The other day I heard an NPR story on email “bac’n.” What is bac’n? Well it is not spam or ham, but emails that you want but are of very low importance. As spam filtering improves, I am finding that these useful but low priority messages are becoming more problematic. They start to clutter up your mail box. A couple of tips … have an unsubscribe day and use role-specific accounts.

Give me some Bac’n
In the pork-themed nomenclature for email, the term Bac’n has been coined for those emails that you want but are low priority. For example, I get notices from LinkedIn about 2-3 times a week. I signed up to Linked In, I want to use Linked In, but accepting invitations or making recommendations is a pretty low task on my list. In fact, it is so low a priority that I put it on the back of my desk calendar. So while I want to use LinkedIn, I just don’t want email. I will go to their site 1-2x a month and review invitations. Otherwise, I would rather not hear about it.

Since we’ve implemented some stronger spam filtering solutions, like greylisting, whitelists, and DSPAM, most of our spam is properly tagged. Accuracy rates for our support accounts are very high since most of our email is very well focused on a single topic. This makes it easy for systems like DSPAM to pick out the spam from the ham. Overtime, however, we start to see more and more announcements, product releases and other communications from companies we do business with. As a result, our accounts start to fill up with low priority email. So to combat this, we’ve a few policies and tips.

Unsubscribe Day
Today is unsubscribe day in our offices. All staff are to go through their email and unsubscribe from every newsletter, sales list, forum or other list that they are on. I mean every single one of them. This may seem harsh but it works.

If you find yourself longing for a newsletter that does not arrive, then re-subscribe to it, but I found by deleting every single subscription, you often never miss anything. Before you re-subscribe, look for alternative methods, such as RSS or blogs to keep up on the content. Google’s Reader program is a great RSS/Blog reader.

Role-Based Email
One advantage of having your own servers is the ability to fine tune your operations. If you have a lot of legitimate email correspondence, then consider creating task-based email accounts. You can create accounts for partners, vendors, announcements, and other task or role-based areas and then be sure to use these accounts for signing up for these lists or services. The one-time trouble of setting up multiple accounts is easily worth it due to the time you will save down the road.

I also suggest setting up a very low value account. Use this for any newsletters or other items that may send you bac’n. Nothing critical should go to this account. The idea is that should this account become overloaded, you can always just delete it and start over.

Email Productivity
Nearly a year ago, we shifted more and more of our support operations to our help desk. We deliver very little support through email these days. The reason is that email quickly became counter-productive. As our volume grew, we could not handle the 1500+ legitimate emails we received each month. By using the help desk, we can easily handle our support load. Couple this switch with unsubscribing and role-based emails, we further reduce our email volume.

We will soon implement a 3x policy for email. Our staff will check their email at the start, middle and end of their shift. Otherwise, they will not be using email. There are few vendor, partner or other issues that require immediate responses. Only support requires fast response times, and for that, our clients will best be served by our online help desk.

It is hard to break the email habit, but productivity gains are certainly there if you can learn not to check email so frequently. I am still re-training myself to only check email a few times a day, but in the end, I will be more productive and deliver better service to our clients.