The concept of finding the "perfect" e-mail solution begs a question:
aren't there people who want to get AWAY from e-mail altogether? That
may be so, but for the rest of us, dealing with electronic messages is
a necessary fact of life.
That said, how can you balance work and private needs, keep everything
together when needed and keep it separate when required? I would
propose two solutions: software and online services.
On the software front, things are looking up. The 2007 edition of
Microsoft Office (for Windows-based PCs) offers more than enough tools
for managing e-mail, especially when it comes from a corporate server
running Microsoft's Exchange program. Don't want to pay for Office
2007? Mozilla.org's Thunderbird is a very robust program which
also has support from a range of developers offering add-ins to make
your e-mailing easier. Thunderbird is also probably the best bet among
the passel of competing programs for the Linux platform, again,
because of its wide support community.
For users of Apple's Macintosh, the firm's Mail.app will pick
up some new features, probably at the end of this month, when the next
version of OS X , code named "Leopard," bows. Here, the greatest
advancements, according to Apple's Web site, will involve integrating
e-mail with your computer's calendar, as well as to-do items and
online "news feeds" such as those provided by The Washington Times'
RSS, or "really simple syndication" services (available via the
newspaper's Web site).
Putting these things together in one place will simplify communication
and give Mail.app more ammunition to compete with Microsoft Corp.'s
Entourage, which will undergo its own renaissance in January, if all
goes according to plan. I haven't been briefed by Microsoft on their
soon-coming Office 2008, but will be in early November. I have high
expectations that the new Mac "Office" will include many of the
improvements Office 2007 brought to Windows users.
But software is key: getting the right program, learning its ins and
outs, will help you categorize and simplify e-mail quite a bit. As
someone who deals with at least 200 e-mails in a given day, I know how
important that level of control can be.
To solidify that control, however, you need to separate and segregate
the kinds of e-mail you receive. It's not cool to have work e-mail
come to your private account, or personal notes show up in your
corporate e-mail. In the latter case, it can become truly problematic:
hit the wrong key, and that rather intimate note from your significant
other can suddenly become the water-cooler topic in offices worldwide.
That's happened more than once in recent years; now, experts are
saying such e-mails could be "discoverable" in legal proceedings and
that firms could be held liable, in some instances, for the e-mails
their employees send.
That's why I have a Google Mail (mail.google.com) account, along with
some other personal ones. It takes discipline and determination to
keep things in order, but it's to your advantage.
What's more, Web-based e-mail can feed into a desktop software program
such as Thunderbird, Microsoft Outlook or Entourage, or Apple's
Mail.app. This lets you read, write and send such messages with a
familiar program, instead of having to fire up the Web browser.
For those who want to make utterly certain that they do not run afoul
of any corporate (or agency) strictures, perhaps the best course is to
make sure you do no personal e-mail at work, on a computer or Internet
service you do not, personally, own or pay for. I would imagine this
is a requirement in certain places, but it's also a good idea for
anyone in a new work situation.
Now, if only someone could come up with a surefire way to block all
those, ahem, "pharmaceutical" e-mail I keep getting!