Take Control

Tool Time

Serious information junkies need more than a few handy data-management strategies. To win the war, you may require top-notch software and communications tools that automatically filter and prioritize information and provide access to it any time, anywhere.

Because most of us have trouble managing unwieldy amounts of e-mail, we'll start there. If you dread hearing the announcement "You've got mail," chances are you need some kind of advanced e-mail solution, such as the one offered by Eudora Pro Email 4.1 ($39 street; http://www.qualcomm.com).

A leading e-mail management program, Eudora Pro Email 4.1 offers advanced, powerful features to cut right through the clutter. You can view the partial contents of a message without even opening it, thanks to a message preview feature. Filters automatically identify and file your mail into certain folders, transfer or forward certain messages, or reply to designated e-mail messages with any number of automated responses. With Eudora Pro Email, your e-mail can even be downloaded and sent while you're simultaneously performing other functions such as composing a new message or looking up addresses in the address book.

Other e-mail programs offer more basic--but useful--management features. Using these programs, you can take advantage of functions that designate important messages with an exclamation point or red highlight, and learn how to use automatic blocking features. Yahoo! Mail (http://www.yahoo.com), for instance, has a new feature that automatically blocks certain messages; if someone frequently sends jokes or nonproductive e-mail, users can simply click a button to stop receiving any messages from this person.

Easy access to your information is also an integral aspect of getting a handle on it. It's easier to control infoglut when you can attend to voice mail, e-mail and the like whenever and wherever you want. One strategy: Keep all your important info online. Many entrepreneurs use Web-based e-mail like MSN Hotmail (http://www.hotmail.com) or Yahoo! Mail so they can access it from any location with just a browser. Useful services like Yahoo! Calendar put all your appointment, meeting and contact information online for easier access. To help you keep on top of things, Yahoo! Pager, a free message service, will even beep you when you receive new e-mail or when there's an upcoming appointment in your Yahoo! Calendar.

Similarly, consider using call-forwarding services that forward calls to your cell phone while you're on the road. Unified messaging services that pool all your communications for easier management are also a good option. Your telecommunications provider is likely to provide these services. Or consider using services like JFAX.COM (http://www.jfax.com). JFAX.COM Unified Messaging sends all your voice messages, faxes and e-mail to a single place--your e-mail box. Once assigned a personal phone number, any voice mail or fax that arrives is converted into an e-mail message and sent immediately to your inbox; simply click to view your faxes or listen to your voice-mail messages via an audio file. To get started, there's a one-time service activation fee of $15 as well as a monthly service fee of $12.50.

And there's even more help on the way. Look for more intelligent agents that clip information from the Internet and bring it back to you via your hand-held computer or cell phone. Also, thanks to anticipated improvements in calendaring and e-mail integration into the latest palmtops, pagers and cell phones, vital information will always be at the ready. With the right combination of common sense strategies and the latest technology tools, access to information becomes a blessing, not a curse. Maybe there's hope for me yet.

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Take Control.

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