I have just spent several hours I didn’t have, sorting out the overgrown technological garden that is my email in box. I wish I had read this advice beforehand given by Kelli Smith in The Muse who describes how you can spring clean your email inbox in under an hour.
Minutes 1-10: Clear Out the Junk
Set a time for 10 minutes and just start mass deleting (or archiving) any messages you know you don’t need, like notifications from social media accounts, reminders for past events, confirmations for deliveries you’ve already received, newsletters you already read (or will never read), and emails that are no longer relevant. You can make this easy by searching your inbox for common senders or subject lines (for example: LinkedIn notifications) and deleting a bunch of stuff at once.
Minutes 10-30 Create Folders and Labels
Now it’s time to organize the messages left that don’t need any action, but that you need or want to keep. There are as many folder systems as there are email users, but an easy one to try is making a folder for any topic or type of email that have several messages that relate to it. So, that could mean folders like: Receipts, Projects, Trips, and so on. You can always add and adapt folders as you learn what works best for you. To speed this process along, you can even create a “To File Later” folder for anything that you’re at all unsure about and an “Unsubscribe” folder for anything you don’t want anymore. Tip: Those are great folders to sort through when you have five minutes between meetings. If you want to get even more organized, try some Labels (called categories by Outlook) to add more info to your messages. You can have multiple labels on one email or even multiple layers of labels. So, that email in your “Trip” folder can have a main label of “Sydney 2018” and sub-labels of “Flights” and “Monday.”
Minutes 30-49: Use The Two Minute Rule or Make A To Do List For Emails That Need Action
The emails you’re left with now should only be ones that need action. If the action can be completed in less than two minutes do it now. If you need more time to take care of the message, add it to your to-do list with a notification to remind you to actually do it. Then, archive the email to keep your inbox clear (you’ll still be able to search for it later).
If you’re just not a list maker, you can instead use Gmail’s new snooze feature to have the email show up in your inbox when you’re ready to handle it. Or, if you’re an Outlook user, the follow up feature lets you do the same.
Minutes 49-59 : Update Your Settings for Ongoing Easy Maintenance
Congratulations on a pretty organized In Box but to avoid it filling up again set up filters that’ll automatically sort your incoming messages so you don’t have to. My favourite filter is for newsletters and offer emails I actually want to read but don’t always have time for right when they come in. Instead, I have set up a filter in Gmail which sends them all to a “Read Later” folder. (Outlook has its own version of filters called “rules” that can do some heavy lifting for you.) You might also consider setting up an auto-reply for your Gmail or Outlook when you won’t be able to reply to emails as quick as you usually would (like if you’re at a conference, working unusual hours, or on vacation). And, to really fly through your messages, you can enable and learn some Gmail or Outlook keyboard shortcuts. After this clean-up, you’ll be rid of that nagging feeling that you missed a message, or that sinking feeling that you have to face a full inbox every morning. However, if you find that you still have a lot of work to do–start setting aside 20 minutes every week to tackle these steps one at a time. Do that for a few weeks and you’ll find yourself with an inbox that actually makes your life easier.