Last week we talked about our “growing” email problem. The average size of an individual email as well as the overall volume has increased substantially over the years, and some parts of the email technology platform have changed to accommodate that. In other critical areas it has only barely kept pace or fallen woefully behind. Though it’s changed its look over the years, Outlook still works essentially the same way it did nearly 20 years ago. And while we have more ways to read our email now with the proliferation of mobile devices and cellular data networks, I rarely come across a business professional who isn’t struggling to stay afloat in the growing email tide.
So how do we address this weighty issue?
First off, reduce the volume in any way you can:
- Better spam filters – the best ones work at the server level, and don’t rely on your local email client. If you are using a local spam filter on top of your provider’s “filter”, you need to adjust the settings on the server side so they never get delivered, or change providers. It’s a hassle, but a good spam filter will make it all worthwhile.
- Ditch the mailing lists – if you spend more time shuffling unread newsletters into the “later” folder, you should either look at subscribing to a less frequent digest, or unsubscribe altogether. Ironic advice coming from someone who sends a newsletter. Hopefully because you are reading this, our newsletter makes the cut.
- Separate business and personal – modern email clients and mobile devices allow you to stay on top of multiple email accounts, so there’s no good reason to keep everything in the same mailbox. Don’t go hog wild (5 separate mailboxes is just as bad as single overstuffed box), but if you are using your business mailbox for everything, you really need to move the personal stuff to a separate email account.
- Delete, don’t archive – once you get over the initial fear of throwing away an email permanently, you may find it amazingly liberating and a great way to reduce stress. Be mindful of your company’s retention policy and business practices, but delete anything that isn’t critical. Because it’s “virtual”, email becomes a convenient way for our “inner hoarder” to manifest itself. As with anything hoarded, the volume rapid overtakes any benefit gained from keeping the stuff around. Be merciless, even cruel, and give your delete key a solid workout.
A lot of you have heard this advice before (probably from me), but it always bears repeating. The only way to drink from a firehose is to reduce the pressure. Getting in front of your daily email workload will grant you time to focus on the next task: sorting, filing and putting to use the email you do decide to keep.
Make sure to stop in next week for the final part of our series on taming the email retention beast!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Microsoft has released a security advisory that warns of a new zero-day weakness that is currently being exploited on the internet. Depending on how you interpret their choice of wording – “targeted attacks” – the scale seems to be relatively limited for the moment, but given that the compromised app is Microsoft Word and is not limited to a specific version, the potential attack surface is huge. And it gets better: the delivery mechanism is a hacked RTF file that once opened can lead to the targeted machine being completely compromised. While RTF files aren’t as widely used as the default “.doc” and “.docx” formats, they are used to export and import documents from Word to other word processing platforms like Wordperfect, LibreOffice, OpenOffice and Apple Pages.
What this means for you:
Microsoft has issued a temporary fix which merely disables the ability for Word to open RTF files, but as of the moment there is no ETA on a patch delivered by Windows Update. We recommend applying this Fix-it if you are at all unsure what an RTF file is, or how to tell the difference from other Word and Email formats.
The most vulnerable user to this exploit is actually someone who uses Word to view formatted emails delivered via Outlook. Normally, Outlook is not set to view emails using Word by default, so if you didn’t set Outlook to do this, you only have to worry about Word. If you did, disable this feature and use Outlook’s built-in email viewer to read formatted emails. For Word users, don’t open RTF files, even if they come from a trusted source, and don’t send any RTF files, as your recipients may be exercising the same level of caution. If you have to exchange data using RTF, make sure you communicate thoroughly with your recipients, and choose another platform other than email to exchange files, primarily so there is no chance they could mistake a trojaned RTF for a legitimate file.
Last week, Google made a change to it’s widely used webmail platform Gmail: instead of asking if you want to “show images” in emails, Gmail will automatically display them by default instead of asking permission. This particular behavior is also seen in the other two webmail titans (Yahoo and Microsoft), as well as a common feature in mail clients like Outlook. Why aren’t images loaded by default? Primarily because when you open that email full of graphics and you actually want to see them, the mail client (or webpage) makes a request to the server hosting the images, which is usually the same server that sent the email in the first place.
If that sounds like a sneaky way to confirm that you’ve opened a particular email, that’s because it is. This process reveals certain data about the recipient, including date and time of opening, what browser or mail client you are using to view the email, as well as some rough geographical data about your location, based upon your IP address. So why is Google loading images by default? It’s because now they are caching the images to their own server, and then showing them to you, which effectively acts as a proxy between you and the sender, and blinds many marketers who were relying on the image requests to track you.
What this means for you:
Whether you realized it or not, your email client’s annoying tendency to not show you images in emails was actually in your best interests. Because displaying images required you to actively “opt in” by choosing to view the graphics, if that email was sent by a marketer, you sent them a nice packet of data and a positive affirmation that you saw the email, whether you intended to or not. With Gmail’s image caching, some of that data is no longer being unwittingly sent by its customers, however, notice that I wrote “some.” The more clever marketers out there (including Mailchimp, the service I use for my own email) tag email images individually, so they can still track opens, as Gmail still has to load the image to its servers before showing it to you. In my case, this is merely so I can tell if anyone is reading my newsletters, but even that one point of data is still valuable information to email marketers, and you can bet they will find other ways to track your online activity.