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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Organizing Your Email: Use Filters to Increase Your Productivity Online

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

As we continue our quest to make this a more digitally organized school year, let's not forget to organize our email.

If you're like me, you get a lot of email -- so much at times that it can be difficult to organize. For my University of Virginia email client, I now use Mozilla's Thunderbird, a free, open source application to help you organize and secure your email. It's easy to use, fast, and offers many built-in features and free add-ons. Since signing up, I have customized the look and features of my Thunderbird to suit me perfectly.

Many email clients, such as Microsoft Outlook and Eudora, are available. But whichever one you choose, make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck; you don't want to waste time fighting spam or organizing individual messages. These email tools are supposed to automate and expedite the process of organizing your email.

With this post, I'd like to discuss a couple of features both readers and workshop participants have asked about recently. I'll assume you have a fully functioning account set up in your email client. I'll use Thunderbird as our example, but you can easily find similar options in Outlook or other email clients.

Once you have the account up and running, I suggest creating automated filters -- you may also see them referred to as rules -- which are designed to scan your incoming and outgoing email and perform automated tasks on messages (basically, "if-then" statements for your email). For example, if you receive an email with "Urgent" in the subject header, you can have it forwarded to your cell phone as a text message. It's easy to set up -- I'll tell you how.

First, go to your Tools menu and select Message Filters, then New. Now, give the new filter a name you can easily identify, should you need to deactivate it later. For this example, let's name the filter Urgent. Next, select "Match all of the following" and set it up so that any subject header with the word "Urgent" will automatically default to the action "Forward message to." In the box next to that, type in your cell phone address (usually something like cellphone#@cellprovider.com), and you're done. Now, when you receive a message marked "Urgent," Thunderbird will forward a copy to your cell phone as a text message.

By following the same steps above, you can also create filters that automatically file your messages into folders designated by sender. Having an in-box full of unorganized emails can be daunting and can actually slow your productivity, so save time and let a filter file them for you. You can also use filters to carbon copy your outgoing messages and their attachments to your Web-based mail -- a nifty backup feature. Once you set a few filters in place, you'll love what they do for productivity.

Do you like to listen to music while you email? With the Thunderbird add-on Foxytunes, you can add a music control bar to your email program. Foxytunes is fun -- as stated on its Web site, you can control "almost any media player and find lyrics, covers, videos, bios, and much more" by simply clicking from within Thunderbird. I use it while checking and composing email -- I change music, switch tracks, and more, all from within my email program.

So, have some extra fun with email -- or, better yet, put it to work for you. With a little management on the front end, you can sit back later and watch your efforts pay off. And don't forget to share your tips -- I'm interested!

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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