What AwayFind Has Taught Me About Managing Email

I have a confession to make. I like getting email.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. And a reader. I actually enjoy peering into my inbox, seeing who is reaching out to me, what new opportunities might be there, or just checking to see if I’ve heard from a friend. I actually find it kind of fun.

However, over the past couple of years, since becoming self-employed full time, getting involved in many social networks, and now as a college professor with between 30 and 80 students at any given time, the amount of email I get has expanded to sometimes unmanageable proportions. I knew I had to start to think about email differently. It was getting to the point where I wasn’t liking it so much anymore.

A couple of months ago, I discovered an interesting tool called AwayFind. As I explored it more and more, I thought it was a great idea. You see, one of my major issues with email was that I found myself checking it far too often. It was the major way that people were contacting me, and I found that if I didn’t check it often enough, I’d miss urgent stuff. Then I’d be spending time late into the evening dealing with all of that urgent stuff that I’d missed. So to ensure I wouldn’t miss anything, I was checking all the time. It simply wasn’t productive.

AwayFind had a solution to this. It was simple – I sign up to the service (free for a basic account), and put a tag line at the bottom of my email, directing anyone who needs to reach me urgently to click a link, and be redirected to a simple form where they can leave their message. This message then gets sent to my phone as an SMS text message, and I see it right away.

I thought it was a great idea, so I set it up, and was telling lots of people in my networks about it. Then suddenly, I got a message from Jared Goralnick, founder of AwayFind, thanking me for the promotion. I told him I’d be happy to post a review on my blog at some point, and he kindly set me up with a pro account to try. (The pro account offers more very useful customization features and is pretty cheap at just $50 US a year).

I’ve had the service for a few months now, and I’ve discovered something interesting. Nobody has used it. But that is totally okay. Because, I feel as if I’ve got a new peace of mind when it comes to my email. I know that I’ve given people a method to route urgent messages to me if they need to. So if I go half a day or even a whole day without reading email, I feel pretty confident that I’m not missing anything that can’t be handled in the regular manner. It’s great!

Jared is not just pimping his tool, either. He has a complete package. If you sign up for the Pro plan, you get access to his terrific, free eBook entitled “The Guide to NOT Checking Email”. It provides lots of great useful tips for how to manage your email.

Over the past several months, I’ve  totally revamped the way I deal with email. It’s in part thanks to Jared and AwayFind, and the tips I learned in his e-Book. It’s also just about finding the way things work for me. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

Consolidate. For a long time, I used a desktop tool to manage my email. Sometimes it was Outlook. I became a fan of Thunderbird too. I had a Gmail account for personal email, but I only used it for that account. I have three email accounts I use regularly. My work email, for all my Jester stuff, my Gmail account, which is my personal account and the one that is linked to all my social media profiles, and my college account, for my communications with my students. About a year ago, I started forwarding my college email and work email to my Gmail inbox. Having everything in one place AND having it web based means I log in once to see everything. I can access it all from my iPhone or any web browser.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Because i have an iPhone, I have access to my email wherever I am. This can be a blessing AND a curse. It can become a bit of nuisance to be notified every time a new message is received. So first, I turned off the email notification sound. But I still found that everytime I opened up my phone, that big red number representing new emails was staring me in the face. Even with my AwayFind notification service, I couldn’t resist the temptation to check. So I moved my mail icon to the 2nd page of applications in my phone. Now, it’s not on my home screen anymore. Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t have an iPhone? At least turn off your notifications. That includes flashing lights. You’ll check WAY less often.

Use Filters. Gmail is great because of its labeling and filtering features. I’ve got multiple categories set up, and many filters applied. All of my college email flies right past my inbox into a special folder and I only check it twice a week. My students know this, so they have an expectation of when they will get a reply from me. All of my Twitter DMs and new follow notifications also filter directly to a folder, so I can check these when I have time. Even my work voicemail goes to its own folder. With all of my filters and labels in place, the amount of email that actually goes in my inbox each day has been significantly reduced. Honestly, setting up labels and filters may take a bit of time, but it will be your biggest time saver.

Clean out that inbox! At the end of each day, before I shut down, I go into my inbox and file everything. I delete emails that are not necessary any longer, I file anything outstanding in a “follow up” folder, and reply or forward what I need to. I have a paper list that I mark emails, calls, and To Dos that are generated out of my inbox. This allows me to start each morning with a clean slate, and I can go to bed with a clear head. It may seem daunting to try and do this if you get a lot of emails. I probably get 100 emails a day, which is moderate amount compared to some people. But by keeping my inbox clean and filing dilligently, I don’t usually get very far behind.

So there you have it – my email tips. If you want peace of mind from your email, I highly recommend giving AwayFind a try. I am working on getting to the point where I only check email a couple of times a day. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting better. What I have learned is that when I’m not attached to my email, problems tend to sort themselves out  without any intervention from me. Also, I’m FAR more productive overall. I can give dedicated time to the task at hand.

I’d love to hear other tips you might have. Please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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  • January 13, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Great idea. As an Email Administrator, I have to deal with users with large mailboxes that do not cleaned out often. Email management is not a priority for a lot of us. I myself get a huge amount of email due to server monitoring and other distribution lists I am on. My personal emails are just insane due to spam and friends and some notifications from my social networks. I may check out this AwayFind you mentioned. I do not check email on my phone so I have to wait till I get to a computer and I am fine with that. I do not mind having to wait. Great tips and thank you for sharing.

  • January 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks for writing this thorough review after using the product for a few months. I really enjoy hearing people’s experiences with they’ve tackled their email issues, and you’ve offered a lot of practical suggestions here! Isn’t it amazing how we learn that few if any of the messages we receive are really emergencies!

    Jared / AwayFind

    Jared Goralnick’s last blog post..“The company you keep” part 2: forcing success upon yourself

  • January 15, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Great post. We all need help taming the beast.

    I’m on several boards and committees, all of which generate a lot of email that shouldn’t clog up my work email. I use gmail forwarding with filters to put them all into one inbox, so I only have 3 places to check: my old hotmail acct that I use to sign up for things I don’t need to see right away; 1 gmail inbox that shows everything for 4 accts w/most emails prelabeled; and Outlook for work.

    I use folders aggressively in my Outlook account. Another little trick that I find not everyone knows is that you can drag an Outlook email onto the calendar or task list. It creates the new appointment or task with the body of the email (including the header info) in the note space. I still have to file the original email in the relevant folder, but I’ve created the action item pretty quickly.

    A really radical thing I started doing a few months ago: I call people. On the phone.

    I realized that I was using email for communications that really don’t belong in that space.

    Prime example: setting meetings or coffee dates with just one or two people. The reply-all death spiral proposing different times, days and locations is crazy-making.

    Reply-all is good for a lot of excess in-box filler in general. I try to be selective in how many people get cc’d in the first place, and I’ll prune the list (& note in the email that I’ve done so and why) if it seems to make sense.

    Another cue that it’s time to get out of the email space is the second long email on a complicated or thorny topic that has generated a long reply from someone else.

    If I find myself typing an email that tries to explain, justify, defend, or convince at length, generally I stop. None of those efforts will really succeed in that communications space, and they’re more apt to exacerbate than to solve the root problem. It’s probably time to walk down the hall or pick up the phone.

    These are qualitative/content issues, but they end up feeding quantity as well, at least in my in-box.


    Barb Chamberlain’s last blog post..Family Labels: Fifth Chinese Daughter, Uninteresting Middle Daughter, Favorite Second Daughter



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