I recently was a guest speaker to a group of small business entrepreneurs, sharing organizational tips and tricks that I personally utilize in my virtual assistant business. Knowing it’s an area that many people struggle with, my presentation focused on getting control over your email inbox. It was so well received that I want to share it with more people, and my newsletter is the perfect vehicle to do that.
I want to give credit to my mentor and business coach, Belinda Sandor, for sharing her inbox strategies that I have been using for several years. Keep in mind that the initial process of organizing your inbox is time-consuming, but it’s incredibly worth it.
The goal of this entire process is to have new emails that hit your inbox stay there for just a short time before being moved out to an appropriate folder. Your inbox is NOT meant to be a long-term storage bin for your emails. Once your initial clean-up is complete, it will take discipline and consistency on your part, but I can promise you that by doing this, you will not miss any important emails, you’ll be able to keep up with all the emails you receive, and you’ll be more productive.
Let’s get into the details of how I keep my inbox clean:
Archive. Archive. Archive.
This may sound crazy, but I don’t delete any emails except true junk mail. In Gmail, there is an “All Mail” folder, and there is an “Inbox” folder. When an email is “archived”, it stays in the “All Mail” folder but is no longer in the inbox.
By doing this, I only have emails that need action in my inbox. Archiving and not deleting emails removes the fear that I might delete something I need and gives me the option to search for any email that was ever sent to me should I need it.
Gmail calls folders “labels”, and they are your friend! Folders are going to allow you to organize your emails.
Tip: A great way to start organizing your inbox is to think about what kind of emails you usually get and doing this will allow you to create different categories or folders.
For me, I have 4 main folders: Action, Clients, Biz Programs, and Personal
In each of these folders I have different sub-folders (sub-labels) for further organization. If you struggle with what to label your folders, picture yourself standing in front of an actual file cabinet and determine what would make sense if you were filing your emails old school.
Now, here’s the process: As I’m going through my inbox, anything that I can respond to immediately or is just informational will go into the archive folder once it’s read/handled. Emails that pertain to tasks that will be handled that day also stay in the inbox.
My “Action” folder is where I put emails that either need to be handled on another day or emails that I want to look at again but aren’t inbox-worthy. Examples would be client project requests for another day, an invoice I want to pay but not this second, or an email about a sale that I don’t want to miss would go into this folder. This is my way of not continually tripping over these emails again and again but putting them in one place where I can review them.
My other three folders are where I store important emails I want to be able to reference/access quickly.
Getting Started Tip
If your inbox is out of control and you don’t know where to start, I recommend that you archive all emails that are older than a few months. I know this can be a scary thought; just remember that these emails will still be there in your All Mail folder if you ever need them!
Go through the newer emails and put them into the folder/label system that you set up to work for you and finally free yourself of an email disaster.
Invest a little time each day maintaining the system you have put into place, and enjoy the peace only a clean inbox can bring!