If you are one of those people whose email Inbox is eternally overflowing, you may benefit from a few tips on how to keep the mail organized. If you have ever spent a ridiculous amount of time going through dozens, or even hundreds of emails trying to find one in particular to no avail, these suggestions might make that kind of aggravation a thing of the past.
Now, as for specific technical tools, those will, in large measure depend on what email program you use, because some of the most useful ideas will be specific to a particular program. Outlook will have different tools from gmail, which will have different tools from Outlook Express and others, however, there are some things that are going to apply across the board.
Delete, delete, delete
The best way to keep an organized Inbox is to not let it get out of hand to begin with, but if that horse has already left the barn then it’s time to start doing some serious assessment. For some folks, email turns them into the digital equivalent of a hoarder, with thousands of long-forgotten emails clogging up their Inbox.
So, step one is to dust off the delete key, and set aside some time every day to go through old emails and be merciless in getting rid of the ones you know you really don’t need. That would include things like reminders of meetings that took place last month or maybe even last February, along with any other communication whose time has passed. Now if you have hundreds of emails sitting in your Inbox, or maybe even more, this will take some time. If it’s too overwhelming to tackle all at once, then set up a specific amount of time every day to take care of all of that day’s emails, so you don’t get any further behind, and then spend another hour, or whatever you can spare, going over older ones until you’re caught up. Just be sure to invest some time in organizing every day without fail.
Sort and categorize
While you’re doing this purging, you will need to begin to sort out the things you will want to keep, including information you may actually need in the future. This is easily accomplished by creating some new folders under the Inbox. You can name these in whatever way makes the most sense to you considering the kinds of emails you get most often. It might be all the emails that have to do with a particular project, or all the emails from a particular person, or whatever categories best identify your important communications. Think of it as a big file cabinet.
This might also be a good time to consider whether any of these emails require some action on your part, and if it’s something you can handle quickly, right then and there, just do it and delete it. Some programs, like Outlook will allow you to color code your emails as well, to make sorting and locating things later much faster. Outlook will also let you drag an email to your task list if it contains something that requires more time than you want to spend right at that moment, but want to deal with at a later time.
Now, if you use Gmail, you can create filters that will organize email for you as it arrives. Using the rules you create, you can sort, delete, archive, label or forward emails. You can create an unlimited number of filters, but some categories will only give you a limited number of actions – like forwarding. You can get around this by combining several filters that forward to the same address.
Know your program
To make the most of whatever specific tools your email program offers, spend a little time becoming familiar with the program you use. Most people are only familiar with a few features that they use regularly, and never get to know the real potential the program has to help keep things organized and accessible. It’s definitely a good use of time to learn what your program can do and which tools might best meet your needs. And finally, once you have your emails sorted and organized, with all the useless ones sent off to the cyber-landfill, be sure to use your newly-developed organizational skills to maintain the system you’ve created, and you will never again find yourself sifting through a mountain of digital junk looking for the one email you really need.