Do you control your email or does your email control you? Email is a tremendous blessing, allowing you communicate instantly with anyone anywhere. To many people, sending and receiving emails is a large part of their work and personal lives. Missionaries often receive emails from colleagues, team members, headquarters, churches, supporters, family, and others. Instantly checking and responding to email can be addictive and interrupt family time, normal conversations, and other things. Email often interrupts actual work for those working at computers or carrying smartphones. If your email life is out of control, here are some tips to take charge of it before it consumes you.
- Check email less – Instead of checking email constantly or as soon as it comes in, only check email twice a day. I know that this sounds like an unthinkable idea if you are used to getting lots of emails, but trust me, it works. Unless your whole job is to send emails, it is likely that there are other things that you need to be doing instead of constantly sending emails. It takes less time to spend 15-30 minutes, perhaps longer, going through a stack of email twice a day than playing email ping-pong all day long.
- Disable new mail notifications – The key to getting things done is concentration, and the key to concentration is elimination. Turn off the sound, desktop alert, or other notification that new mail has arrived. This goes for the instant messaging and social networking notifications too. Would you really want a mail deliverer interrupting you all day, every time a physical piece of mail arrived?
- Stop using folders – The time it takes to file an email is simply not worth the value of it. Also, for this to work, you would need to be 100% consistent, which would mean you would often need to duplicate an email to file it in more than one place if more than one item was discussed. Instead, search to find your emails. Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail, and other email systems have powerful search capability. Additionally you can search your whole computer or network drive using tools like Google Desktop or the built-in search capability of your operating system.
- Start using rules – Rules are filters and routines that your email program runs automatically. When new email arrives, your email program checks to see if it matches any of your rules, and it so it takes the appropriate action. Common rules would include: moving mail on which I was CC/BCCed to another folder, moving mail from certain people (supervisors, team members, spammers) to certain folders or starring them, and moving newsletters and things to read at your leisure to another folder.
- Understand the CC and BCC – CC means carbon copy and BCC means blind carbon copy. Some people feel the need to CC their supervisor to show that they are working or CC your supervisor to stress that they need something done. Excessive use of the CC/BCC is immature and may be a symptom of dysfunction in your team. Only CC those who really need to know. This goes for “Reply to All” as well. If someone else wrote to a large audience and the response only needs to go to them, do everyone a favor and just reply to them. If you are CC/BCCed on a message, take note of that. You are not expected to reply, as it was simply for your information.
- Send less email – Sometimes we send email when a phone call or personal visit would do the job faster or better. Often a two minute phone call is better than an exchange of ten emails. If you often send non-urgent emails to the person or same group of people, consider turning that into a weekly email with several topics, or saving it for a weekly meeting, instead of sending emails constantly.
- Send better emails – Try to write emails so that the recipient understands what you are saying and what you want them to do. Try to clearly explain your thought in the first sentence. Try to get to the point quickly. Use numbered bullet points, not paragraphs to outline your thoughts. Provide relevant background information and suggest possible courses of action. Then tell the person what you want them to do.
- Use the subject line better – Try to get in the habit of using stronger subjects. Use keywords that will summarize the email. Prefixes such as “Information: “, “Decision”, or “Action Needed” help the recipient handle the message more effectively. If the message is very short and you can write it in the subject line and the body is empty, include a pound sign “#” at the end of the subject so the recipient will know he does not have to open the message.
- Hamster Revolution – a short book which explains how escape the hamster cage of email
- Getting Things Done flowchart – a guide to processing your inbox
- Taming the Email Dragon – a blog article and training guide for managing your email with detailed instructions for Outlook users
- Getting Email Under Control – a PDF article by David Allen
- Email Etiquette 101 – a guide to doing email by Michael Hyatt
In many parts of the world, the mobile phone is the equivalent of the laptop computer in the West. In Africa, Asia, and other areas many people who do not have access to computers and internet use their mobile phones to connect with each other and share information. Unlike expensive smartphones, which often require post-paid contracts and data plans, SMS (short message service), or text messaging, is within the grasp of most mobile phone users. A text is easy and affordable to send and requires only a basic pre-paid service. Often it is free to receive text messages and some carriers offer email to SMS gateways. Many missionaries find text messaging to be a simple and affordable to communicate with those they serve.
