Tame Your Inbox

September 9, 2011

Once upon a time we managed our lives and ran our businesses without email, but today, email is an important communication tool. Today we send and receive important messages through email. We often receive our bills through email. And of course, there is all of that spam. 

In this article, I want to talk about how to organize your email and keep your inbox clean. I’m not really addressing spam in this article. That’s a whole topic by itself that we have covered before. 

It’s important to keep your email clean and organized because the more email you have stored, the slower your email program will run. Some older email programs have maximum size limits and if you hit that maximum size, not only can you not get any new email, you can’t even access the email in the file and you’ll need to get us involved to get your email back. 

If you use webmail it’s important to keep your inbox clean because you have a maximum amount of storage. 

First, let’s look at what types of email are in your inbox. The emails in your inbox generally fall into one of 4 categories.

  1. New email waiting to be read.

  2. Email you have read, but kept because it reminds you of something you need to do.

  3. Email that contains information you want to keep for future reference.

  4. Unwanted email (SPAM)

Category 1 – Unread Email
In general, unread email should stay in your inbox until you read it. However, some busy people who get a lot of email might receive emails that they are interested in reading sometime in the future when they have some spare time. In this case, you can create a sub-folder called something like “To Be Read”. Then you can move mail like this into this sub-folder so it doesn’t clutter up your inbox. If your email client allows you to create automated rules, you could set up a rule to automatically move some email into this sub-folder. For example, you could do this with an email newsletter you receive so that when that newsletter arrives in your inbox, the rule would automatically move it to the specified folder. Then when you are in the mood to read some newsletters, you would just go to that folder and read them. 

Once you have read an email, if you don’t have any action items from it and don’t need to keep it for any reason, delete it. You can still access it in your deleted items (AKA trash) if you need it. 

Category 2 – Actionable Email
There are a couple of ways to handle this type of email. If your email program has a calendar or supports the idea of tasks, you can create a calendar event or a task from the email. Some email programs that have this functionality include Outlook (not outlook express) and Windows Live Mail. Some webmail services that support this include Google Mail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, MSN, etc.). 

If you don’t have any kind of calendar functionality, or just don’t want to do that, then you can just leave these types of emails in your inbox. The hard part is remembering to come back and remove them after you have done whatever you needed to do for that email. 

Category 3 – Reference Email
If you have an email in your inbox that has information you want to keep, there are several ways you can handle that, but the easiest way is to create an email folder and move the email there. For example, you might want to create a folder called “Jokes”. Then, any email you get that contains a joke you want to save could be moved into that folder, thus keeping your inbox clean, but storing that email in a place that’s easy to find it again. 

Category 4 – Unwanted Email (SPAM)
Don’t just leave it in your inbox. Delete it. 

In summary, having a clean inbox makes reading your email a lot easier, speeds your email up, and avoids storage space problems and maximum file sizes. 

Following the procedures above sound easy, and they are, but they do take discipline. Especially for a busy person who gets a lot of email. It’s easy to fall behind.

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