How to organize your email inbox

Feb 16, 2016 9:30:00 AM

It can be intimidating to organize your email inbox.

Email is stressful. I have to maintain one of those inboxes where there are no unread emails or I go into a panic. I archive, delete, or file everything. When I see my colleagues’ inboxes with 6,093 unread emails, I just. can’t. deal.

So I got to wondering, how does one even tackle such a monstrosity? I went back to the basics and came up with a few steps to clear out and maintain a well-organized inbox.

Disclaimer 1: I use Gmail for all my email accounts, so this post is most relevant to gmail users.
Disclaimer 2: If you are one of those people who has 4,349 unread emails in your inbox, and it doesn’t bother you in the least bit...well, I don’t even know how to talk to you.

Your inbox is really only meant for new mail and ones you still may need to address. So clear it out. You may need to carve out a few hours to do this, and it may be a daunting task, but it will reduce anxiety, ease your mind, and save time, thereby increasing productivity. Your inbox is most effective when clear, organized, and well maintained.

There are a few Gmail functions you should know about to get started.

  1. Labels—This is the easiest way to find emails, as you can go into the label located on the left side of your screen, or you can simply search and your labels will appear as you are typing in the search field. One cool thing with labels is you can color code them, which allows you to see at a glance what may need your attention. In settings, you can decide which labels you want to see on the left side of your screen.
  2. Archive—There really is no reason to delete any emails in Gmail. Archiving removes emails from your inbox, but keeps it in All Mail, which means you can go back and find them later. They still show up in search and new messages received on an archived chain still appear in your inbox.

Moving forward, aim to keep the emails in your inbox on one page. Let’s be honest, those emails on the second page aren’t going to get seen again anyway.

I know it sounds easier said than done, so here are a few tips to achieve this:

1) Follow the OHIO rule. Only Handle It Once. Instead of opening an email two, five, or twelve times, the first time you open it, take action right then and there. Respond to it, delete it, archive it, delegate it—whatever you need to do. Then it’s not sitting on the backburner, and you don’t have to worry about it. There are certainly emails that you may want to have a more measured response to, so *star* those and put them on your to-do list to handle when you have time to devote to it. Just don’t make that the norm for all your emails.

2) Be honest with yourself. In our post featuring Rich DiTieri, Head of Global Partnerships for Startup Institute, he said his CEO taught him to never let emails build up. Tell the sender, “Hey, I’m really sorry, but I’m not going to be able to get to this.” Connect the person with someone who can help, or let them know you'll follow up in a month.

3) Unsubscribe from listservs. If you have deleted three emails in a row from a listserv you’re on, unsubscribe. It’s cluttering up your inbox, and it’s just another distraction.

4) Use filters. You can use filters to have various emails to skip your inbox to view at another time. For example, you may want to filter all your news-related emails and look at them at a specific time everyday instead of each time one arrives in your inbox.

Now set aside a few hours, and get to it! Then reap the benefits of a clutter-free, stress-free inbox and focus on the things that are more important.

Now that you have on your organization hat, learn how to organize your favorite web content.
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Erin Gifford

Written by Erin Gifford

Erin started with cove in January 2014 and has been enjoying the adventure ever since. Outside of her role as marketing director with cove, she loves the performing arts, memoirs, and UNC.