Power Tools – Getting Started

If e-mail is the best way to speed up communications, then why does it feel like such a time sink?

I’ve been using e-mail for more than 10 years. Today, I have seven e-mail accounts for testing purposes and for working with people who use just one online service. I know what it’s like to lose track of important electronic memos, waste time trying to coordinate lists of inscrutable Internet “@” addresses, lose attached files, and spend weekends digging through an avalanche of superfluous messages.

What follows is a road map to smarter e-mailing. As Linda Lamb observes in the top how-to book on the subject, “Using Email Effectively” (coauthored with Jerry Peek, O’Reilly & Associates, 1995), there’s no single path to mastering electronic mail. It depends on how many messages you get in a day, whether you’re online all day or just sporadically, and what e-mail programs and support are available at your site.

This edition of Power Tools addresses these options. Pick the tools and insights that meet your specific needs. After all, e-mail is supposed to help us do a better job. But it’s still up to us to figure out how to put its powers to their best use.

John R. Quain ( is a contributing editor at Fast Company and appears regularly on the CBS News program “Up to the Minute.”