Strategies & tips for managing your email inbox…

clean-out-email-inboxEmail is like laundry—if you don’t keep up with it, it turns into a mountain. Periodically, I clean/purge my inbox. After I do that, I always promise myself I’ll keep it clean. But invariably, a big project comes along that produces a flood of emails, life intervenes, and before I know it a half dozen emails become dozens, then hundreds.

I hit the brakes when it gets to the hundreds. On a day when my head isn’t into writing, and I clean out my inbox. I did this the other day and posted my victory on Facebook. Another author replied that she had a backlog of thousands. I cannot imagine.

For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share my tips for email inbox cleaning.

First, there two practices I follow all the time that make inbox cleaning easier.

  1. When I get an email, if I need to act on it, refer to it later, or keep it for a long time I star (flag) it immediately. So when I’m purging, I can see at a glance what’s really important.
  2. I create folders and subfolders for various books and projects for filing emails.

I try to use the inbox for important matters I’m likely to forget about if they weren’t right in front of me. It’s like using my do list v. posting a note on the refrigerator door. For most things, my to-do list suffices, but for things I need to deal with soon that I absolutely do not want to forget, I put a note on fridge. My inbox is like the fridge.

bigstock-Winner--44253850How to clean an email inbox:

Strategy: a wholesale reduction of quantity so whittling content is manageable.

  1. Without reading, I delete automated emails such as old newsletters (unless they’ve been starred!); FB, Twitter, Pinterest notifications, group notifications, new book announcement, etc.
  2. Then I sort the list from oldest to newest and delete as many old ones without reading as I can. If an email is three months old and I haven’t looked at it since, chances are I don’t need it.

Emails are like clothes. Organizers say if you haven’t worn something in year, you’re not going to, so get rid of it. If I saved an interesting article to read later, but I haven’t after three months, chances are I’m not going to. Delete!

  1. I re-sort the list from newest to oldest, and without opening, I file as many as I can into my separate folders. (I’m more likely to remember what’s in the new ones!).
  2. I save/file only the latest thread of group or back-and-forth emails that I want to keep.
  3. Then, I open what’s left, do a quick scan, and either delete or file them.

I use Yahoo email. Yahoo has feature where you can “archive” an email. One click puts it into an archive folder. It functions like a junk drawer. It’s a great feature, but I use it sparingly. I don’t want to create a folder for every possible email subject or project, but I want to avoid having hundreds (or thousands!) of emails archived.

What are your techniques for taming the email monster?

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8 Responses to Strategies & tips for managing your email inbox…

  1. Great post and good strategies, Cara! My email tsunami is overwhelming. I have to clean it out daily or it can turn into thousands–requiring hours and hours of attention–in less than a week. Although I do most of the management suggestions above, I do have one other trick.

    For critical emails that I need to respond to quickly but may not have time right that moment, I hit reply and then “save” which puts them in a draft folder. Then when I get back to my computer these are my first priority. I open the draft folder, finish a response and hit send. This separates my “must reply asaps” (or priority A1’s) from other flagged emails so I don’t have to sort through them all again to decide which ones require a reply.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s a very good tip. I think I’ll use that. I’m going to call my folder Attention which will file it alphabetically at the top of my folder list.

  2. Beth Carter says:

    Great tips. I have 24,000 emails. I’ll see you in six months…

  3. Marybeth says:

    I look at email on my phone. I periodically clean it out on my computer. I deal with all the correspondence for my office, so I have little patience for my personal email.

    I use different email addresses for different stuff. That helps sort as well.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I have two email addresses. One for my author stuff and one for personal stuff. I hardly ever check the personal one. I know what you mean when you say you have little patience for the personal email; I don’t either.

  4. Laurel Lasky says:

    Great tips. I’m in the process of getting out of yahoo. Half bounce, 1/4 I never get and I miss a lot. I’m going to gmail and organize it immediately. Thanks Cara!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I have Yahoo. I haven’t had much trouble with email bouncing. I did finally pony up and pay for ad-free email. Best money I ever spent.

      I would recommend that when you get your gmail account, that you program a “vacation response” on your yahoo account that says you have a new email. When people email you on yahoo, it will send them an automated message with your new email addy.

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