Productivity Tips & How To Organize Email
Because It’s Clean Out Your Inbox Week!
Google’s “Clean Out Your Inbox Week" is being held for the 6th time, which is an annual day of observation when we’re asked to reflect on the size(s) of our email inboxes. Google asks us to of course focus on our Gmail accounts, but this week is also a time when many of us take a look at all our accounts and consider how much of our mail is necessary — and how much of it can actually be deleted.
Now that we’ve officially (and significantly) found ourselves well into the new year, it is a perfect time to start organizing our lives (both offline and online) so that we can make the best of the year ahead of us. January is a time for new beginnings and a fresh start at everything from our weight loss goals, smoking habits, financial woes, and organizational skills.
The Gmail team is asking us to take part in their 6th annual Clean Out Your Inbox Week, which is an entire week dedicated to clearing out the email clutter and organizing our inboxes. We seem to feel much more compelled to let emails pile up as opposed to a pile of bills and junk mail on our kitchen table.
With over 6,000 emails in my inboxes (combined throughout all of my email accounts), I think it is quite humorous and a bit of a contradiction to what you would find in my ‘offline’ inbox hanging in our kitchen. Why is it feasible for us to frequently trash our hardcopy bills, junk mail, and other pieces of mail – yet we have a tough time emptying the trash for our email inboxes, which are filled with company newsletters and toy store sales from October 2012?
Whether you are sitting on top of a pile filled with thousands (upon thousands) of emails in your inbox like I am, or just have a weeks worth of messages to sort through, Clean Your Inbox Week is an excellent opportunity to clean, sort, delete, and organize email. Cleaning out your inbox isn’t going to happen overnight, which is why Google gave us an entire week with 7 DAYS to tackle this tremendous project. Some people might be able to accomplish this task in one seating, but I am one of the minorities that’ll likely need more time and push my efforts into next week, too.
Starting this project isn’t going to be easy, but you CAN do it! One thing I would advise you not to do at this moment in time: do NOT press ‘select all’ and delete your emails in an effort to forget what was received and just look forward. If you KNOW that all of your emails are definitely (and absolutely) junk – I still wouldn’t advise this tactic, but rather ask you to consider the following steps:
In an effort to make sure this never happens again (or, rather lessen the load), I have a few easy and simple tips to follow that shouldn’t take longer than one hour to complete. Like I said (above), I would strongly suggest using these tips even if you plan to completely wipe out your inbox to start over. You must follow these tips or you will continually find yourself swamped in an inbox of junk that you ‘select all’ and delete every single day of your emailing life!
 Sort your inbox by ‘Sender’ and/or ‘Subject’. Find out who is the majority in your inbox and what they are sending you. Do you need these emails, or do you plan to delete all 97 of the emails titled "DAILY SALES AND CLEARANCE", which you have never opened before and have ZERO interest in reading?
 Unsubscribe before you delete: Before you delete unwanted emails, open one email from each sender and find the "unsubscribe" link or instructions. Some newsletters will require you to click a link to uncheck your email account from their mailing list. Others will ask you to reply to their email with the subject line: "REMOVE". Follow their instructions and get yourself OFF their list(s) before another email comes through.
 Consider a fresh and new email account: If you plan to delete all of your emails since they are all junk, why not consider starting fresh with a new email address altogether? If it is possible and practical, starting fresh means that no one will have your email address. You haven’t subscribed to any mailing lists, won’t receive (too much) junk mail, and don’t have to take the time to unsubscribe for each and every newsletter. Definitely something to consider!
7 DAYS OF INBOX DETOX:
Follow these tips and steps each and every day this week and you’ll have a clean, well sorted, neat and tidy inbox in no time! Yes, I am challenging you to organize email for 7 straight days.
Let’s start off small and slow – it is Sunday after all! Analyze your inbox and try to determine what you are so afraid of seeing, knowing, or doing. Just as we start piling up and ignoring our bills, I tend to feel like maybe the same symptoms have translated into emails. Is there something that I don’t want to deal with or worry about?
Use the first day of Clean Your Inbox Day as a time to reflect on what your problem might be and create a personal action plan. Depending on your needs, business, and industry – creating a functioning and organizing inbox will vary. Think about what subfolders or categories you can create and write down their names. *Don’t start making your folders! We’ll do that later on in the week…
Monday, January 21st: Unsubscribe & Remove!
Just as we discussed above (see: Tips For Junk Mail Box Problems), unsubscribing to newsletters that you never read and no longer have interest in receiving can be done within a few minutes. You can sort your inbox by Sender, Subject, or conduct a search for "unsubscribe" to filter messages.
Go through your messages and unsubscribe from all of the newsletters that you are no longer interested in. Be serious with yourself and think about the last time you actually opened up one of those emails and how helpful the information was in your life or career. Check to see if you can change the frequency, too. If you are receiving their newsletter on a daily basis, consider cutting down to a weekly digest if the information is valuable – but could be cut down dramatically since you aren’t reading it every single day.
Tuesday, January 22nd: Create Folder, Filters & Rules.
You wrote down names for a hierarchy tree of folders on Sunday (see: Analyze, Reflect, & Create an Action Plan), but today you will actually create them and begin to fill them. You can create very specific folders, use sub-folders, or use general names that’ll at least help you split high versus low priority. Use these folders to SAVE old emails (as opposed to allowing them to build up in your Inbox) and/or sort what has to be done, followup’s, and urgent attention needed.
