between 80 and 90% of all emails. Nearly every email system has some methods for blocking or quarantining spam, but they aren’t foolproof. It then becomes a responsibility of the user to clean up the spam that gets through.

However, spam comes in many forms. One of the most common forms of spam that tends to make it through a spam filter is mailing list spam. Every time you sign up for a newsletter, schedule an online appointment, or give out your email address to access a website, you increase your chance of receiving mailing list spam. You may wish to receive some of these emails, but it’s likely that many of them just serve to fill your inbox.

There are two good ways to not receive mailing list spam: don’t provide your email address on websites and unsubscribe from any mailing lists to which you are currently subscribed. In general, it’s a good idea to be “covert” on the Internet and NOT give out your email address except to websites you trust (and even then, be careful). Also, most legitimate mailing list emails will have a link at the bottom to unsubscribe. In most cases, unsubscribing will remove you from their mailing list and prevent you from receiving future spam from them.

All Add-ins Are Not Created Equal

Many methods of accessing your email provide very little in the way of customization. These are methods such as the email app on your mobile device or a webmail portal. However, computer applications, such as Outlook, allow a wide variety of add-ins to be installed. Many of these add-ins are hugely beneficial and are often required to allow other applications on your computer to interface with your email program. Such add-ins might include quick access your cloud email archive, a way to send emails to your CRM or line-of-business software, or even active scanning of emails for viruses.

While some add-ins are useful, all of them add some amount of overhead in the email application and decrease performance to some degree. The most obvious impact of add-ins can be seen when opening your email application, as they will invariably slow down the startup process. A small add-in may add only a fraction of a second, but large, invasive add-ins can add upwards of 10 seconds to startup times.

What this really means is that only those add-ins that are required should be loaded in your email application. Removing all unnecessary add-ins from your email application can improve startup times and application responsiveness by more than 50%. Identifying those necessary add-ins is best done by your IT administrator, but there are some that can be removed for most users. For example, Outlook 2013 comes with an add-in that allows integration with Facebook. If you don’t use that integration, then you don’t need the add-in. It’s as simple as that.

I Can Keep All of My Email Forever, Right?

One place where many users may not see a problem is in the size of their mailbox. As mailboxes get larger, performance decreases correspondingly. This slowness occurs both at the server level and in the user’s email application. Most users probably have no idea how large their mailbox is until it’s knocking down buildings in downtown Tokyo. Users have been self-trained to just keep every email that they send or receive, forever, under the assumption that someone else will keep the system performing acceptably. It certainly seems convenient to just have every email right there in your inbox, but how convenient is it when you can’t scroll through your mailbox because it contains 100,000 emails?

From the top down, mailbox quotas and retention policies are the solution of choice. If a user’s mailbox has a limit of 2 GB, then the user must stay within that size or risk not being able to send or receive emails. Similarly, if the company policy for email retention states that all emails older than 2 years are permanently deleted, then mailboxes are kept in check and are likely to grow at a much slower rate. In support of keeping a small mailbox, we also recommend bottomless email archiving in the cloud, such as through Mimecast. That means that all emails are kept in the cloud, regardless of whether or not you deleted it from your mailbox.

Independent of whether or not your company enforces mailbox quotas or retention policies, you can personally delete (or archive, if allowed) emails to shrink your mailbox. We recommend keeping your mailbox smaller than 2 GB for best performance, but anything smaller than 10 GB will still provide reasonable performance. Deleting emails is difficult for many users, as they must fight the urge to keep everything. The hardest battle in getting users to decrease mailbox size is user habit!

A Method to the Madness

As part of the process of achieving the ultimate goal of a lean, mean mailbox, there are a few email organizational techniques that can assist you. These techniques involve ways of dealing with email so that working towards a small mailbox becomes second nature and occurs automatically, not something you have to consciously remember to do.

One option is to install an email organization application, such as Atrendia, that forces a specific set of behaviors when dealing with emails. The basic premise is that your inbox should always be empty. Any emails that arrive are prioritized and either dealt with or assigned an action. The downside to such an application (besides costing money) is that it requires an add-in and is only available in your

computer email application (not on your mobile device or via webmail). However, it’s a very good way to enforce good email behavior.

Alternatively, you can adopt some similar behaviors on your own without having to enforce them through a separate application. Examples of such behaviors are:

1) If an email does not require action from you or contain information you need, delete it!

2) Once you’ve responded to an email or are otherwise finished with it, delete it. Don’t keep unnecessary emails in your mailbox.

3) Make sure your deleted items folder is emptied regularly (such as when the email application is closed).

4) Identify emails that you MUST keep and file them away in a separate folder, either by category or subfolder

5) Remember that, in most cases, every email to which you reply will be stored in your sent items. This means that you don’t need to keep the original email anymore, since you can still find it in your sent items folder.

Just a few minor changes to the way you manage emails can make a significant difference in mailbox size, which can drastically improve mailbox performance.

Disciplinary Actions

While the methods and techniques I’ve already listed sound good on paper and are almost guaranteed to provide at least some improvement in performance for your email, they can only take you so far. At the end of the day, it comes down to discipline in maintaining your mailbox. Decide what rules you will adopt and stick to them, even when it becomes difficult or inconvenient. Eventually, it will become second nature and you’ll wonder why you ever had a large mailbox in the first place.

Much like your car can eventually become unusable due to lack of maintenance, so can your email. It doesn’t do much good to drive on streets with a 60 MPH speed limit if your car can only go 40 MPH. Similarly, your company’s email system may be more than capable, but a large mailbox and overly burdened email application will make it all seem slow and frustrating.

ONE MORE THING: ENTRUST offers a number of email-enhancing services that can take your email experience to the next level, such as Atrendia and Mimecast mentioned in this whitepaper. Please reach out to us for more information.