FrontlineSMS is a free software application for your computer that allows you to send and receive text messages over your computer. You can link your mobile phone to your computer (desktop, laptop, or netbook) with a cable, or you can use a USB dongle with a SIM card. Not only can you use your larger keyboard to compose messages, but your messages may be managed in a similar way to an email program. You can configure distribution lists. You can also setup a SMS server, where people can text certain keywords to subscribe themselves to a distribution list. You can also use forms and conduct surveys via SMS and export data to Excel and other programs.
There are several ways missionaries can use FrontlineSMS. Besides using your netbook to send and receive text messages, here are some ideas.
- Sending SMS to your team in a distribution list
- Sending announcements and prayer requests
- Sending daily scripture passages or encouraging words to a large distribution list
- Using forms for research and reporting
- Encouraging pastors and leaders
- Fielding counseling questions via text messages
- Bible study accountability reminders
Sending regular newsletters has long been a staple of maintaining relationships with ministry partners and raising missionary support. While many missionaries still send paper newsletters, most missionaries send email newsletters as well. I work with and know many missionaries, so I regularly receive these monthly, quarterly, or occasional email newsletters. Many missionaries do not carefully consider the file format they use to send newsletters. I would like to provide several reasons why missionaries should use the PDF format for these attachments. PDF stands for Portable Document File. It can be created and read by many applications. The developer of the PDF file is Adobe and the most common viewer of PDF files is Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can identify a PDF by the letters “pdf” after the dot in the file name, as in newsletter.pdf. The icon on the right is commonly associated with PDF files.
- PDFs files are opened with a free (an very common) viewer. If you use a proprietary file format from Microsoft Publisher, Adobe Photoshop, or other applications, the recipient will need this same application to view your newsletter. Even more common formats such as Microsoft Word’s DOC and DOCX, require a viewer that some users may not have. Anyone can open a PDF file with a free, popular application.
- PDFs do not contain viruses. Files like Microsoft Word can contain macros, small programs that may harm your computer. Some email applications will block these as a protective measure.
- PDFs allow you to use your favorite font. If you use a special font that your recipient doesn’t have, your words with either be displayed in another font, or will be displayed as complete gibberish, resulting in unattractive or unintelligible text.
- PDFs insure that your recipient sees the document the same way they would if you printed it and mailed it to them. PDFs are like a virtual printed copy of your newsletter. You can rest assured that no one will see anything else on their screen.
- PDFs make it easy for your recipient to print your newsletter. When your recipient prints the document, it will be the same as if you mailed it to them.
- PDFs make it sure that no one can alter your newsletter. It is what it is.
So, now that you understand why it is important to send your newsletter as a PDF file attachment, how do you do it? Many computer applications allow you to save the file as a PDF file. You may also install a small program that functions like a virtual printer, turning anything you can print into a PDF. Some free programs that do this are PDFCreator and PrimoPDF. They install on your computer are shown as printers. Instead of printing paper, they “print” the file and convert it into a PDF file on your computer. You can then attach this file to your email.
If you use Microsoft Exchange and want to forward your incoming email messages to another email address, here is a handy guide. This will automatically forward all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com or any other address. It is better to configure this “rule” on the server instead of in Outlook on your computer, as you will want it to run whether your computer is running Outlook or not. To do this, you will use Outlook Web App, or the older Outlook Web Access.
- In your internet browser, go to your company’s Outlook Web App website and log in.
- Click on Options in the top right.
- Click on Organize Email on the left side.
- Click on New.
- Choose [Apply to All Messages].
- Choose Redirect the message to.
- Enter your other email address on the bottom line and click OK.
- Click Save.
- You will see a warning that says “This rule will be applied to every message received. Is it correct?” Click Yes.
