Ready to continue on our journey to a gloriously organized computer? Yes! Me too. So far this month, we’ve decluttered our computer desktop, and make sure our computer backup system is up to snuff. That brings us to email organization.
Wait! Don’t run away! I know what you’re thinking…“I’ve got thousands of unread emails and I have no idea where to begin when it comes to organizing them all. I’m hopeless”. Nope. You’re not! Stick with me because if you complete this week’s assignment, you’ll get to experience the high of a decluttered email inbox and you’ll put a system in place for making sure it stays that way.
EMAIL ORGANIZATION: THE CHALLENGE
There are two big challenges when it comes to keeping your email inbox lean and mean:
- The sheer volume of emails (like snail mail, we’re bombarded every day with so darned much of it)
- Our tendency to check vs. actually process our email messages
So let’s begin by exploring some solutions to these main challenges.
Reduce the volume of emails coming in
Just like organizing your paper, the first step in the email organization process is to “turn off the faucet” as much as possible. When you have less email coming in, it obviously takes less effort to manage. From this point forward, evaluate each email message that enters your inbox with a critical eye.
Social media notifications are a great place to start. Is it really necessary to receive an email notification each time someone makes a comment on your Facebook post? Take a few minutes to review the notification settings across your main social media channels to minimize email notifications.
When you come across a newsletter in your inbox that you’ve never deemed important enough to carve out time to read, UNSUBSCRIBE. If you’re still receiving coupons from Babies R Us and your youngest child is now 10, UNSUBSCRIBE.
You get the point.
My favorite tool for streamlining the unsubscribe process is Unroll.ME. This app is the best invention since Evernote! In a nutshell, Unroll.ME generates a master list of all your email subscriptions and allows you to unsubscribe from any of them with a single click. For the subscriptions you’ve decided to maintain, you’re given the choice to continue receiving emails from each sender directly in your inbox OR to bundle emails from particular senders into a daily “roll up” (you can choose the time of day that you’d like to receive your 1 single email roll up).
The result? A dramatic decrease in the number of emails in your inbox.
See? Like the Unroll.ME tagline says, Email doesn’t have to suck!
Set up a routine for processing email
If I could offer only one piece of advice when it comes to email organization, it’s this:
Be proactive rather than reactive.
When you drop everything to glance at your email after hearing that notification chime on your phone, you’re letting email control you instead of the other way around. This habit is a productivity killer and it undermines your ability to stick to the agenda you’ve set for yourself throughout the day. Instead, you become a slave to the agenda of others (advertisers, marketers, friends and colleagues) who want you to view their messages at a particular time.
Setting up a routine for processing your email during the day (rather than just continuously checking it) puts you in charge of when you’ll receive incoming information. That way, you can focus on it during a time when you’re able to take action and make necessary decisions associated with each email. The frequency of your email processing sessions will vary depending on your situation. I typically process email first thing in the morning, and again in the evening before shutting down my computer for the night.
So what does an email processing session entail? It involves going through the messages in your inbox and making a decision as to what needs to be done with the message. Your choices include:
- Delete (Trash)
- Take Action
- File away for Reference
Sound familiar? It should since it mirrors the paper organization process.
For messages that require action, my rule of thumb is to complete the action during the email processing session if I can accomplish it in less than 5 minutes. Otherwise, I suggest scheduling the task in your task management system.
If you subscribe to a lot of newsletters (like me), you may find it useful to take advantage of the filtering options that your email client provides. Using this technology helps you to keep a clean inbox by automatically diverting reading materials such as newsletters to a separate “TO READ” folder.
To set up a filter in Gmail, click on the down arrow in the upper left corner and choose the “Filter messages like this” option:
Next, set the parameters for your filter. For this example, I indicated the email sender I’m targeting in the “From” box:
Next, instruct Gmail to bypass the inbox and send any messages from this sender directly to another folder that you designate (in this example, all emails from amylynnandrews.com get sent directly to my NEWSLETTERS TO READ folder):
You’ll need to set aside a regular time each week to read the messages that get automatically diverted to the TO READ folder.
There are several ways to manage those email messages that you’re keeping for reference. The most common method for storing reference emails is via a folder system within your email client. Messages can be categorized into folders in a way that is most intuitive for you (e.g., by topic, date, sender, project, etc.).
If you find that managing a bunch of nested folders is too time-consuming, you can choose to consolidate all of your reference emails into one large folder and name it “REFERENCE” or “ARCHIVES” and rely on your email client’s search function to retrieve a specific message if you need it in the future. Does it seem radical to toss all of those emails into one folder? Not when you realize how few messages you’ll ever truly need. Remember the statistic that we retrieve only 20% of the papers that we file away? The same holds true for email my friend!
A PEEK AT MY INBOX
I keep separate personal and business email accounts. I use Gmail for my business email in conjunction with an awesome little app called Sortd . Sortd transforms Gmail into a drag-and-drop workspace with columns of customizable lists. You can read more about the awesomeness of Sortd here.
Take a look at Sortd in action:
This is what my inbox looks like immediately after an email processing session. I started off with 45 unprocessed emails in the far left column. After deleting 30 of them (some of which were associated with a quick action that I completed during the session), I was left with reference emails and emails that are associated with an action I need to take.
Depending on how much time I have available (or how lazy I’m feeling), I file the reference emails away immediately into their appropriate file folder or drag them into the far right column and batch file them at the end of the week.
I break up my action-oriented emails into 3 categories: a) general To Do, b) Follow Up Correspondence and c) To Read (I used to filter my newsletters to a separate folder, but since discovering Sortd, I actually prefer consolidating them into a To Read column).
MORE EMAIL ORGANIZATION TECH TOOLS TO EXPLORE
There’s a whole world of email automation tools out there for you to explore that can help streamline the email management process. Here’s just a few that you may want to check out:
OPTIONS FOR TACKLING THE EMAIL BACKLOG
Now that you’ve drastically reduced the volume of incoming emails and have a process for managing your new email, we need to talk about that email backlog.
If your backlog consists of only 100-200 emails, consider spending the necessary time to process the backlog as you would the new incoming mails a little at a time over the next week.
If your backlog is much larger than that, I recommend starting with a clean inbox today by creating a new folder within your email client called EMAIL BACKLOG or OLD EMAILS. Move all of your existing email into this folder and mark them all as unread.
You can choose to keep all of the emails in this folder for future reference, or sort the emails by date and make a decision to delete all of the messages that were received prior to a particular date that you’ve selected.
Declaring email bankruptcy is a pretty drastic measure, but one that you might consider a viable option if your inbox is totally out of control . Learn about the process for declaring email bankruptcy here.
YOUR EMAIL ORGANIZATION ASSIGNMENT:
- Sign up for Unroll.ME in order to drastically reduce the volume of incoming emails
- Establish a routine for processing your email inbox (a set time of day)
- Determine a method for storing your reference emails
- Explore technology tools for streamlining email processing (e.g., filters, Sortd)
- Determine how you’ll handle your current email inbox backlog and execute the plan
I’d love for you to share a screenshot of your organized inbox on Instagram (use the hashtag #OrganizeandRefineChallenge and don’t forget to tag me) and/or share it in the Refined Rooms Facebook Group!
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This post is part of the Organize and Refine Your Home Challenge
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