There are a few tricks I use to streamline and organize my incoming email. In fact, I’ve rigged a lot of my email to self-organize with the use of mail client filtering, coupled with email aliases (aka forwarders). An email alias works like setting up a forwarding address when you move your residence. Any mail addressed to the alias is automatically copied to a target email address (be it another alias or a “physical” address). Usually, you can set up an alias to point to several targets.

It’s important to note that when receiving an email from an alias, the To field remains unchanged – that is, an email sent to alias A and received by address B will still show alias A in the To field, even though B was the final recipient. If the B address then replies to the email, the From field will reflect address B and the To field will point to the original sender, as if an alias was never involved.

1: Temporary, Publicly-Facing Addresses

Say your company is running a contest or raffle and you choose to take signups or submissions over email, but you don’t particularly want to expose your own email to the world. You can create an alias – say, raffle@example.com – that points to your email and disseminate that. Set up a mail filter in your mail client to automatically file any email addressed to the alias into a separate folder, to keep it organized. When the raffle is done, just remove the alias.

2: SMS Email Masking

I’m protective of my mobile phone number (I don’t want to be too available), but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like getting text messages in emergency situations. Your major phone carrier may have an email alias set up for you that forwards any emails received to your phone as texts; for example, Verizon uses 0123456789@vtext.com. If you wanted to be available for texting but not phone calls, you can set up an email alias – say, sms@example.com – that points to your SMS email, so that you don’t have to expose your phone number. This also works for high-priority, system-generated alerts, like calendar reminders or site down notifications (very handy!).

3: Prioritized Email

Speaking of site down notifications, you can set up emails addressed to sitedown@example.com (an alias for your primary account) to star or flag itself as high priority when it hits your inbox. Tell your clients that when there’s an emergency and they need to get a hold of you pronto, address an email to urgent@example.com (maybe it forwards to both your regular email and your SMS email).

4: Exiting Employee

Lost a 10-year veteran from your ranks? The longer they’ve been there, the higher up they are, and the more external- or customer-facing the person was, the harder it will be to just shut off their email. Create an alias of the original account name (say, bill@example.com) and point it to the person’s replacement or temporary fill-in, so that they can handle any incoming email that Bill is no longer around to address. Depending on your email hosting environment, you probably don’t even have to delete the original account, in case you want to keep the contents. That way, the email still ends up in the original account, but is also copied to Bill’s replacement — and no customer has to talk to an empty room.

5: Moving Goalposts

Some people hold positions temporarily within an organization – for example, a nonprofit’s executive committee may be up for election every few years, or the engineering team’s on-call person changes every week. Rather than placing the burden of remembering who is “on duty” at any given time on the people you are serving, set up an alias that represents the position. In our nonprofit example, treasurer@example.com may forward to bill@example.com, then to john@example.com as soon as John is elected Treasurer and Bill loses his seat. This guarantees that the correct person will get the email, no password sharing is required, and fewer emails have to be forwarded to the new guy. The engineering example works much the same way – once Bill is no longer on call, John will start getting emergency@example.com emails instead. The best part is that customers and constituents don’t have to look up or remember who is on call or wonder who the appropriate recipient is at the exact moment there’s a problem.

Share your own tips in the comments below!

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