Once upon a time, you opened your email inbox and it was – gasp – empty! I can hear you chuckling, “that is definitely a fairytale.” If you have hundreds of messages in your inbox, it is difficult to believe that your email could ever be anything other than overwhelming. But it can be. Here’s how to make your email fantasies a reality and de-clutter your email inbox.
First things first, it’s time to do some hard and fast sorting. With a little strategy and copious use of your email inbox’s sorting capabilities, you’ll clear out a ton of clutter in no time.
Use your inbox’s view sort option to arrange your messages by date. Create a folder for each year for which you have messages, lumping all messages older than 2012 together as “Old.” Move everything from 2013 and 2012 into their folders, leaving just the messages from 2014. The older messages aren’t gone, but they’re out of your way and you can easily go back to them later.
Now sort the current year’s messages by sender to lump all correspondence between the same messengers in one spot. You’re usually safe to delete all but the most current email under a given subject. There are also probably some senders that you can delete altogether, like notices of sales long past from your favorite stores or newsletters that no longer interest you.
This should leave you significantly less mail than you started with, and only those that you still need to hang onto for some reason. Sort remaining messages into labeled sub-folders based on your organizational preference, such as by type (work, personal, school, etc), related subject (travel, banking, recipes, etc) or action required (need to research, send quote, etc).
When you have a few minutes, purge and sort your prior year messages as well. Once you’ve gotten your current mail under control you’ll find the older stuff is pretty quick going. Don’t forget to clean out your sub-folders periodically, say at least once or twice a year.
I tend to leave emails in my inbox until I’ve fulfilled my responsibility with the thread. I suffer from “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome and if I tuck that message away in a sub-folder I will likely never get back to it. If you’re like me, set yourself a hard and fast deadline for when messages need to get addressed and moved along. I like to give it a month. After that I’ve either really dropped the ball or it doesn’t require enough interaction from me so as to warrant a spot in my inbox.
Once you’ve wrangled the mail you already have, stem the tide of new messages. First, turn off most auto-notifications. An email telling you that someone commented on your Facebook photo is redundant with the notification you’ll see the next time you log in, and will distract you from the work at hand.
If you voluntarily signed up for a newsletter or email mailing list but no longer have the time or interest to read it, follow the process at the bottom of the message to unsubscribe. The important distinction is that you do NOT want to do this with spam. Replying to a spam message in any way only notifies the spam list that your address is good and active.
Finally, enable automated message filtering (some email programs refer to this as setting rules). Auto-sort messages into appropriate folders so you don’t have to open, peruse, and sort by hand. This works great with coupons or sale notices that you don’t need to see three times a day but still want to have on hand when you’re going shopping. If you can’t get off a mailing list for some reason, have unwanted mail delivered straight to your trash.
Create rules for your Inbox going forward, such as:
Designate time for email. This may seem counter-intuitive. If you spend less time with your email, won’t it get more overloaded? Yet when you scan a message without having time to really address it, you end up having to read it twice – once now and again when you sit down to work on your inbox. Instead, set aside a chunk of more productive time and ignore it otherwise.
Take immediate action. Either delete a new message immediately or reply and sort into an appropriate sub-folder. If you need to get more information or research prior to replying, set a deadline for yourself and stick to it.
Use reminder, calendar and to-do programs to your advantage. A lot of people leave email in their inbox as a reminder – of an upcoming meeting or your brother’s new address, etc. Instead, use one of the many great reminder, alert, calendar and contact management programs available for free online to perform this function for you and clear out your inbox.
Schedule a weekly cleanup day. Whether it’s Friday before you leave for the weekend, or Monday cleaning up last week’s mess, try to get your Inbox where you can see the bottom of it.
Source: Andrea Eldridge