Email Efficiency and Safety

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by Barbara Florio Graham

A friend and I were reminiscing recently about the early days of email. We were members of a writing group who joined one of the earliest email providers in Canada in order to keep in touch with members across the country.

Our organization had just arranged for a bulk purchase of the Kaypro II computer, so many of us were early users of this new technology, which contained programs on 5-inch floppies that were inserted into one slot and a blank floppy was inserted into the second slot, enabling the user to store a mind-boggling 191k of data.

The ability to copy, paste, move things around, and print multiple copies allowed me to triple my output as a freelance writer. And I was able to research and interview via email, and eventually send articles that way as well.

How far we’ve all come since then! I moved from the huge and clunky Kaypro to a laptop with two 3.5inch no-longer-floppy disks (still no hard drive) and eventually to a large CPU with separate keyboard, screen, and a mouse, which took some getting used to.

One would think that email would have evolved by similar leaps and bounds. But it hasn’t. Some people are still using free Hotmail or Yahoo email programs, leaving them open to hacking and spam.

Others purchased space on local servers that changed hands frequently, leaving friends cut off until they phoned the person to find out their new email address.

A great many people are tempted to use free email accounts. Gmail is very popular, but you need to realize that all those messages are stored in the cloud and are vulnerable to hacking.
Brett Dalmage, a former software developer whose server hosts the Canadian Association of
Journalists’ freelance list, says, “Most people use their real name with gmail. Then Google can link the real you to all your Google searches (for people who use it). All it takes is to start Googling while logged into Gmail, or to click the ‘remember me’ checkbox, which sets cookies, so Google can track you on EVERYTHING.”

I remember once being on an email list hosted by an early, free service. I was appalled to discover, years later, that all of our messages had been stored in a searchable archive (without our knowledge or permission) and any personal information we had disclosed to our small group of friends was there for anyone to read.

So here’s what you need to do to make your email both efficient and safe. Use an email connected to your website, hosted by a reputable ISP. When you pay a monthly fee to an ISP, they should provide consistent service, be reachable quickly by phone if you have any problems, do basic spam filtering before obvious spam gets through to you, and host your website so that your email address remains consistent (BFG@SimonTeakettle.com), regardless of whether you switch your ISP or they are bought out by a larger company.

If you manage your own website, you can create several alias emails that allow you to filter messages for each person, as well as to recognize the difference between business and personal emails. For example, people who contact me via my website often use
simon@SimonTeakettle.com or info@SimonTeakettle.com. When you set up email using your website domain, you usually have the ability to create several aliases.

I know some authors who face a staggering amount of emails in their inbox every morning, because their email program doesn’t filter incoming messages into separate mailboxes. There are a couple of ways to avoid this.

Use filters to keep your inbox uncluttered. I used to use Eudora, which allowed me to have a
grid of different boxes on my screen. I really miss that, but Thunderbird, which I currently use,
lets me set up filters that send certain messages to specific mailboxes (which appear in columns
on the left) and also to add colors to senders and recipients so that I immediately see when an important message arrives.

I have separate mailboxes for each of my clients, as well as mailboxes for family, close friends, groups of colleagues, and for information I want to save to pass on to clients.

You might want separate mailboxes for queries, submissions, and promotion related to your books. Thunderbird lets you color-code mailbox titles and create sub-folders. My Mentoring folder contains sub-folders for each current client, a folder labeled “former clients,” and another folder for “Info to Send.” Color-coding according to sender allows me to flag messages arriving in my inbox. A red message indicates I should read it immediately. Green messages are to be read when I have time. Purple messages relate to a current issue I want to deal with.

It’s easy to see right away which emails require immediate action, and to delete, forward, or file each incoming message in the appropriate mailbox.

Be careful about spam and messages that appear to come from friends but contain only a link or attachment. When you see one of these, look at the header. I recently received an email that seemed to come from a trusted colleague. But the email address wasn’t his and there was no explanation for the link in the body of the email. Spam!

Never click on a link or open an attachment without verifying it. A message that appears to be from a bank is often just sophisticated phishing. If in doubt, contact the sender by phone. If the message appears to be from a friend or colleague, don’t hit Reply, but send a separate email using the email address that you have in your address book for that individual, and ask the person if he or she actually sent an email to you..

When you receive obvious spam or phishing attacks, take a minute to delete everything from your junk folder and empty the trash. And run MalWare Bytes and Spybot (both free programs) at least weekly.

If you’ve set up a temp folder to store anything you might want to see again before you delete it, you’ll be able to delete the trash without worrying about losing something you might want to refer to later.

If all this sounds bothersome and unnecessary, imagine how much trouble it will be to recover from your email being hacked.


Barbara Florio Graham is the author of three books: Five Fast Steps to Better Writing (20th anniversary edition), Five Fast Steps to Low-Cost Publicity, and the award-winning
Mewsings/Musings. She served as managing editor for Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List, which is now available as an ebook for $4.99. Her website, http://SimonTeakettle.com, contains a great deal of free information, including resources for writers and publishers.

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