organized emailIf you are someone who is overwhelmed with the state of their email, it’s time to get your inbox under control and truly doing the work for you with a system for organized email.

I have worked with many clients who have hundreds, even thousands of emails in their inbox which can create digital clutter and fuel their feelings of overwhelm. By quickly creating a system that brings their inbox under control, we remove the digital clutter and rebuild their sense of control.

As with any system, the best system is a system that works for YOU. You may need to take this information and customize it to your own business, work style, and tools that you use.

Customizing your inbox type for organized email

I use Google Apps for business and have my Gmail inbox set up in sections using Gmails “Priority inbox” type. When using this inbox type, you’ll want to think about what sections you would want in your Inbox and create those labels before customizing your Inbox sections.

My inbox sections are:

  • Starred – For important email that needs action. This does not mean that I treat my inbox as a to-do list. This is where important client-related emails fall or emails that I may have read on my phone and need action when I return to the office.
  • Training – For coaching and training emails that are tagged as such. This is something I added recently to keep my own professional development within sight. I keep the tab closed so that I am not seeing what is in this section but the label is there as a reminder.
  • Waiting For – As you may have guessed, anything I am waiting for. Typically emails here are orders I have placed or payments that I am waiting for. Again, it’s something I recently added to keep these items in sight. I also keep this section closed and can only see the label.
  • Everything Else – This is any email not in the above section, basically new email. Occasionally, personal email sits here waiting to be addressed at a later time.

To set To set up your inbox type, click settings then inbox and choose Priority Inbox from the drop-down.

gmail inbox sections

Process whatever is in the inbox

To process what is in the inbox, I begin at the top and work my way through from newest to oldest, quickly making decisions for each email.  

Delete anything that does not need action

Informational emails, reminders, and any email that is no longer relevant should be deleted. What I LOVE about Gmail is that deleted emails are actually archived and can be found using the simple search bar at the top of your email.

For newsletters and sales promotional emails, make a quick decision to stay on that email list or not. If you no longer wish to receive those emails, unsubscribe and delete them.

Tip: To help quickly delete a large number of unwanted newsletters, set up a filter to delete these emails from your inbox. For newsletters and sales emails, this can quickly remove a large number of emails from your inbox. (See filters below).

Create filters as you process email

Filters allow you to label specific emails into categories and folders for easy access. Keeping the number of folders and labels you use to a minimum will keep your organization simple. Remember, you can always use the search function when needed. Some common filters that I use are:

  • Current Clients: Emails from active Clients are tagged as the client name and filtered to apply the appropriate label, always be starred, and never be deleted.
  • Newsletters and Reading: Newsletters are tagged and filtered to my “Reading folder”, completely skipping the inbox. This keeps the visual clutter out of the inbox and removes the temptation to read newsletters when I should be doing other things. I set aside time each day to scroll through my Newsletters and Reading folder when it doesn’t interrupt other tasks.
  • Shopping: Store emails are automatically filtered out to my shopping folder. Like my reading filter, it removes the temptation to read the newsletter or to shop for things I may not need. I refer to this folder, using the search function in Gmail) when I need something or when I am in a particular store and want to check for rebates or coupons.
  • Training: Important training emails are filtered to my training folder. They are reviewed daily at a time I schedule rather than interrupting my workflow.
  • Waiting for: This is a tag I create but not a folder. I use this primarily for items I order or invoices sent and check it regularly to follow-up on as needed.

Take action

As you continue processing email, take action. Any email that can be handled in a moment or two, do immediately. When working through a large number of emails, I am going to suggest you star anything that requires more time. This is to allow you to continue quickly processing the inbox before moving to the actions or starred section of your inbox.  

TIP: If you have a large number of emails to go through, work in batches. Set aside 20 minutes to process email and 10 minutes to take action. You can take a break and return to it over a number of days if needed.

Process Your Starred section

In order to process what you have starred as an important email that needs more action, you need to decide what the next action is and move it to your task or project management software. This is an important part of  maintaining control of your email over time and breaking the habit of using your inbox as a todo list.

Work through each email creating tasks for each and scheduling a time to complete the task. As a team we use TeamWork Projects, however, any task list that you prefer is fine. If you are working with a team, you can delegate the tasks to the appropriate person. If not, you can prioritize what needs to be done and schedule your tasks appropriately.  

The goal is to regain control of your inbox and create a system to maintain going forward. This means regularly processing email and removing the email from sight by either deleting it or moving it to the appropriate folder.

Once you have your inbox under control, you can follow my daily routine to kickstart a productive day!


Want more tips to overcome overwhelm?

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