Cleaning Up Your Inbox
By: Kiernan Manion
Email is an exceptional tool for communicating with colleagues, family members and friends. However, if you don’t maintain your inbox, you could be overwhelmed with hundreds or even thousands of emails. Many people avoid dealing with this collected mass, thinking “There’s no way I can sort through this!” What you are experiencing is “email anxiety,” a feeling of guilt and stress from thinking of what could be lost in that massive horde of unanswered, buried messages and spam.
Don’t lose an important business opportunity or personal connection because of this. Keeping organized will protect your bottom line and secure your sanity. Take some time to gain control of your incoming and existing messages. Before you jump right into deleting messages and sorting your inbox, some planning is in order.
Assessing the Situation
First off, how do you use your email and who are the people you like, and need, to email? What makes a conversation important? Prioritize your contacts by doing a quick search, acknowledging and evaluating their significance. Another key first step is to set clear and realistic goals.
- How many emails are you facing?
- How do you want them organized?
- How much time to you have to devote to this?
Set daily / weekly goals,
stick to them on a regular basis
A few hours throughout the week should be enough to maintain and organize your emails. You might need more time up front to chip away at a worse situation, so plan this out ahead of time. Your inbox should serve as a landing page for new messages, only filling one page at a time, two pages maximum. After the second page, are they really that important to you?
Personal and business email accounts serve different needs, so keeping them separate is a way to connect all of your incoming and existing messages with the right roles you fill. You may also want to forward an older, less-used account to your primary, consolidating your accounts and accessing them all through one or two that you use frequently.
Now you are ready to get started on your way to a clean, efficient inbox, but what do you do first? There are three essential ways to handle emails:
Conversations in which you are actively communicating with others should be kept until they have ended. Once that happens, you should choose to either archive or delete them.
Archiving is a useful tool to keep older conversations without removing them entirely. This can be done by using filters and establishing labels or tags with specific characteristics. Based on the contact name, a filter will sort every new email into a label, allowing you to “Skip the Inbox” or simply place it in a separate label for you to deal with later. Many services even allow you to set up automatic filters to sort through past messages based on contact, subject matter or other criteria.
Plan to “sweep” rather than handling every message individually. Move clutter by the dozens while establishing folders for time periods or other factors, archiving older messages. This way, you will not waste time with irrelevant emails, opening up your inbox to be used for its intended purpose: handling current matters.
Deleting messages is important because it emphasizes moving forward. That conversation that was SO important three months ago isn’t a factor now, so deleting it will free your mind of past burdens, ultimately relieving stress and helping you concentrate on the here and now. Of course, if you’re unsure if you should delete a particular conversation, archive it for now and come back to it later.
For all of those promotions you’ve inadvertently signed up for, simply deleting them will not solve your problem. You actually have to open the email, scroll to the bottom and unsubscribe. (It’s actually illegal to not offer this option). After that, delete them and feel confident that you will never hear from them again. However, some promotions offer valuable savings, information and other benefits, so automatically archiving them rather than unsubscribing could prove useful.
- Sorting through your inbox can be very intimidating, but here are some quick time-savers that can help you:
- Make it a habit to address new emails immediately. Engage, archive or delete. Do this daily (or weekly) and save yourself the work later on.
- Use the search function to find specific contacts and keywords within the title, body or attachments found in your backlogged messages. This will help you find and sort in bulk, rather than individually.
- Most email service defaults will sort by date, but you can reconfigure the settings to arrange the columns in your inbox by name, title, importance and many other factors. This will clump together massive blocks of selections based on certain criteria you need to archive or delete them.
- Configure your display settings to a reasonable size, like adjusting the list size to show more messages on each page. This will help avoid “page jumping” and allows you to select more emails at once to archive or delete.
- Write some notes and reminders on the most important and pressing matters you come across, so you don’t forget them again. You may even want to store these conversations using a label and tag them as “Important.”
- Consider printing or storing emails with info like receipts, tax documents, and other pertinent information, then archive or delete. Printing out your personal and financial records can offer you peace of mind.
Think of your email like your regular mail, if you stacked unopened letters on the kitchen table. If you neglected them for days, weeks, even months, it would eventually become an unmanageable mail mountain! The trick is to train yourself to respond, filter and organize immediately, at a schedule that works for you.
Ready to get started? Carve out some time this week to overhaul your email account. It might take you a few hours, but the time (and stress) you save in the long run will make all your effort worth it. The main goal with cleaning up your inbox is to spend less time on the computer and more time doing other things you love.
More tips, how-to’s and valuable information about organizing and maintaining your email:
Kiernan Manion is an Editorial Assistant, Contributor, Social Media Specialist and Content Developer for Surplus Today with over five years of experience in the fields of print publishing, technology product research and sales, writing consulting and business development. A Michigan State graduate of the Professional Writing Program, Kiernan has a strong background in graphic design for print and web, marketing research and plan development, and writing concepts in a variety of genres, both academically and professionally.