Organising Your Inbox

In this age of ‘always on’ communication, your email inbox fills up quickly, doesn’t it?! And not always with emails that you actually need or want to read; there’s often too much spam and junk mail. It can be really distracting and can get in the way of being productive, especially if email is a major part of what you do. And often important messages end up getting lost amongst the junk.

Here are a few suggestions for getting your inbox cleared out to ensure that you keep your important email organised.

Unsubscribe from Junk Mail

As the junk mail hits your inbox, it can be tempting to just delete the emails rather than unsubscribe from the recurring emails. It may be quicker in the short term, but in the long term it will take up more time to continue to delete those emails, not to mention the emotional effect of having an inbox that is overflowing all the time.

On a regular basis make sure that you unsubscribe from unwanted emails. This will keep junk messages from showing up in your inbox to begin with and save you the trouble of getting rid of them.

Set Up Filters

Most email services allow you to set up filters that tell your mail service to treat certain messages a certain way. They can be a really good way of moving emails that you want to keep but don’t need to look at yet into a folder for later. For example, you could filter all the emails that relate to your website into a folder that you check once a week when you’re doing your website admin. That way you don’t have to read or think about those emails until you have carved out the time to do it.

You can filter by fields such as sender and subject and often keyword phrases are useful to make sure you are only picking up those emails that you want to move, not any more urgent ones that you do need in your inbox!

Use Tools to Help You

My favourite email tool is Sanebox.com. It automatically sorts your emails into different folders for you enabling you to divert off the less important emails and only keep the potentially urgent stuff in your main inbox. The other emails are held in separate folders, e.g. @SaneLater, that allows you to deal with them after you’ve processed your most important emails.

There is a @SaneNews folder that gets all your newsletters. I manage that folder, when I’m processing my emails, by selecting all the emails in there and then glancing down the list and only unticking those emails that I really want to read based on their titles. And I do this only after I’ve processed my main inbox.

Sanebox also has functionality that, I would suggest, is better than unsubscribing from all the newsletters you don’t want, especially the potentially spammy ones. Unsubscribing from these might actually let the sender know that your email is a valid one where emails get read so they end up not unsubscribing you and sending you even more unwanted emails instead! It’s called @SaneBlackHole and all you have to do is to move any unwanted emails into that folder and the system will ‘learn’ to continue to move emails from that sender into the folder; and what that folder effectively does is deletes the emails before you’ve even seen them.

Use the Search Facility in your Email

Using search can help you to quickly find emails in your inbox as well as in your email archive. You can search for a specific person or company, messages sent to specific email addresses or emails containing specific words. It’s great for finding archive emails when you want to refer to them but also comes in really handy if you are expecting an email and have so many emails in your inbox that you can’t find it, as you can search by sender or by other words that will result in that email appearing.

Schedule Time to Process Email

One of the key strategies that can really help you to manage your emails more effectively is to, counter-intuitively, limit the time that you spend in your inbox. By spending all day in your inbox you end up treating it as your ‘to do list’ and then are constantly interrupted by the distraction of new emails appearing in there. Having said that, much of the work that we do relies on information and documents contained in your emails and you probably will need to send an email or two when you are working on your tasks anyway. So, what to do?

Two actions that you need to take are:

  1. Ensure you have a to do list that isn’t your inbox (there are many options; I currently use Todoist; paper and pen works too!)
  2. Stop new emails coming into your inbox until you’re ‘ready’ (In Gmail use Inbox Pause, on your phone make sure it’s set to ‘pull’ emails when you ‘ask’, Outlook – only get emails on ‘send/receive’)

Then you can set specific times in the day when you will check and, crucially, process your inbox to clear it of new emails. With all the emails that come in you will have a decision to make and action to take that falls into one of the following three categories:

  • delete or archive
  • respond – done
  • respond – add to task list

If you take one of the above actions on each email as you go through the list you will be able to clear your emails. If you don’t, e.g. you leave a few to think about and deal with later, your inbox will gradually fill up and continue to overwhelm you!

This approach does take discipline and can take a little while to get used to but it really can make a massive difference to your email management and your sanity!

Keep Your Inbox and Email Maintained

As with anything, it’s important to regularly maintain your email and inbox otherwise things can easily get out of hand! If you are using filters that will help to keep things organised automatically. Make sure that you regularly review the filters and set up new ones as needed to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Perhaps schedule in a bit of admin time once a week or once a month to make sure you keep on top of your email organisation.

About the Author

I work with business owners and leaders to improve their wellbeing, in these days of overwhelm, whether that be physical, mental or digital, using my POWER to Live More 5 Fundamentals of Simplify, Systemise, Share, Self Care and Sustain. I also work with business leaders to help them to improve their organisational employee engagement and wellbeing. I believe they are interlinked in a lovely virtuous circle.

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