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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Clearing that e-mail backlog
As Britons edge back to work after a summer break, many will dread facing an in-box silted up with e-mails (especially if the Sobig virus has made it past the electronic gatekeepers).

Dawn in the sitcom The Office
Daunted by post-holiday e-mails?
For many workers, the most arduous task on their return from holiday is clearing the backlog of e-mails which have accumulated in their absence.

"When I got back to work after four weeks off, I had 700 unread e-mails, including at least 40 from tech support telling me I had too many e-mails in my in-box," says one office worker. "It took me the best part of a day to sort through them all, let alone reply to any that were of genuine interest to me."

Instead of skim reading each and every e-mail - or even subject line - the first thing to do is to sort your in-box before opening any messages. One option is to order e-mails by sender, which allows you to delete irrelevant messages en masse, such as two weeks worth of travel alerts, or invitations to try penile growth enhancers.

"It is an absolute curse to return to an in-box inundated with garbage," says Steve Fletcher of Intuition, a training company which runs courses for busy executives on how to communicate effectively through e-mail.

Outlook in-box
Sort e-mails for easy deletion
His top tip is to be selective in who you give your e-mail address to; in who you send - and copy - messages to; and in which e-mails you read.

And don't feel pressured into responding to every item. "If you've binned an e-mail and someone needs a reply, they can always come back to you - and you can just say 'oh, I never got it'," Mr Fletcher says. "People can be terribly indiscriminate in who they send stuff to, and it can be very time-consuming to sort the wheat from the chaff."

Also important is to ensure your computer is well-protected from viruses such as Sobig F, which has clogged e-mail networks the world over for the past week.

Electronic overload

In 2000, British office workers fired off or trawled through more than 190 messages a day. While no up-to-date figure is available, that may have increased now e-mail is an established workplace tool.

Family at play
Redress that work/life balance
Last year the Department of Trade and Industry found that employees took an average of 49 minutes a day to sort out their in-boxes. Extrapolate that across a two-week break - 10 working days - and it would take you more than eight hours to sort through your holiday e-mails.

So it is little wonder why it takes so long to wade through the holiday backlog, not least because employees and managers alike rarely rely on colleagues to monitor incoming messages while they're away.

Unless, of course, you are Alastair Campbell.

When Tony Blair's chief spin doctor appeared before the Hutton inquiry last week, he revealed that he had not necessarily read any of the impolitic e-mails about the sexing up or otherwise of the Iraq dossier sent to him.

"The reality is I receive an awful lot of e-mails that I do not read, because they are sifted for me," he told the inquiry. Words which would make anyone facing a bulging in-box turn green with envy.


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