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Shortcuts: Keeping your inbox in shape

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(CNN) -- Is your e-mail bursting out of your inbox? Feeling cc'd into submission? Here's how to reclaim your life.

Kick the habit: E-mail is an addiction as dangerous as drink or drugs, although admittedly not as sexy. As yet there have been no reports of super models or movie stars checking into rehab after OD'ing on Outlook but it's only a matter of time. Still, not without good reason are BlackBerries popularly known as "CrackBerries." Even for those of us who manage to limit ourselves to working hours it's probably the first thing we log into in the morning, the last thing we check before we leave and a constant nuisance in between. Most experts believe the first step towards conquering e-mail is to limit the number of times a day you indulge. For convenience, let's say once in the morning, once before or after lunch and once at the end of the day.

Folder management: Obsessive compulsive as it may seem, leaving everything in an inbox is like trying to read a book in which all the pages have been torn out and chucked in a heap on the floor. Give yourself half an hour to deal with anything that requires a response and reply where necessary straight away. Everything else should simply be passing through en route to a more orderly location for future reference when you file that law suit for unreasonable dismissal against your psychopathic boss. Make a note of appointments, meetings and other administrative matters somewhere else, rather than relying on your e-mail program -- thus giving yourself another reason to switch the damn thing off.

Be ruthless: This quality is critical to success. Delete ruthlessly. If you have been pointlessly cc'd somewhere down a list of people you've never heard of, you can probably assume it's got nothing to do with you. Use your out of office reply ruthlessly. A suitable message will read: "I will not be checking e-mails while away on vacation. Please contact me again on my return." Treat e-mail backlogs with disdain. Did the world end because you failed to reply to those urgent messages that dropped into your inbox last Thursday? There is a lesson there -- if it didn't matter then it doesn't matter now. Drag the whole lot into the trash bin instead.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: Be an example of good e-mail practice. Keep your messages short and succinct. Avoid unnecessary cc'ing for the sake of keeping people "in the loop." Urgent priority tags and capital letters just convey panic and rudeness. Don't forward large attachments or circulars unless you're trying to bring down the company servers in a fit of pique. Break the cycle of pointless replying. If your e-mailing consists of staccato exchanges along the lines of: "Can you do this Wednesday?"... "Yes, Wednesday's good for me"... "Ok, Wednesday it is then".... "Great, see you on Wednesday"... then you seriously need to re-consider what you are doing with your life.

Get yourself a decent spam filter: If you find yourself wasting office hours worrying about your own sexual performance, lending substantial sums of money to Nigerian businessmen, or ordering industrial quantities of dieting drugs this will probably be news to you.

Get some real friends: E-mail is no substitute for genuine friendship. If you'd rather communicate with acquaintances by e-mailing in preference to calling them, meeting them or visiting them then maybe you should re-consider the basis of your relationship with them. When the only contact you've had with someone in the past 18 months has been via forwarded circulars of Borat clips on YouTube then maybe the spark has gone.

Open your mouth and speak: Are you e-mailing someone in the same office as you? Did it occur to you that you could get up out of your seat and deliver the message to them non-electronically via the medium of human speech? Go on, you could use the exercise. Need to converse with someone inconveniently located beyond the walls of the building? Here's a tip: there is a brilliant invention that has the potential to revolutionize the way we work and live. Rather than having to slowly tap out our thoughts and plans to colleagues and friends it enables us to communicate with them directly into their heads as if they were standing beside you. It is called the "telephone." Trust us, it's going to be big.

BlackBerry addiction can cause anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior and mis-shaped thumbs.



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