Getting and Keeping A Clean Email Inbox

Inbox

It’s Monday morning and your email inbox is probably filling up as you read this. Don’t you wish you had cleaned up that e-box on Friday before you began your weekend? Well, there’s no time like the present to get started.

Could you use some help? Here are some tips from Flipping Heck to help you keep your inbox clean.

Learn to file

Create a separate folder for each customer/supplier/subject that you deal with. It’s quicker to find an email if you’re looking in one place!

Keep your sent files organized

At some point, you’ll need to prove that you really did send Jeff in marketing that email. File them in a “Sent” folder under the appropriate main Customer and watch Jeff squirm!

Delete the tat

Did someone bring a cake in for their birthday? Whoopy-flipping-do, bin it! It’s email clutter.

Don’t use emails for reminders

I know some people advocate sending yourself an email as a reminder but it’s better of in your Next-Actions/Project list otherwise it’ll haunt you and you’ll feel rubbish about not doing anything about it

Archive Often

If a project isn’t active then file it away somewhere. There’s no point cluttering up your inbox with stuff you’re not working on, especially as it may draw attention away from something you’re actually supposed to be working on. I’ve got a folder called “Archive” which I move all of my inactive projects into. I can quickly drag them out when something needs working on and still search them for any reference material I may need.

Remember the 2-minute rule

If it can be replied to or actioned within 2 minutes then just do it and bin it. It’s amazing how many emails can be sorted in such a short amount of time.

Turn off the “Dings”

Having an alert come up every time a message hits your email inbox is a real distraction and will make you lose focus on what you’re currently working on. Turn off the alerts and only check your email every hour or so.

Learn when to reply

I know it’s polite, but having an inbox full of emails that just say “Thanks” is annoying. Sometimes you don’t have to send a reply and if you stop doing it so will others (probably because they’ll think you’re a miserable git)

Remember what your inbox is for

Your inbox is only temporary storage space, it’s not meant to keep every email you’ve ever received. Refer to point one and file, file, file!

Have a weekly purge

We’re all busy so sometimes our inbox will fill up from time-to-time. Sometimes it’s because you’ve been out of the office, others because you’ve been stuck in meetings. Don’t feel too bad about it, just set aside some time once a week to go through your inbox and file/delete/action as appropriate.

Learn to use labels and flags

Most email programs allow you to label or flag emails for various purposes (such as “Action”, “Waiting for” etc.). Flag an email so you can easily find it later and move it out of your inbox.

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Janet Schiesl

Janet has been organizing since 2005. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and the owner of Basic Organization. She loves using her background as a space planner to challenge her clients to look at their space differently. She leads the team in large projects and works one-on-one with clients to help the process move quickly and comfortably. Call her crazy, but she loves to work with paper, to purge what is not needed and to create filing systems that work for each individual client. Janet is a Past President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and was voted 2016 Organizer of the Year by the Washington DC Chapter of NAPO.

21 Comments

  1. Juli Monroe on January 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Good post. I make a point every day of getting my Inbox down to 0, usually by 5:00. Okay, it only lasts a couple of minutes, but it means that I don’t have too much to wade through the next morning.

    Note that I said I get it to 0 by 5:00, which means that it certainly isn’t there throughout the day. Right now, it’s at 9, which is pretty manageable at 9:30 on a Monday morning. 🙂

  2. Lisa Gessert on March 1, 2021 at 5:08 am

    Excellent blog! I am now down to keeping about 10 in my inbox and either delete or file the others! Great tips!

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 5:54 am

      Great goal. I do try to eliminate anything that is no active from my inbox.

  3. Diane N Quintana on March 1, 2021 at 9:43 am

    All great tips! I hadn’t thought of using the archive feature for inactive projects. That is something I will definitely try.

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 5:55 am

      I do like to save emails, but not in my inbox. So I move as much as possible to other folders.

  4. Lisa Tonjes Moritz on March 1, 2021 at 11:13 am

    So many good tips!

  5. Sabrina Quairoli on March 1, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    Email folders are so important! I only keep the current emails in front of me that are current and not completed. Thanks for sharing these great tips!

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 6:08 am

      Yes. I do the same. I have a folder that I visit weekly with emails that I’m not finished with or waiting on someone else. That way they are not forgotten but not in my way,

  6. Linda Samuels on March 1, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    A few years ago, I got inspired by the idea of “Inbox Zero.” I know that feels impossible for some, but I tried it and succeeded for a time. The numbers have crept up in time, but things are still WAY better than they had been. I will regularly delete junk or remove myself from unwanted emails. I will file into folders or delete items that are complete. But there are still emails to attend to. I’m no longer close to zero, but I’m OK with that.

    The only time I email myself a reminder is if I am unable to write something down. I use Siri to help when I’m driving or walking. I say, “Hi Siri- email me.” And she is such a great assistant. She asks me for the email subject, what I’d like to say, and if I’m ready to send it. It works well. Once I’m back at the office, I transfer the note to my list and delete the email. I don’t do it all the time, but it’s a helpful option.

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 6:10 am

      I also use emails as reminders when I’m on the go. I think that is a good option if you look at email often enough, which I do.

  7. Melanie Summers on March 1, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    This is something I often neglect until I’ve got thousands of emails to file, ugh… good advice here with a sense of humor. I nodded and chuckled the whole way through.

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 6:11 am

      Thanks Melanie. I couldn’t concentrate if I had thousands of emails to file!

  8. Seana Turner on March 1, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve run into a couple of people who send emails to themselves as reminders. If you do this only periodically, it can work. But if used on a regular basis, it just adds a layer of extra processing which isn’t effective. I couldn’t agree more on the “Ding!” That sound is so distracting and it is almost impossible not to stop and look. Turn those things off:)

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 6:13 am

      HAHA! I hate the ding. I send myself emails as reminders, but usually all I do is delete them. They are just task reminders to me.

  9. Julie Bestry on March 1, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    Great advice; I use archive in the sense that I have folders into which I keep everything I might night to refer back to later, rather than than the Gmail meaning of it. (I don’t use Gmail at all; I like all my little email folders right there in my Outlook client.) I love flags, and I try to get my inbox down below 16 (so there’s white space as a buffer), but I do keep things that trigger my action in my inbox. Yes, it nags me, but there are some things I will ignore on my task list or next actions that I will NOT ignore if it’s foot-stompingly present in my inbox.

    I don’t send myself emails, but I do send myself texts. If I’m in bed, I can send a text to remind myself of something via my bedside iPad, and it will be waiting for me on my Mac and iPhone screens the next morning, sure to be remembered. Much better than email!

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 6:15 am

      I use emails for reminders, but whatever works! Right? I love Gmail and just picked up the book Taming the Digital Tiger – Gmail Edition. I hope to learn more tips and tricks to be more productive and organized.

  10. Kristin Zucaro on March 2, 2021 at 8:51 am

    This is excellent advice Janet! Thank you for sharing. I’m embarrassed to say how many emails I have in my business inbox… and even MORE mortified at how many are in my personal inbox. I’m going to take some time this week to file/archive/delete. Thanks for the tips!

    • Janet Schiesl on March 2, 2021 at 9:33 am

      Good for you Kristin. Organizing your email will save you so much time.

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