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Organizing Emails: 3 Easy Approaches and 7 Effective Tips for Email Productivity

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Organizing emails. Email, ugh! Our inbox seems to pile up to an overwhelming size. Subscriptions, opt-ins, bills, promotions, notifications, and the occasional email from a friend (that is like the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box!). Staying on top of it without missing something important can take chunks of our time.

7 Important and Useful Tips for Email Productivity

Before we share three very different approaches for organizing your emails, we’d like to give you a few tips:

  1. Organizing your emails is an everyday task

Although there are tools for managing emails, it’s not “set it and forget it”. Make it part of your routine, breakfast or that every morning meeting. Schedule time at least twice a day to check and act on emails.  I like to do this first thing in the morning, after lunch and right at the end of my workday.

2. Be flexible.

Your online filing system consists of folders you create within your email system. Your home filing system consists of paper files in a file or other cabinet. Whichever email organizing system you choose, it should be a capable of growing with your needs.

3. Be selective when sharing your work email address with others.

As much as seeing your neighbor’s latest baby pictures of her grandchildren may mean to you, don’t give her your work email. When you, you are likely to find your inbox filling with unwanted baby wipes coupons and articles on breastfeeding.

4. Don’t use email organization to procrastinate.

If you’re like me, you love tasks that feel like work–but really aren’t. I used to feel overwhelmed by new and big projects and would do anything I could to avoid them. Once you set up your email organization system, don’t work and re-work it just to feel like you are being productive.

5. Create separate email accounts for each part of your life.

For most people, three email accounts will suffice. These would be work, friends and family and social media. Give the friends and family email to your children’s schools/caretakers for updates and notifications–they have your phone number for emergencies. Use the social media account for “read-but-don’t-respond” items. Give this address out to newsletters, subscriptions and e-books and the like. Make sure all notifications from social media sites go to this address (or just turn them off).

6.   Use a group calendar.

Depending on your lifestyle, you might get swamped with event emails (and endless group replies) for work meetings, play dates, and social events (Aren’t you the popular one!).

Use Google Calendar to keep track of all your events and delete event invitation emails as soon as you have them in your calendar

7. Step away from the email, please.

Unless you’re specifically on-call during certain hours or otherwise required to by your employer remove your work email from your phone.  It’s important (and healthy) to have a mental break.

 The Best Way to Organize Email Inbox

Three Easy Approaches to Organizing Emails

There are three great approaches to tackling the clutter in your email inbox. Which one you choose is up to you and your lifestyle.

Read through each and decide which method of organizing emails works best for you.

1.  Use the Eisenhower Matrix System.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a system to help you prioritize and organize emails. It includes four options: Do Now, Defer, Delegate, Delete (or Ignore). When I first tried it out myself my brain was tricked into thinking every email was important or urgent – but with some practice this comes more naturally in the beginning of any day when those 4 categories are applied!

Usually, you will find out that most of the emails are less important and less urgent than you think.

If you open an email which is Urgent and Important, answer it immediately. For mails which are important but don’t need an answer right away, just add it to the defer folder and move on to the next one.

 However, it may be too simple for someone who has multiple emails, works from home, or desires a more robust system.

2. Use the Action System

In this approach, you’ll be organizing emails according to the time frame that the email needs to be responded to or otherwise dealt with. Each email provider has a function to allow you to set up folders. At the end of this post, I have included links for directions on setting up file folders for the most popular email providers to help you with organizing your emails.

Inbox: the inbox is a holding “cage. Emails shouldn’t stay here any longer than it takes for you to file them into another folder. The exception to this rule is when you respond immediately and are waiting for an immediate response.

Today: Everything that requires a response today or immediately.

This Week: Everything that requires a response before the end of the week.

This Month/Quarter: – Everything that needs a longer-term response. Depending on the number of emails you receive, you’ll need to decide if a monthly or quarterly folder is best for you.

FYI: Many emails we receive are informational. If you want to save an email for future reference, save it to this folder.

Occasionally, you’ll need to review these folders to ensure that nothing has gotten by you and that everything has been appropriately responded to or acted upon.

3. Use the Folder Type

Here, you are organizing your emails according to type:

Start by reviewing your email box to look for “like types” such as:

  • Bills
  • Paid Bills! – Organizing Bill Paying & Your Monthly Budgets” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Paid Bills
  • School
  • Medical
  • Insurance
  • Important
  • Information or FYI

Next, create folders for these on your email platform as described in the Action System.

Then, create sub-folders for these categories, if needed. For example, if the main folder is bills, you might create sub folders for electric, water, phone and so on.  If the main folder is recipes, your sub folders might be main courses, side dishes, deserts, etc.

Start filing emails into their appropriate folder.

A few things to note about organizing emails:

You may be wondering if you should file or delete an email. If you haven’t touched the email in more than 30 days, and it isn’t something you need to keep a record of (such as proof of payment or a contract), delete it. This shows that the email is not important and there’s no reason to keep it. Exceptions to this are FYI items or emails that you may want to refer to later for information.

If you are using this system, remember to move an email from Bills to Paid Bills once you have actually paid that bill.

Automating the Folder Process for Emails

To automate the file folder process, you can set up rules for your inbox. With this process, emails that meet certain criteria will automatically go into the appropriate folder instead of your general inbox. Here are the steps to set up this automation for the most popular email providers:

Gmail

Outlook

Hotmail/Windows Live

Reduce the Amount of Emails You Receive

Finally, a fablously effective way for organizing emails is by reducing the number of emails you receive. To do this you’ll want to unsubscribe to the many lists you may be on. You can do this individually (as you receive an email from a company that you no longer want to receive emails from) go to the bottom of the email and look for the “unsubscribe” button. Click on it. Sometimes you will need to answer a few questions (why you are unsubscribing, etc.) but usually you will just be removed from the list.

You can also do this in bulk by using a free service such as Unroll.me

Either of these methods work and will help you corral the clutter in your inbox and will be a huge boon to your task of organizing emails!

You may also enjoy some of our favorite books on mastering productivity (organizing emails is just one way!).

Want to be even more productive? Grab a free trial of Audible and listen to one of the above books while driving or doing household tasks!

How are you organizing emails? Do you have a tip to share? Post below and we just may include it in a future blog or social media post!

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