Taming Your Beastly Email Inbox


Clutter and poor organization is a symptom of either postponing decisions or having no workable system in place. This applies wherever clutter may lie, including your inbox.  With spring just around the corner, how about diving into a different kind of “spring cleaning” project, namely clearing out your inbox, once and for all?  Without a good plan of attack, today’s email will become tomorrows’ pile, which soon will become an overwhelming dumping ground.  Without some discipline, we also risk wasting far too much time reading and responding to email, taking precious time away from more productive or enjoyable pursuits.  Here are some tips, to help you reclaim your inbox, develop a simple and manageable  system for filing and retrieval, improve productivity, decrease frustration and guilt.  

1.  Don’t look at your emails first thing in the morning.  Before jumping into your inbox (a/k/a, black hole), tackle 60-90 minutes of higher priority work.  Handling email first thing in the morning is a slippery slope and can eat up way too much time.

2.  Handle emails in batches a few times a day, rather than jumping in and out throughout the day.  Trying to respond to emails as they arrive is very distracting and it takes about 1 minute to then refocus on what you were previously doing.  Also, responding immediately to low priority emails is not an efficient use of your time.

3.  Consider handling emails 3-4 times daily, at specified times.  At the very least, note the time you start, assign an ending time and stick to it, to avoid too much aimless dilly dallying in the abyss.

4.  Address new emails before working on your email backlog.  Don’t add to your existing backlog, by neglecting to categorize, prioritize and file the new emails coming in on a daily basis.

5.  Give a quick once over to your incoming emails.  If processing an email will take 2 minutes or less, do it now, rather than having to reprocess it again later.

6.  When reviewing incoming email, make a fast decision on each one.  Is this something that needs to be filed, acted on or can it be trashed?  Immediately filter it into the files you have (or will!) set up for these purposes.  Consider categorizing action files by color, priority status or having a few levels of action files, categorized by priority level (ex., action list 1 for do now, action list 2 for do soon and action list 3 for things that can be put on the back burner).

7.  Spend some time creating the hierarchy and architecture of your email filing system.  This will be time well spent!  Do not create too many categories, as this is more difficult to manage.  Break broad category folders into subfiles, as needed.  Your subfiles may even have subfiles.  When filing, open up the main folder, quickly locate the appropriate subfolder and drag it in. To ease the process, think of the files and subfiles as file drawers and remember to close them after you file or retrieve an email.  Keeping only the main broad categories of folders visible, makes filing much faster and easier

To get your creative filing juices flowing, here’s a list of the main folders I currently use and a partial list of my subfiles, which are in parenthesis.  This list seems to suit my needs well:

Assets (home, auto, accounts)
Career (past jobs, forms, ideas)
Email (cute, family, friends, useful)
Family (husband, kids*) *for each child, I keep subfiles for each grade, health and activities
Fun (reading, invitations, tennis, tickets, travel)
Receipts (warranties, instructions)
Simply Orderly ($$, analytics, clients, correspondence, education, policy, promotion, start up, tech, website)
Technology (computer, phone)

8.  Create rules, so emails from certain senders automatically go into designated folders, that can be handled later, in batches.

9.  Consider creating templates to streamline common requests and messages that you find yourself repeatedly drafting and redrafting.

10.  Do not use your inbox as your to do list.  Constantly reading and rereading emails from a lengthy list, to locate your next highest priority task, wastes time.   It is also rather stressful to constantly view the huge batch of emails you won’t get to today.

11.  Create calendar or task entries right from your email.

12.  Color code certain emails so they are more prominently displayed.

13.  Consider eliminating distracting email pop up notifications, to retain focus and concentration on the task at hand.

14.  Eliminate subscriptions to emagazines, newsletters and other publications you don’t typically have time to read.  You can always go to their website and read, should time permit, but you don’t need a flood from one sender, that you will likely never read.

15.  Rather than constantly deleting emails from the same senders, take a minute to unsubscribe or change your subscription preferences and viola, good riddance!

16.  Alternatively, automatically add all future emails from certain senders, to your junk folder.

17.  Periodically, review your file architecture and tweak as necessary.

If you require hands on assistance, Simply Orderly can help you set up a customized filing system for your digital or paper files, that is right for you and follows your individual thought process, as to where you would look for a document if needed again.

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