3 Steps to an Organized Inbox

posted on: Friday, March 16, 2012

“Are you sure about that he called off the wedding, Jolene? Sometimes Zeb misspells stuff in e-mails, and it comes across badly.”
― Molly Harper,
Nice Girls Don't Date Dead Men

 (picture from hotmailfree.net)

As I write this blog post, my inbox shows that I have 176 emails that I need to tend to. I scroll through them quickly to realize that several of them are internal news digests that I should have moved to their appropriate folder, but did not, for some reason or other; still others are emails that I have read but left them marked as unread in order to not forget to take care of them, took care of them but again, did not move them out of my inbox. Notice the pattern here? 

I can see this rapidly spiraling into a tornado of emails that will then start flinging themselves at me, screaming for attention, much like the image above. This will increase my stress level—just looking at the blasted emails looking at me. I am sure many of you feel this way.

So, here are three simple and useful steps to an organized inbox: 

1. Create folders

This has literally saved me a ton of time and stress. Can you imagine having to wade through thousands of emails to find the one you want if you did not have a system of organization as simple as folders? We always think of having folders for our paper, so our emails should be no different. You can organize your folders in the way that makes the most sense to you. I do them by client and within each client folder I have sub-folders—design, content, collateral, etc. So, when my computer 'dings' at me to notify me of the arrival of a new email, I now have a place for that email to go once I am done with it.

2. Follow the 4Ds—Do, Delegate, Defer and Delete

The whole idea is to manage your inbox and not have it manage you. This concept of assigning an action to each email will empower you to be free of the email clutter you see every morning when you turn your computer on. 
  • Do - if you can do something with that email, then, by all means, do it. Once you have completed whatever the task was associated with the email, file it away in its folder. 
  • Delegate - if the email can be delegated or assigned to someone else, immediately forward that email on with a note to inform you when that task has been completed. Then, file it away. 
  • Defer - if it is an email that can wait, is not urgent or important, and there is no need for immediate action, then you can defer a response to another time. Then, file it away.
  • Delete - this is one of my favorite things to do as I clean up any spam or junk mail, or emails that say Thank You to a previous email and contains a long conversation thread. (I prefer to yell out a Thank You instead of cluttering up someone's inbox if the email is internal.) 
3. Set up a time for uninterrupted focus on email

I know this seems impossible to do when you are working on your "Multitasking Queen" title, but trust me, if you are doing the other two steps, this should not take you more than 30 minutes a day. I prefer to do mine right when I get in to work. I usually check my emails before I get out of bed with sleep-laden, groggy eyes—please don't do that. I am trying to break the habit. But, seriously, pick a time that works for you and focus on organizing emails before it gets out of control.

Just follow these three simple, useful steps to get started. You will find a system that will work for you, and it will save you a lot of frustration and stress. An organized email system is crucial to getting the right things done—every time.

Reclaim your freedom—one email at a time!

(And, please share with us if you have any tips on this topic that might be useful.)


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