Managing your eMail


This post was created for the Cardiff U3A Computer Group meeting on the 23rd January 2020, but is possibly of more general interest.

Starting Point – the givens; what we’re trying to achieve

  • Having a manageable amount of email will make your life easier and better.
  • Focus on lifestyle habits rather than hard-and-fast rules.
  • Work out what you don’t want from your email, and then create habits that prevent it from happening.
  • Work out how you will handle email daily and if you can – weekly, and monthly, and decide whether you need a method to archive or store emails, or the information contained in them.
  • The importance of context. Use the appropriate tool wherever possible.
    • You need an immediate answer – use the phone, and leave a voice message if there’s no reply, possibly with a text message – “please get back to me after you’re listened to your voice mail” – as backup.
    • You need a record of the answer to a question – use email; and seek confirmation by email if the answer comes back a different way.
    • You need to just keep in touch, or chat – use text (SMS) messaging or WhatsApp (or any other – I don’t want to recommend one – chat platform).

Tools you can use (all the “F’s”)

Forever email – whatever your email address is now, seriously consider getting an email address that will last forever and not be dependent upon your currently favoured Internet Service Provider (ISP). So … Google’s gmail.com mail would be a good choice, as (if you’re wedded to one technology, say Apple) would be the email provided by that supplier, eg icloud.com. Here’s an article that lists the best email accounts currently. Personally, I wouldn’t go beyond the first three, and I would be tempted to say only the first two! So that would give you a choice of Google, Microsoft plus (in my case) Apple.
Fake email address – you don’t have to have just one email address. Create a duplicate for using when a retailer asks for your email address.
For you alone – don’t share an email address with a partner; have separate ones; you can always setup an email programme to read both email accounts on one device (eg a tablet). Keep your personal email address for yourself, and for life!
Feature-rich email program (a rather contrived “f” this one) – use the mailer that your operating system provides for you. On Windows and Apple this would be called Mail. On your phone or tablet it might be called Gmail or Outlook. There are others as well.
Forward your email to one place – if you’ve set up a new email address, you can forward mail from your old address to your new one and then apply filters (see below).
Filters – these are very useful and relatively easy to set up (or create). They allow rules to be followed and your email to be handled the way you want it to be handled and not just hang around clogging up your Inbox.
Flags (or labels) – you can put a marker against individual messages in some email programs. Perhaps a colour code to indicate their urgency or priority.
Folders – these are invaluable and when combined with a service such as the three (Google, Microsoft or Apple) I’ve mentioned, can ensure that you have an archive of messages that should last as long as you realistically would ever want them.

Techniques to keep your eMail under control

Aim for Only 20 Items in Your In-box
[Warning … Do as I say, not as I do!!!]. Twenty e-mails means that you can see your whole in-box without scrolling. As soon as you deal with a message, file or delete it. Only messages from the past week that you’ve yet to respond to belong in your in-box.
Stick to a Schedule (difficult but invaluable)
[Warning … Discipline needed] Even though I check my mail several times a day just in case something pops up which really needs to be urgently handled, I try to not process them right away. I try to only do that once a day, either at the beginning of the day or in the evenings. So I need to adhere to respecting the difference between checking and processing. So …
Delete ruthlessly, when you’re checking
Don’t reply immediately unless …
Can you write back in two minutes or less? If so, do it immediately, and delete the incoming email from your Inbox. Your reply together with the original message should be in your Sent mail.
If an e-mail requires more time, perhaps flag it so it can be handled during a scheduled window later that day or the next morning.
Important … if an email looks as though it can’t be answered easily – pick up the phone!
Sounds obvious but … you don’t need to read every single mail that comes in. Pick and select what’s relevant to you.
I subscribe to several newsletters – but I don’t read all the mails that are sent to me. I don’t delete them either, because I know they may have valuable information contained in them. Instead, I sometimes set up filters to automatically archive them to different folders (labels on Gmail), or move them to the appropriate folder manually. I only read them when I want to get more information on the topic.
Remember you can Unsubscribe from an email list – it’s not difficult and can reduce the amount of email you get quite considerably!
Turn off notifications that appear on your desktop. You really don’t need that kind of message appearing which drags you to your Inbox!!
Close email when you need to concentrate on something else. Close your email application or sign out of webmail when you need to do work that requires real focus for at least 30 minutes. When an email program is open, it’s tempting to check periodically (or obsessively) for new mail. Closing the program entirely (not hiding it)  removes the temptation.
Try to remember to remove old email messages from your Trash Can, unless you’ve set it to Auto-Delete after a week, or a month, or whatever.
Email programs and setting up accounts. This is much easier now than it used to be and instructions are usually provided for your email provider on their website, eg Google’s Gmail.

