Mary Wu, Virtual Assistant

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How to clean up your inbox

Mailboxes On Monitors Showing Emails Inbox And Online Communication

Mailboxes On Monitors Showing Emails Inbox And Online Communication

An email in box seems innocent enough. It’s just bits and bytes in a digital format that you look at a few times a day to see if anything important has popped up.

  • BUT — did you ever open your inbox and realize that you haven’t really cleaned it in a while (like years)?
  • Did you ever open your inbox and realize you have no clue how to prioritize, not the 50 new messages you’ve received today, but the 50 new messages you’ve received today plus the 50 new you’ve received each day for the last 50 days?

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to muddle through way too many messages.

One idea (developed by Merlin Mann) that has taken hold over the past few years is Inbox Zero:

This is probably a great goal to aspire to, but realistically speaking, there are people I know (heck I’m one of them) that might give up on something if it seems unattainable. So I’ve always been about actually DOING 85% instead of procrastinating if I think 100% is too difficult or time consuming.
evie quote
With that in mind, what are some TIPS for attaining Inbox Manageable:
  • Limit the time you spend reading email. Check email a few times a day (for longer periods of time) instead of many times a day. Perhaps pick 3 or 4 times a day you’ll just muddle through your mail instead of checking every 5 minutes. (Though I’ll admit to doing that at times – perhaps if a friend has run off to the hospital because a new grand-baby is about to appear).
  • Turn off notifications. Even if you don’t instantly jump to check what’s happening when you hear a “ding” or a “buzz,” you are still slightly distracted by it.
  • Your Inbox is NOT your To-Do list. You can make a separate folder for ToDo – or “Items Needing Action,” but don’t keep these “front and center”
  • Touch it once. Many organizational gurus suggest “touching it once” for paper that comes into your home (file it or toss it or act on it). The same works for electronic communication. Look at it and decide where it needs to go. If it’s something that needs to go on your schedule, put it on your calendar and delete the email.
  • User folders. Using filters you can create folders, and send mail from certain parties directly to a folder. In Gmail (and I assume in other email applications), if you have a folder with something “new” in it, you can look at it when you have the time.
  • Don’t use folders. One suggestion I’ve run across is to only use “inbox,” “trash,” “draft,” “sent,” and “archive.” With current search engines, you’re often able to find a message if you can use the proper search parameters.
    (Yes – I know that’s the exact opposite of what I said above – but your mileage may vary on any of these points, so take what works and leave the rest).
  • Make subject lines clear. This helps if you’re looking for something later, because it makes things easier to identify.
  • PICK UP THE PHONE. Sometimes you can be more productive by spending a few minutes talking to someone than going back and forth by email.
  • Print – or print to PDF. For myself, for information I need to retain from clients, I will “print” an email to PDF, and save the email in my client folder. Sometimes that’s the best place for me to find it.
  • Kill ’em while you’re killing time. Two years ago Gmail rolled out the tabs. (I wrote this at the time about the Gmail changes). I love the “new” (is it “new” if it’s two years old?) Gmail tabs, but sometimes I ignore things in my tabs. Sometimes you really need to go through and remove things, but this is great use for down time, for instance while you’re in the cell phone lot at the airport or while you’re waiting in line at the DMV.
Gain control of your email and don’t let other people prioritize your day.

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