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Tips on making e-mail work for you, Part 2
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
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Tips on making e-mail work for you, Part 2 

Bit Player for Aug. 17, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Last week we looked at one of the most aggravating traits of e-mail—attachments that seem to come out of nowhere. This week I'll tell you about some tricks that can speed up your mail and your sessions in front of the keyboard.

  • Tip 1: Add addresses to your address book.

    Many of you treat the address book as an optional extra. You type in addresses manually, or you just let the "Reply" function handle addressing for you. All good e-mail programs have address books, and most of them make adding names and addresses very easy.

    You can usually add to the address book while reading an e-mail letter. In Microsoft Exchange and its newer cousin, Windows Messaging, you merely right click on the name shown at the top of the letter and follow the prompt. Both Netscape Mail and Microsoft's Internet Mail also let you add an entry while reading a letter.

  • Tip 2: Use aliases for your recipients, to make addressing faster.

    When you add a name and address to your address book, type in an alias (what Microsoft stuffily calls a "friendly name") for that individual. Then when you want to send a letter, you need only type the alias. Aliases don't have to be long and don't even have to make sense—except to you. In my Outlook Contacts list (a fancy address book), my brother's alias is the equal sign, for example.

  • Tip 3: Run your e-mail program in remote mode—that is, set it up so that it sends and receives mail only when you tell it to, not when it wants to.

    And if you get more than just a few large attachments a week with your mail, don't let someone else tie up your mail; have your software download just the headers, then choose which letters and attachments you want to receive.

    This is complicated, so I'll go back over it slowly.

    There are two ways to get your mail. You either have your software grab every letter (and every attachment) waiting for you, or you have your software check to see if mail is waiting. If it finds mail, it lists the letters. It does not download them. It only gets the letters after you check off which ones you want.

    The first method is the one most of you use. It works fine if you have a high-speed connection and if you seldom receive large files attached to letters. The problem with attachments is simply this: One large attachment will hold up all the other mail.

    I've come to rely on the other method, and I recommend it to you. Use the Options or Setup menu in your e-mail software to tell the program to retrieve headers only. (The wording may be different in your software, but the choices are usually obvious.) If your mail software doesn't have this option, consider changing to another program.

    You'll get a list of mail waiting for you. A typical set of options for each waiting letter would be to retrieve the letter and any attachments with it, retrieve a copy of the letter and attachments (leaving the original ones on the mail server), or deleting the letter and any attachments from the server. If you are using a modern Windows program, you'll probably see these choices when you right click on each entry.

    If you use this method, you can zap junk mail right on the server. You can also choose to receive all letters that don't have attachments right away, so you can read your mail without waiting for some clunker to get out of the way. Later—while you're having dinner, maybe—you can tell your software to go get the letters that have attachments.

  • Tip 4: Don't reply to letters that don't call for replies.

    You can get into an endless e-mail loop if you're not careful. If Aunt Nelda writes to you and says something like, "Thanks for the help," don't send off a note that says "You're welcome." She'll think she has to write back and say, "Any time," and you'll feel like a crumb if you don't respond in kind with "It was just a little thing."

    You can cut down on your e-mail by about 90 percent if you stop saying nothing important.

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