More on Folders and Filters, and Flags (Apple)

Folders (or labels, if you use gmail) are there to help you organise your mails.
Firstly, use a relevant naming system to what you’re doing.
Secondly, use hierarchy structure. First level folders are for the big categories, and second level folders are for sub-categories, and so on.
These work best when you’re using an email program such as Mail or Outlook.
Filters are tools that help you sort out the mail automatically when it gets into your mail. There are 2 basic things are required for a filter – (1) The term to look out for (2) Action to apply if the term is matched.  You can set up filters for different email addresses, subject titles, body text … whatever! Depending on what filter it is, the mail will be automatically sorted into a respective folder / archived, or moved to the Trash can.
Flags are ways of colour coding a message to give you an indication of how you might want to handle the message.

Watch out for Catalina!

I was asked last week about a message that had appeared on a Lightroom 4 users’ screen with this warning …

… scary eh!?

Well yes it is but if you’ve got a relatively new Mac you do have the choice NOW of making sure you have the latest version of software that will support older versions of Lightroom, and do an upgrade to Mojave (v.10.14) BEFORE Catalina (v.10.15) is released later this year – probably in October. That way you’ll be nearly up-to-date with your version of MacOS and that may be sufficient for you if you don’t feel the need to have the latest version of MacOS.

If you have Lightroom 6 installed (or even 3, 4 or 5), you may be getting the message above EVEN THOUGH it is a 64-bit app. This is because the Installer/Uninstaller and Activation code software is 32-bit. That means the software “should” continue to work, but you won’t be able to re-install it to a MacOS of Catalina (v.10.15), or later.

The only other alternative if you want to stick with Adobe Lightroom is to swallow hard and subscribe at £9.98pm to the Photography Plan of Adobe’s Creative Cloud programme. You do get Photoshop as well as what Adobe call Lightroom Classic, plus their in the cloud version of Lightroom which they (confusingly) call Lightroom!

Adobe detail the changes and implications in this blog post. Another post from Laura Shoe Training gives more information here.

UPDATE: I’ve just read this really useful and interesting article from the magazine MacWorld – I suggest you read it too – and I’ve found out that Microsoft 2011 for Mac and Picasa (amongst others on my iMac) will not work with Catalina. Whilst I’m not particularly concerned about losing either of these as there are alternatives I’m already using – such as (in the case of the former) Google Docs, Open Office, Libre Office or Apple’s Pages, Numbers or Keynote applications – it’s better to be prepared and to have made the decision to move before I have to jump! Also in the case of Picasa, that I haven’t got anything in the database that I haven’t catalogued elsewhere – I think that unlikely, but I ought to check!

I’ve also stumbled upon an entry in “About This Mac > System Report …” which you get to from the Apple Icon in the top-left corner of your desktop. Go to Software and if you’re running Mojave there’s an entry called Legacy Software. Look at that and you’ll be able to see quickly what software is unlikely to work in Catalina. If you’re running an earlier version of MacOS go to Software and click on Applications and look for non 64-bit applications (a column to the right of the window).

Other links worth following …
MacOS 64-bit – what it means to you
32-bit app compatibility for Macs with current Mojave operating system

PS I’m still running Mojave [16th April, 2020] on desktop and laptop.

GPS jamming exercises – Ofcom

Thought you might be interested in seeing this. Don’t rely on your GPS signal if you’re within 50 miles of Sennybridge at the beginning of April …
The Ministry of Defence conduct occasional tests on military systems which may result in some loss of service to civilian users of the Global Positioning System (GPS) including in-car navigation devices and networks which rely on GPS signals.
— Read on www.ofcom.org.uk/spectrum/information/gps-jamming-exercises

Is it time to move to more paid subscription services?

