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Your Inbox Is Full: Time To Clean House

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Getting organized is key to managing your email inbox.

Stephanie Northcott on Canva

Email is a great tool but one that can become burdensome when the amount received becomes a mountain. While you can ignore it, as it is not truly a physical pile in the corner, when you are in business it is inefficient if all your emails are not managed.

Back when I was in the corporate world, one task I was given was to organize my boss's 5000 emails. Very few files/labels. It took several days (more like a week and a half) to carefully sort and file all the emails. I needed a better way to get that done in less time.

While I have organized client emails from over 14000 and filed and labeled practically everything (yes, including junk) I, as a virtual assistant, do that because I don't delete anything (unless obviously spam) until I confirm with the client (cause you just never know what people need).

However, you don't have time to dig deep and spend hours sorting and filing each of your emails (I secretly love organizing emails down to the dreaded one-offs that you have no idea where to put).

Here are steps to get you managing your email inbox like a pro.

1. Create an Archive File: dump all your emails older than a month. This will significantly reduce your inbox. While important emails may get dumped in here you can retrieve and re-set them in an appropriate file when you have time or when you need to.

2. Unsubscribe: Look at what is left in your current inbox and see if there is anything right now you know you are not going to read (I am sure all those emails in the archive file for that super product have not been read either and most likely won't ever). Unsubscribe now. Again if you really need it you have a folder to return to and find. Review regularly all your subscriptions. There are apps to help unsubscribe to the massive influx of subscriptions.

3. Create a File Structure: Keep it basic for now. I like

a. Business - most things that involve running yours like

Appointments, Team Members, Social Media (if you use it daily

otherwise, it can go into IT), etc.

b. Clients - you could have many so a separate category and then

sub-folders for each client.

c. IT - Apps & Support - Any digital product (except financial) filed

in subfolders.

d. Financial - banking, receipts, invoices, etc.

e. Personal - this is for anything outside your business that

happens to get sent to you. Technically you should have a

separate email account for all personal emails.

f. Misc. - for all the emails that you don't know what to do with but

can't delete it yet. This is highly individual as one person's trash

is someone else's inspiration.

You can always make more main and subfolders depending on your situation. Once set, then the next step takes you to the next level.

4. Create a Robust Filtering System: Set up email filters to automatically sort incoming messages into designated folders based on criteria such as sender, subject, or keywords. Filters can effectively manage routine emails, newsletters, and notifications, preventing them from cluttering your primary inbox. Regularly review and adjust filters as needed to maintain their accuracy and relevance.

5. Optimize Your Email Search Function: Instead of spending valuable time scrolling through endless threads, learn your email provider's search capabilities. Familiarize yourself with advanced search operators, such as sender, subject, date, and keywords, to quickly locate specific emails. Combine multiple operators to refine your search further, increasing efficiency and reducing frustration.

6. Utilize Email Templates and Canned Responses: This was a game changer when I finally implemented this back in the corporate world. Creating email templates or canned responses for common messages that you frequently send will save you time and effort. Whether it's requesting information, confirming appointments, or providing instructions, having pre-drafted responses readily available can help expedite your email replies and ensure consistency in your communication.

7. Set up an Email View: Email providers all have their view panels and settings. No need to stick with the default view. There are ways to set up your view to help with priorities to get to the important emails by optimizing the priority icons. Gmail has a setting I love that is called "Multiple Inbox". Set this with categories such as Important and Follow-Up so you see those emails first.

Once in place, you will need to stay on top of your system. Regular maintenance is necessary so review your filters, your templates, your folders, and unsubscribe from subscriptions. Having healthy habits with your email will enable you to be more productive and less stressed (can we ever really be) because you are back in control.

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