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Email Efficiency for Genealogists

This post is mainly going to talk about some general steps for maximizing your use of email as a genealogist and managing information you receive via email. It isn't a post about emailing your research cousins or filing emails.

I do have a post about emailing AncestryDNA matches (or any DNA match if you're new to genetic genealogy) and a post on how to create an email template regardless of which email provider you use.

The purpose of this post is to show you how you can learn more about genealogy on your own schedule. There's a lot you can learn online and a lot of that information comes to you via email, even if what you receive is just a link to online information.

For several years I've been looking for an option where people who sign-up for a free or paid item from The Occasional Genealogist can customize the day they receive the emails that provide more information for that item.

One of the biggest issues with online learning is overwhelm which works hand-in-hand with forgetting about a course you purchased and didn't finish or even forgetting to read free online information. Delivering content slowly (referred to as "drip content" because it's dripped out one drip at a time) is more effective than being bombarded with all the information at once. Currently the best way to do this is via email. But what if you don't have time to consume that content when you receive the email?

I have been unable to find a solution that allows me to put the delivery date of select emails in my subscribers' hands. It might exist but not at a price point I can afford.

However, there is a way you can customize when you "receive" emails. You can do this yourself and then you can do it for any email you receive, not just those from The Occasional Genealogist.

How to Customize When You "Receive" an Email You Want to Read

In a nutshell, using a built-in "snooze" feature in your email allows you to pick the date and time you want a specific email (or several emails you've selected) to reappear at the top of your inbox.

I highly recommend using this option for a series of emails you receive when you sign-up for something new (for example, when you sign-up for The Brick Wall Solution Roadmap, you get a series of related emails about using the Roadmap for about two weeks. After this point you start receiving the newsletter and other non-series emails which may or may not be related to each other in topic. Many bloggers and online course providers use this system). 

If you have time to read these series emails as they arrive, great! But I never have time to read them on the schedule the sender sets. The snooze option lets me pick when I have time for that specific email or email series.

The big advantage of snooze is how fast and easy it is. There are some issues and other options, though.

"Snooze" is a Gmail feature although there is a similar option in Outlook for Web. At this time, there is a workaround for other versions of Outlook but they may not be what you need. Other email clients or services may or may not offer something similar.

Snooze Option in Gmail

Here's a Suggestion...

I highly recommend all avid genealogists set-up a genealogy-only email account. 

Genealogy can generate a lot of email (especially if you use DNA or are very active with groups that send notifications via email). Most likely, genealogy is your hobby, not your job. None-the-less, you don't really want an important genealogy email going astray. Most genealogy emails won't be that important so it's far too easy to miss one when it's stuck between work emails, or promotional emails where you ordered socks last week, or the sixteen emails you get each day with recipes to try.

Honestly, you probably want to receive lots of genealogy emails even though you might not want to read all of them. Having a separate email address just for genealogy gives you the freedom to sign-up for as many email lists as you want while giving you maximum control over when you look at that account. You know you only use that account for genealogy so you don't have to check it to see if you got a note from the doctor or confirmation of the shoes you bought to go with the socks.

Additionally, genealogy is basically a forever hobby. A post you made in 1998 can result in a long-lost cousin contacting you five years from now with KEY information. Having a genealogy email address, not the email for your job (which can change) or your Internet service provider (which probably will change) makes sure that person can contact you.

Today, many online message boards link to the current email used for your account. So, even if you've used another email in the past, if you update all your genealogy accounts to use your free (forever) genealogy email address, that is the email people will contact you at. 

Tip: You can do an online search for your old email address (put the address in quotes). See if there are any important places you want to, or can, update your address. Many early message boards are still available online but you can no longer post to them making it impossible to update your address in any form.

I recommend getting a Gmail account for your genealogy account so you can utilize Snooze and other features like easy integration with Google calendar.

Alternatives to Snoozing an Email

As I said, I like Snooze because it's so fast and easy.

Ideally you're organized enough you could simply save the content you want to read later to an organized place and have a set time each week to review such things.

Saving it or printing it can be a lot of extra clicks, especially when the email only contains the link to the content.

An Evernote Option

I tried doing this for a while with Evernote. 

There is an Evernote "Add-on" for Gmail that works pretty well  (I do use it in another way).  But there are a few issues for why I prefer the "snooze" option.

Evernote can handle gathering your emails and even providing reminders BUT, most emails actually provide a link to the content, they don't contain the content itself. 