I have to admit, the events of the past few weeks have made me look much more seriously at paying more for the IT services that I’ve taken for free up until now. Of course they’ve never been free, I’ve had to put up with the adverts and the email messages I don’t really want – alerting me to this deal, or that deal, and I’ve willingly put up with that as a price worth paying for the service I’ve been receiving. But two events have changed my mind, and moreover I feel the IT world is actually changing slowly as a consequence of the mistakes (to be exceptionally generous) of Facebook and Google; and the decision of Apple to switch more attention to Services, targeting this as their  main income stream for the future, and not relying on Hardware alone.
So what were the earth-shaking events in the Harrison-IT-world? Well the first was Google’s announcement that having hidden the news of a potential security weakness in an API, for several months (presumably to secure their stock-market price at the time Facebook was struggling, and presumably also after ensuring that the potential breach was secured) they used this as an excuse to kill-off (sorry “sunset”) Google+ next August. Now this service was not the success Google hoped it to be, and most definitely has not generated the revenue they hoped it might, but for me, my family and for many communities (particularly of photographers – because of the close linkage to Google Photos) – it was a hugely valuable tool. Now, we have to look for another social media platform. It could be Google Photos – Google may have plans to “enhance” it to take on features from Google+, or it could be another platform, but it’s just a pain in the neck having to move off something we’re used to! Google have real history with “sunsetting” tools that people get used to using [Thanks to @MrSimonWood for this link.]
The second was Flickr’s announcement that they were going to limit their Free account to 1000 imagesexcluding those that were licensed under Creative Commons, which a lot of mine are. They are encouraging users to take out a Pro subscription to remove restrictions and allow more and larger images to be uploaded. This didn’t meet with the same “horror” feeling. I immediately felt that this was a decision that would secure the future long-term of the service under the new owners – SmugMug. [A feeling that I didn’t have when 500px made changes to their platform which led me to delete my account.] So I immediately subscribed and took advantage of the first-year discount price (still available for a few more days I believe).
So what am I saying. I’m saying that if there’s a service that I really want, and I really need some feeling that it’s going to be around for a while, I should pay for it. I wasn’t given that option by Google – shame on them; it appears I’ll never be given that opportunity by Facebook. Both of them are essentially marketing and advertising platforms. I don’t see either of them being able to develop a hybrid model as Flickr has been able to do.
This all makes Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan and Microsofts’ Office 365 seem so much more sensible. I’ll continue with the former, but decline the latter as my roots are now firmly planted in the Apple world where I look to see how they will develop their Service offerings in Music, TV, Home and Car fields.
Interesting times.

Creating your own online magazine

I am a creature of routine. I used to listen to Today on Radio 4 when I got up in the morning; now because I can’t stand the egos being pushed into my ears, I have a much more peaceful and indeed useful start to the day – after I’ve scanned The Guardian (online), BBC News (online) and Wales Online websites, and checked my email and other social media such as Google+ (alas – soon to be no more), WhatsApp, Twitter and less frequently than I used to – Facebook.
I’ll start at the beginning and describe what I do to curate my interests, my daily internet workflow. The jumping-off point is to check my RSS Feeds using Feedly. What is an RSS Feed I hear some of you say? Well it’s a signal from a website that new content has been posted on a website. So if there are a number of sites that you are interested in, you can get an alert with an extract of content sent to you by what is called a RSS Feed, which you can then pick-up and read in full using a RSS Reader. Now the favoured Reader for a long-time was Reader (from Google) – but as is their wont, Google “sunsetted” it. That is they killed it off. Fortunately a really good alternative came to the rescue in Feedly. Every time I come across a website I want to follow, I add it to my Feedly and, as long as a RSS Feed can be setup for the site, place it in a category for the feed (eg photography, or IT) so that my stream of reading is organised to some level. I could stop there, after all I’ve got the link to the webpage, it’s stored in a category and I can go back and read it anytime I’m online. However, what if I just want to scan quickly the content, and go back to it later, or what if I want to read it online? That’s where Pocket comes in.
If I see an article in Feedly that I want to read later, or even archive, I add it to my Pocket, giving it some tags to help me find it later. I do both of these tasks on a smartphone, or tablet, it’s much easier than using a desktop/laptop as there are good apps which work together for both Feedly and Pocket. Once in Pocket, the article, stripped of everything that is irrelevant, can be read offline – once it’s sync’d the content from the web to your device – or alternatively you can click on a button to read the original article online.
But then occasionally, I come across some content that I want to share more widely – to the Thought grazing community for instance; and for this I use Flipboard which is a really easy way of creating an online magazine; made up of articles (perhaps with comments added) which you found interesting. From my Pocket app, I just click on the Share button and select <Share via …> and chose Flipboard. On Flipboard I’ve created a couple of “magazines”, so I chose which one I want to “publish” the article to, and perhaps write a comment about the article; and then Post it. That’s all there is to it, but what do you need to do to replicate my workflow and produce something like this …
View my Flipboard Magazine.

Curating the web
Step 1 – create a Feedly account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – select websites you want to get an RSS feed from [see above, or read What is an RSS feed?]
Step 3 – check periodically to see what has “popped-up” in your feed reader.
Saving for another day, or for off-line reading (bookmarking+)
Step 1 – create a Pocket account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – save to Pocket from your browser (perhaps using a browser extension), or from a sharing icon in Feedly
Step 3 – tag your articles, and read at your leisure, or when you want to
Creating a magazine to share with others
Step 1 – create a Flipboard account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – create a Magazine within your Flipboard account, and decide whether to make it Private or Public
Step 3 – add articles to your magazine from your Pocket app (as described above) , or from your web browser
Good luck!