I once went to a meeting where the speaker opened her email to pull up a PowerPoint and had over 500 unread emails in her inbox. 500! The room went silent as we all looked at the screen. Someone even had the audacity to point it out! I felt horrible for her in the moment, but I know she was not the only one in the room who struggles to organize her inbox.
If you have found yourself in a similar predicament and fail to keep your inbox organized, I am here to help! This method of email management focuses on using your inbox as a to-do list. It will save you time, keep you on task, and make it easy to search for past emails. Most of all it will make the most of your email communication, allowing you to respond to requests in a timely manner and on a regular basis.
1 // Start Fresh. You may have an inbox with 500 messages, you may only have 50. Regardless of where you are, start fresh. If you don’t have time to address each email, I suggest putting all of your current emails into one folder labeled “Prior to (date).” This way you have a clean slate. You may have time to go back later and organize those messages, but for now you are focusing on the incoming messages from this moment on. After putting all messages in your “Prior to” folder. You are ready to start addressing your incoming mail.
2 // Create Folders (and use them!). As noted previously, you should already have a “prior to” folder. Create folders that are specific to your tasks. For example, I keep folders for each of my clients, as well as the different groups I am involved with. I also keep my work and personal email separate (although I manage it the same).
3// Use the items in your inbox as a to-do list. If the email cannot be immediately resolved, leave it in your inbox. Once you resolve the issue, place it in the appropriate folder. This may be a task that requires a phone call, research, or further follow up. Leaving the item in your inbox cues you that it has not been accomplished yet.
4// Get into a routine. You want those who email and communicate with you to know that they are valuable. One way to do this is to make sure you address all of your emails in a timely manner and on a regular basis. You want people to know that if they email you, they can count on a response. I suggest creating time to check & respond to your emails every day. For me, it is the first thing I do and it shapes my to do list for the day.
5// Set boundaries. Don’t answer emails on the weekends or after 5pm. Some people may argue that “there could be something urgent!” but I would argue that if that is true it is not something that should be addressed over email but rather over the phone or in person. My coworkers all know how to contact me when I am not at work, and yours should too. Setting boundaries allows you to recover and ready yourself for the week ahead. It allows you to address issues in a systematic fashion rather than ad lib from your iphone.
How do you keep your inbox organized? I would love to hear what techniques work for you! Leave me a comment or any questions you have below. I love hearing from all of you! And, if you liked this post, please share it with your friends!