That means you need to open the email, follow the link, clip the page to Evernote. Often the content is a blog post which means it has comments, ads, or links to other posts (usually all three) which also gets clipped and is therefore searchable in Evernote. 

Clipping just the article usually strips out the ads but not always the comments which can be the biggest issue (this is mainly a problem with large sites where an older post is sent out and there are hundreds of comments---I save recipes to Evernote and this is a NIGHTMARE in that situation but could also happen with genealogy).

If I didn't want to use Snooze, I would use Evernote for managing my online reading (they've added some new features recently where I'm considering making a visit to Evernote part of my weekend. I do have hobbies besides genealogy and I have emails related to them I want to read, but not during the week). 

If you want to use Evernote to manage the "emails" you want to read later, you can---utilize reminders or see if there are other features to provide a reminder (because features keep rolling out, there may be a variation to better fit how you want to be reminded to read an email or online content).

Another issue to consider, if you select which emails to save only based on the subject line, you'll find some are promoting a limited-time offer. I found it annoying to clean these out of Evernote but mainly because I wasn't cleaning out my reading material often enough.

See this post to learn more about using Evernote to "manage email."

Tip: If you like Evernote or OneNote or any similar app, I do recommend using it to save online reading material you want to reread or reference again. There's a difference between managing your reading (which is managing your education) and saving material (which is managing your reference information). It is perfectly reasonable to approach these two options with different tools but you can also simplify by using one tool. Your choice!

Paper Alternative

You can, of course, simply print what you want to read later. This can get bulky and blog posts usually aren't designed to be printed (providing this option is not as easy as you think, there are a lot of moving parts to a blog which means different preferences for each. This often means the solution a blogger finds for most of their preferences may not also provide for easy printing).

Set aside a time each week to read what you've printed and discard what you don't need to file for reference.

Almost the same but digital

Similarly, you could save links to what you want to read later and just have a time every week to read through that material.

The KEY

The key for all of this is regularly reading what you've deferred until later.

If you put off using this material, you need to give yourself a way to focus in on what you want to read. So, if you saved links, how will you know what the actual content is? If you have six inches of printed material (this wouldn't be hard to reach!), how will you know what of that you want to read in the 15-minutes you have free?

The Evernote option allows you to search but once you add much to Evernote, it's easy to get sidetracked.

Another Suggestion

I recommend trying to develop a habit similar to what I suggested in the Evernote post about email.

Every week set a time, or several short times (such as when watching T.V. or instead of scrolling social media mindlessly) to manage your online reading/education.

During the week, use your preferred method to defer emails until that time (so snooze emails, print content, clip to Evernote---whatever you prefer).

Instead of focusing on reading everything, manage the material by making it a priority or saving it for reference (this is when you'd file it so you can find it based on its content instead of just saving a link or piling all your printouts together). You can do this in several short sessions instead of one long (boring) session. If you're snoozing email, just snooze everything to the time of the first session and then resnooze whatever you haven't managed.

Make sure you do have some time to read/educate yourself during the week. This can be as little as 5 minutes (but I'd recommend 15).

If needed, organize the topics you want to focus on so you do dive into the referenced material at some point.

Isn't Snoozing Inefficient?

As I was looking into which email clients offered something like snooze I came across some posts about why you shouldn't snooze email.

Here's the thing, what you SHOULD do for work and what you should do for your hobby are not the same. There are lots of tips for the work world that work great for genealogy. But realize you might need to adapt some for genealogy because it's a hobby, something you do in your free time.

If you are retired and focusing on genealogy as your primary activity, I recommend treating it like a job. You'll get better results.

If you have other activities that would equate to a "job" (whether that is a job or just higher priority activities like volunteering, caring for family, etc.) use options to put what you need for genealogy in front of you when you have time for genealogy. When you defer something for work it might be procrastination. If you're putting a hobby off until you're free time, it's smart.

It's still a problem if you keep putting off genealogy, or a part of genealogy like education. That is still procrastination. Making it easy to do genealogy, or the part you're neglecting, is smart.

Manage Your Email for Better Genealogy

Develop a reading/education habit that fits your schedule. Getting genealogy education through free online material is a great option most people can fit in their schedule even if they don't have time for actual research. The problem is if they can find that material when they have time!

When you sign-up for something new and receive a series of emails providing more information, try snoozing them if you can't read them when they arrive. You can snooze them until later that same day or until the weekend or another day.

You can also try one of the other options and just set a time each week to check the place where you've saved the material.

Do you have a nifty way you keep up with reading informative emails? Share in the comments.

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