This year I am committed to getting things organised and to work my way back to the happy emailer I used to be. Although my family may reword this to me needing to ‘be committed’ (!) I am slowly and determinedly whittling down my emails towards that infamous inbox zero. It takes time and effort for sure, but letting those emails sit unattended is letting opportunities slip by and the people I want to talk to are making me feel guilty of neglect. So let’s talk about how to organize your email inboxes.
An unorganized, overflowing email inbox can be a daunting elephant in the room and very difficult to overcome. Spam and junk email quickly adds up to a constant stream of distracting correspondence. This virtual clutter can make you less productive, especially if email is a major part of your job, as it is mine. Not only that – important messages can end up getting lost amongst all of the others. Here are a few suggestions for clearing out your inbox and keeping all of your important emails organised.
Unsubscribe from Junk Mail
How many things do we sign up for that later we find are no longer suitable for us? There are a couple of solutions to that. I have one specific inbox set up for newsletters and ‘junk’ mail. Things that I’m interested in but depending on the topic or my time I may or may not read. I then have a quick look through them once a day and delete everything I’m not going to read. Over time I have subscribed to so many things that this box has become too cluttered so I am going through the process of looking at a few items each day and evaluating whether they truly enrich my life or if I can let them go.
If it’s not something I’m currently interested in then I will use that little ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of the email. Yes, I do feel bad sometimes, but on the other hand, I know that keeping an email list costs money and I don’t want others paying to send me emails I will never read. This process takes a little longer than hitting delete, but in the future I will save time and have a tidier inbox.
Folders and Categories
Many email services allow you to create folders within your inbox. By sorting messages into different groups or categories you can easily find the messages you need when you need them. Don’t be afraid of making too many folders; if you have regular contact with a vendor or client, they will need their own folder; and perhaps at times even a sub-folder. If you use email for work, several folders based on subject will be more helpful than a single work folder.
Some mail services can automatically sort messages into different folders based on things like who they are from. I did try this for a little while but found it didn’t always work and I was missing some important messages as they were directed to a folder and I didn’t have time to visit each folder to check for new mail. However, you might find this is a tool that works for you.
Tags and Labels
While folders are an effective tool for keeping your incoming messages organised, they are less helpful in the case of messages that fit into several categories. Another option is to apply tags to messages so that they can be sorted later. Multiple tags can be applied to a single message which allows them to be sorted differently depending on the situation. Using tags and labels could be very useful if there is more than one person involved with a business and have access to the same inbox.
Setting Up Filters
Some email services allow you to set up filters which tell your mail service to treat particular messages a certain way. For example, if a particularly difficult junk mailer won’t remove you from their mailing list you can set up a filter that automatically removes all mail from that sender puts it directly int the trash (hopefully with the new GDPR regulations this won’t be as much of a problem as it used to be).
Filters are also useful for keeping your folders organised by automatically sending messages containing certain words or phrases to a specific folder.
Cleaning up Folders
I do this every now and again both for myself and for clients. I will open up the folders that previous emails have been saved to, organise the messages by ‘from’ if there are multiple senders, and delete the messages that are no longer needed. Sometimes entire folders can be deleted while other times I may only need to keep 1 message of 10 where the conversation has gone back and forth with the replies forwarded each time. This means I still keep a record of emails, but I don’t have as many to keep so that it’s then easier to find what I’m for.
Keep Things Maintained
No matter what systems or tools you use to clean up your inbox it’s important to keep things organised to avoid another mess from forming, which is always easier said than done! If you set up filters, many of your messages will be organised automatically. Make sure to update your filing system as needed and apply new filters to messages that show up in your inbox.
When new email arrives, deal with it immediately; set aside particular times during the day when you will check your inbox and set a deadline of dealing with your messages, such as 12, 24, or 48 hours. Any longer than that and you will feel overwhelmed and find yourself back at the start again.
Immediately delete: any messages that you do not need to read (and don’t forget to unsubscribe if needed).
Open and scan: not all messages need to be read in full. If after you’ve scanned it it can be deleted, do so now. If it is something you need to keep, file it, and if it’s something that needs more action then…
Open and read: read it fully and take any action that needs to be done. Perhaps set aside a specific time each day to deal with your emails that need further action and deal only with those so that you don’t become sidetracked and end up spending too much time going down rabbit holes.
Is Inbox Zero Achievable?
Yes, it is! I’ve done it for clients (somehow it seems easier to do it for others than for myself; perhaps I’m too attached and close to my inbox), and now I must channel my talents to my own inboxes. The first step is to deal with incoming mail as soon as you receive it, rather than waiting for it to build up.
Cleaning up your inbox will save you time; both at work and at home. Most email services offer tools like the ones described that you can use to do much of the work for you. Setting these tools up may take some time, but the time and effort an organised inbox will save you is worth it….not to mention not missing out on any genuine emails that could earn you some money (yes, I’ve missed out on paid opportunities due to an overly cluttered inbox).
I’m curious to know what your process is for dealing with email to keep your inbox tidy and under control. Are you willing to go head-to-head with me and we’ll keep each other accountable? Let me know in the comments as I embark on my own inbox zero challenge (once again).