Oh, that email inbox! It fills up so quickly for the vast majority of us. Then we need to find a specific email and we spend precious time looking for it. It is a challenge to keep up on email, to keep the inbox clean and free of junk and those 1001 daily “please pass this on for good luck” messages. So, how does one keep one’s inbox clean, neat, and organized? It is a multi-pronged attack, but one incorporated, can make finding messages faster and easier.
Here is how you do it:
1. Anti-Spam Software – If you are using online email, it is simple enough since most email servers such as Hotmail and Gmail already provide anti-spam filtering. If you are using an email client such as Outlook, Opera, or Thunderbird, you may have to purchase additional anti-spam software. There are plenty of good ones out there that can capture as much as 90% of the spam assaulting the inboxes of the world. Keeping your inbox spam-free makes the rest of the inbox organization process so much simpler.
2. Use Folders – Just like keeping your bookmarks in folders with your browser, so you should keep your emails in folders. Give them names you can understand like “Registrations” for email containing registration information, “Payments” for receipts you have acquired through online purchases, and folders for the names of friends and co-workers who email you often. Once you have created these folders, you can go to the next step.
3. Know Your Email Client – Whether you are using Outlook, Outlook Express, Opera, Thunderbird, or one of the myriad other clients available, it behooves you to learn how it works. Almost every one has the ability to create “rules” which tells the client how to handle incoming mail. For example, you can send any message that comes in with certain keywords in the subject line straight into the junk mail folder, or you can have all incoming email from a specific email address go straight into a folder for that person. It can take a little while to make all the rules, but once it is done, it will save you a lot of time compared to moving the messages individually and manually into their respective folders. Some online email services allow you to do this.
4. Use the “Follow Up” Button – Most email clients allow you to flag emails that require follow up. Use it! This way you can prioritize the emails based on whether they require a response or not. You can attack these emails first and get them out of the way. You don’t miss making a reply when one is required and you won’t have the boss asking “Did you get that email I sent you this morning?” And we all want to avoid that!
5. Use the “Delete” Key Often – If a new email is neither important nor required, get rid of it. That joke that Uncle Ralph sent you with pictures of LOL Cats was cute, but do you really need to keep it around? Probably not. Why file it when you can trash it.
6. Clean Out the Old Stuff – Just like the email from Uncle Ralph, there is probably a lot of old stuff you don’t need either. For example, that receipt for the cheap coffee maker you bought online 3 years ago. It is out of warranty, so the receipt in no longer valuable. You can’t get your money back if it breaks, so just get rid of the receipt. Going through your folders once a month and deleting the oldest emails just keeps things cleaner.
7. Stay One Top Of It – Depending on how much email you receive, you may not need to maintain every day or even every week, but you will need to do maintenance. At least once a month, go through and clean up your folders. If you have new folders created, you may need to create new rules to send email to that folder. Take a few moments to make sure your anti-spam software (and your anti-virus software while you are at it) is up to date and has the latest patches and updates.
Getting organized is the hardest part. Once you have your organization in place, remember to stay organized – which will take a lot less time – leaving you more time to attend to other business at hand.