- Click Sign Out in the top right.
Gmail has made a small change that has a big benefit for those who use email forwarding and have their email forwarded to a Gmail account. Under Settings > Accounts, you may send mail from another email account. Gmail has had a similar feature for some time, but it actually still used their outgoing mail server and showed “on behalf of” message in the from section of the email for users of Microsoft Outlook. Now you may use your own SMTP (outgoing) mail server and send mail without the “on behalf of” note being displayed to your recipients. Learn more about email forwarding.
Do you want to keep a copy of eveything you send via email? Or maybe you always want to BCC your spouse, assistant, supervisor, or other email account. Here is how you can make Microsoft Outlook automatically BCC all your outgoing messages to another email address. It involves a couple steps but it is worth it. Mozilla Thunderbird includes this option in the settings. You could easily create a email account just for backing up these sent messages.
Many missionaries I know change their email addresses all too frequently. Either they use one address on the field and another in the home country, or their email address contained a specific role (firstname.lastname@example.org) that has since changed, or their ISP changed and they now use the mailbox provided by their new ISP. Such changes cause needless interruptions in communications with colleagues, partners, and supporters. Here are some unique realities missionaries may face that could complicate their email solution.
- Regular furlough trips
- Changing technology and internet service providers (ISPs)
- Corporate solutions that are difficult to use in some locations
- Unique remote solutions that require special addresses (radio, satellite, SMS)
- Secure email requirements
The solution is to use email forwarding. Email sent to one address is then forwarded to the other address. This allows you to retain one email address for life, while still being able to change with new technology, new ISPs, and moves. There are a couple easy ways to forward email. Here are some common methods.
- Forwarding Service – Services like Pobox are setup to simply forward your mail. Usually a fee is charged for this convenience. Pobox.com costs $20/year.
- Forward Corporate Email – If you have a corporate email server, your network administrator can forward this for you. In some systems like Microsoft Outlook/Exchange, you may configure it to automatically forward your email to another address using rules.
- Forward Webmail – Web-based email services like Gmail allow you to forward email to another email address.
- Custom Domains – You can purchase your own custom domain. Google offers this feature for $10/year for a domain with 200 email accounts.
Here are a couple examples of how email forwarding could work using Gmail, which is free and easy to use.
- Backup – A copy of emails to email@example.com are forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org as a backup copy.
- SMS – Emails to email@example.com are forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org to give him a nicer SMS-email address.
- Job related – Emails to FirstChurchPastor@gmail.com are forwarded to email@example.com until he retires, then to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Technology related – Emails to email@example.com are forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org, which may be required by special ISPs.
Do you want to use web-based applications to share files and save money on expensive office software? You should try Google Apps. If you have a Gmail account you can click the Documents or Calendar top at the top of the page. Google offers a free web-based word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application. You can create, modify, upload, download, and share your doc, xls, and ppt files. You may also store your pdf files online. This is useful for collaboration with teammates on a document. If you have your own domain (i.e. email@example.com or www.yourname.com) you can have Google host your email. You can keep you personal or corporate email address and use the innovative Gmail interface, as well as their POP, IMAP, and forwarding. You can share a contact list, send meeting requests, have a common iGoogle-type start page and host a private intranet. With Google Docs and Google Calendar, you can have a poor man’s Microsoft Office, Exchange, and Sharepoint. When you compare the total cost of ownership associated with a typical small office setup (servers, software, staff) you may find Google Apps to be an attractive alternative You can signup now for free and if you do not have your own domain, you can get one for $10/year.
Did you know that sending an email is much like sending a postcard? It can be read my many people other that the intended recipient. Do you want to send private email? There are a few things you can do to become more secure like using SSL or a VPN, but only encryption is fail-safe. Unfortunately, many users find it difficult to use PGP-style encryption. Hushmail offers the PGP level of encryption in a easy-to-use webmail format. While limited and relatively featureless, it is one of the easiest ways to send a secure email. You can even send a secure email without creating a Hushmail account.