As emailing becomes the fastest way to communicate with clients, employees, and colleagues, maintaining an organized inbox is one of the most reliable ways to organize your workload and schedule.
Since emails have become such a regular fixture in our day-to-day lives, especially for employees and business owners, it’s important to de-clutter and organize online inboxes.
Maintaining your work email becomes a vital part of workflow management, and how tidy—or cluttered—your inbox is can determine how much time you’ll waste sifting through a virtual pile of junk mail, outdated memos, and ancient conversations.
To help you stay ahead of the inevitable clutter, we’ve come up with 6 quick tips to beat a messy inbox.
1. Make cleaning your inbox a regular habit
Easier said than done, right? Well, part of keeping a clean workspace involves actually cleaning it. If you eliminate junk mail and delete obsolete messages daily, you’ll reduce the risk of accumulating clutter. Keeping your inbox easy to browse requires regular work, but the results make it well worth it. Remember, you don’t need to keep every single message or piece of mail you receive.
There’s little value in hoarding anything in your inbox. Many services allow you to view your trash—all the emails you’ve deleted—which lets you retrieve that stray piece of important mail when you’ve accidentally deleted it. Consider the ‘trash’ feature your way of holding on to all those precious spam messages and old emails in a way that doesn’t impede your inbox’s cleanliness. Make sure to check your settings, however; some services automatically clear your trash after a set period of time.
2. Use folders wisely - and sparingly
Sure, you could create a new folder for every client, employee, and type of conversation—but just because you’ve got a nice little box for everything, doesn’t mean you’re organized: it just means you have a pile of boxes to contend with! Folders are there to keep you organized; however, they shouldn’t be your excuse to cling to old emails.
Once you’ve gotten rid of the junk, organize any remaining pertinent emails into appropriately tagged folders for easy searching. Again: don’t let this feature enable your hoarding behavior. Store and organize what you need, and ditch the rest. After all, there’s recycling and then there’s just crazy.
3. Delete first, read later
Inboxes work best when approached with the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. You probably know at first glance which emails are worth reading and which ones aren’t. And yet, you likely read many of the messages you shouldn’t waste your time with. Reading junk emails may seem like a good idea at the time until you realize you’ve spent the last two hours flipping through funny photos and spam ads. Delete the junk, read the keepers after.
4. Reach inbox zero
Inbox zero is the term coined for treating your inbox as if it's a to-do list, and you want to continuously try to have your inbox reach zero...or be as close to it as you can. So treat every email like a task, and knock them out to remove them from your inbox.
Sitting on messages or holding off on taking action creates clutter, so be proactive! If you want to delete an email, do it. You can always grab it from the trash later if you make a mistake. If you want to send a reply or move an email to a new folder, do it immediately—don’t delay.
Messages can easily pile up throughout the day if you don’t act on them. Rereading messages is also another time waster if you have to go back later and decide what to do with an email you read earlier in the day - which is why you should complete each email task or archive it in the correct folder and move onto your next project.
5. Don’t let your inbox distract you
Email is a convenience, but it shouldn’t be a distraction. You wouldn’t sit outside and watch your mailbox 24/7, so don’t let the ‘you’ve got mail’ notification chain you to your phone or computer. The nice thing about email is that for the most part, once someone hits the send button, they can rest assured that you’ve received their message. Expecting you to read or respond to it right away is unrealistic, and feeling the need to do so is just as impractical.
Set aside time to check your email to save yourself from obsessively glancing at your inbox throughout the day. By establishing a routine—short periods of time taking care of your inbox—you’re freeing yourself up to focus on the more important tasks of your work day. Email is, at best, a tool to improve the way in which you can communicate with others. Letting it stress you out by watching it all day isn’t going to help you perform your job any better.
6. Utilize spam filters
Speaking of stress, everyone hates getting spam. Spam is typically easy to spot, but even when it’s not, you can usually tell by the subject line or even the sender that nothing of substance is waiting inside. Its only real use is to clog your inbox and annoy you. It’s no wonder then that eliminating spam is one of the simplest ways to de-clutter and organize your inbox, and protect your computer from viruses.
Unsubscribing to certain websites or companies can also reduce the amount of spam you receive. You may have given your email address to gain access to a free download or when you purchased something online, and that’s usually all it takes to put you on a mailing list. If you’re not actively invested in the content that mailing list receives, then those emails are spam. They’re unwanted and they’re taking up precious space in your inbox.
The solution? Check the fine print at the bottom for instructions on how to unsubscribe. If you use G-mail, you can use a script to automatically unsubscribe to any bulk e-mail that has an unsubscribe link in it.
Most email services include a spam filter and folder where all your unwanted emails get sent, rather than piling into our primary inbox. Few people realize that there are actually some fairly involved spam filters you can purchase or download to improve your email service’s ability to block unwanted emails.
Adjustable settings, black/white lists, and enhanced protection from phishing attempts are just a few of the more common capabilities boasted by anti-spam software. Your email service may not provide many customizable settings for intercepting spam, so purchasing spam filter software may be a wise decision, especially if it’s for your business.
Knowing how spam filters work makes getting around them easier if your company utilizes email marketing campaigns. Nothing’s worse than spending the money on a new series of nurture emails, only for those messages to trigger a recipient’s spam settings, instantly tagging them for deletion—or worse, rejection.
It’s too easy to get caught up in reading all of the emails you get in a day. Factor in time spent deleting messages and that adds up to a lot of wasted time. Don’t let a busy inbox distract you from the real work—or your life. Keep it organized and at the top of your to-do list to keep useless emails from ruining your workflow.