Today I started my project of decluttering, streamlining and organizing my computer and technology.
In the spirit of Eat That Frog I began with email. Ugh! I can still taste that slimy frog skin!
Anyway, here’s what I did.
How I Decluttered, Streamlined and Organized My Email – With Organizing Tips For You
1. I Moved To Gmail
But when I went Mac I tried using Mail and then Sparrow (no longer an option). Neither offered enough automation for me to efficiently manage the volume of email I receive.
(I have to say I find it ugly. And you can’t drag – you have to click-click-click, which feels laborious to me. But I want the organizing tools so I’ll give it a good go.)
- If you receive a lot of email then you may want to opt for Outlook (paid) or Gmail (free), both of which offer plenty of inbox management tools.
2. I Created Labels / Folders For Filing Emails
This step is crucial for effective and efficient inbox management.
Over the past few months I’ve experimented with bypassing email filing altogether, and instead relying on search to find things when I wanted them.
But it ended up being more frustrating and less reliable than a quick-and-dirty filing system.
So I’ve now set up some folders for filing my emails – you can see them at right. I’m highly visual, so they’re color-coded.
I’ll probably add, delete and change these folders as I get used to my new email-management system, but this is a good starting point.
My suggestions for a good filing system are:
- Have as few folders as you feel comfortable with – it will make life simpler and easier
- Have a maximum of two levels in your folder hierarchy
- Don’t have a miscellaneous category – it’s better to put everything somewhere specific
- Don’t try to set up the perfect system – just choose some quick folder names, see how they work, and let your system evolve.
3. I Set Up Filters
This is another important step for smart inbox management.
Filters or rules take a little time to set up, but more than pay for themselves in faster email processing, mental clarity and visual ease when facing your daily email onslaught.
They’re also a super-time-effective way to clear an already-overflowing inbox – which is what I started with. I had *coughs* more than 1600 unprocessed emails *coughs* in my inbox.
Use filters (see screenshot at right) for:
- Emails you don’t need to see immediately but want to keep – eg RSS feeds. Set up filters to automatically move emails out of your inbox and into the correct folder.
- Emails you need to see immediately and want to keep, but that don’t need action – eg emails updating you about a current project. Set up the filters to automatically add labels but keep the emails in your inbox. That way you can glance at them and then archive, knowing they’ve already been saved in the right folder.
4. I Unsubscribed Ruthlessly
I’m pretty good at unsubscribing from anything that doesn’t add value to my life, and I do this regularly.
But there were a couple of lingering time-wasters, and I flicked them.
5. I Archived Everything Not Needing Action
Again, ruthlessness was my watchword.
I found many emails that I could read or investigate, but my goal was to get through my inbox fast. Unless something was of strong importance I clicked the Archive button and kept up my momentum.
- For recent emails you’ll need to allow some time and attention to check whether they need action.
- For older emails you may only need to scan the From and/or Subject fields to search for importance.
- This can be a good way to balance the desire not to miss something important with the imperative to simply get through hundreds of emails without completely losing your mind. Obviously, you need to make a decision for how to treat your emails based on your own situation.
6. I Converted Action-Needing Emails Into Tasks.
After these steps, the emails that remained in my inbox required some kind of action. Closer reading, replying, or completing of a task.
I turned these emails into tasks (see screenshot at right) and assigned dates on which I’d complete them.
And with this step, I was done for the day. Voila – empty inbox! *does happy dance*
- File what needs to be filed, archive the rest, and leave yourself only with emails that need action.
- You can then turn these emails into tasks and decide when you’ll complete them.
Phew – that was exhausting. We’re sure going to earn our wine and chocolate by the end of the week!
Now… which of these steps will you do?
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