Before you start, consider what will make your folders work best for YOU. There’s no right or wrong structure that’ll work best for everyone. We all have different work styles, techniques, needs, and time management skills (or, allowances). If you really hate using a filing system, you can surely get by with leaving everything in your inbox (forever). This does work for people, but if this is how you’ve been doing things — and you are having trouble with your emails, why not consider using folders? Try something out! It’s a new year after all…
The other extreme would be creating dozens and dozens of folders to file every single email into a very specific and narrowed down topic folder. Don’t forget that you can only place the email into ONE folder, so you need to choose the best name(s) that will be helpful down the road. (Note: You CAN create duplicates of your emails and place them into multiple folders, but that is a hassle and would only defeat the purpose of organizing and narrowing down!). Create names for your folders that will best help you group by topics, senders, or projects. You can start off with fairly general topics and use subfolders to narrow down your issue(s).
For Example… (with the blogger in mind!): This is one method that I have used to organize email in the past. Reviews and Giveaways: Each brand/business was given a folder labeled with their name, which I would drag down from Pending, Open, and Closed as our business relationship progressed and finalized. Thereafter, I have included a few other examples of folder names that I use to help me narrow down their purpose or project/topic:
Sponsored Content: (subfolders labeled with names of brand)
→ PENDING (brands and businesses that you are currently in discussion with regarding a review and/or giveaway on your blog)
→ Brand A
→ Brand B
→ OPEN (you’ve received a product for review, but haven’t published yet. "in limbo" between product delivery and publishing)
→ Brand C
→ CLOSED (all correspondence is done, review is published, giveaway winner(s) submitted)
→ Brand D
→ Brand E
→ Brand F
→ Undetermined/Other (I always like to have a folder for ‘everything else’; this is a great spot to drop emails when the brand simply stopped responding, an agreement couldn’t be reached, or any other ‘issues’ arose that you don’t feel comfortable placing the brand’s folder into Pending, Open, or Closed).
Set up filters for newsletters and any other mailing lists that you want to receive. You can force those emails to go into a folder or give them a label immediately upon delivery, which can help you prioritize what emails you need to open now versus which one’s you can put off until later.
For example, I may want to continue receiving my daily digest email from Groupon, but don’t want to have them mixed in with my higher priority emails from clients, family, and business associates. I want to read them at the end of the day, or I would basically prefer to shove them to the side when necessary. Here’s how you can create a filter with Gmail:
from:(“Groupon Now” OR ”Groupon” OR “Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards”)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label “$Deals”
You can setup filters for whatever and whichever emails or types of emails best suit your needs. If you don’t receive a ton of newsletters, consider using a general ‘Mailing Lists" filter to place any and all into a category together. If you have an overwhelming volume, narrow down the types of newsletters by sender(s), topics (restaurants, apparel shops, web and SEO topics, blogging, alumni/school related lists, etc.). Don’t create too many filters so that you forget to check all of them or can’t find the time to open them (that’ll just create another issue!).
Here are instructions for Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Hotmail:
Wednesday, January 23rd: Start Today — and go backwards.
Today is the first day
of the rest of your life that you will start sorting, deleting, and filtering your inbox. Start with emails received within the last 24-hours and drag them into appropriate folders. You may or may not find a reason to modify the folder hierarchy that you created yesterday. You’ll always need to rename or create new folders, so go ahead and add more!
If you plan to organize first → reply later, sort quickly and get started on responding to all emails as soon as possible. If you plan to reply as soon as you’ve opened each email, draft your response and send that email out immediately so that you can drag it into the appropriate folder as soon as you’ve clicked that Send button!
Fly down the list as fast as you can and don’t be stingy with the DELETE button! If you can’t think of a place to put that email and have NO interest in reading it today (and it’s date is greater than 14 days prior to today) – delete. Consider what you would do with that email if it came in your mailbox as a hardcopy letter. Would you shove it in a file folder in your home office and read it later, or would it be in your trash bin 2-weeks ago?
Continue on down the list going as far back in time as you can today. You will pickup on this project tomorrow, but that’ll be your last chance (2 days to complete). Try to do 1/2 of the work today (at least). Once you are done for the day – write down something about the last email/date/time you were able to organize so that you can pickup where you left off tomorrow.
Thursday, January 24th: Start Where You Left Off (Yesterday)…
Continue what you were doing yesterday, but take care of any emails that came in TODAY first – before anything! Delete unwanted emails and see if there’s anything else that you can unsubscribe from or remove your email address from, which might have only been delivered late Tuesday or early this morning. Backtrack on the tasks that you’ve already accomplished this week and repeat Monday and Tuesday, but spend no more than 15-minutes looking back. You’ll need more time to focus on moving forward…
Once you’ve sorted and worked on new emails, find wherever you left off yesterday and continue where you left off. Don’t let the momentum die down or fade away! Today is your last chance to complete this task.
Friday, January 25th: Start Replying & Unloading Emails.
Now that you have distinguished and removed all unneeded emails from your inbox, it is time to start looking forward and reply to any emails that require a response. Decide if you should start at the most recent or most important emails — and get started. Drop emails into their necessary folders and stay on top of things.
Saturday, January 26th:
Celebrate! You’ve purged, planned, processed, and prevented a mess from continuing or starting up again. Give yourself a high five — but make it a quick one! Don’t let your momentum and
Archive and Search tool: Clearing out the clutter in your inbox is an important part of staying organized. But sometimes there are emails you don’t want to trash: important documents and records, things you might need for future reference, and messages with sentimental value from the people you care about. Gmail’s Archive button lets you safely tuck those emails away, clearing up space in your inbox so you can focus.
And finding them again is easy with our Search tool (made even better with Gmail’s new look!). Click the down arrow next to the Search box in your Gmail, and you quickly search your emails by recipient, sender, time, subject, or content.
SEE HOW YOU SCORE:
Think you may have a problem, or want to see if you’ve made any improvements? Take this Email Productivity Assessment to see how you score!
How did MamaNYC score on the email assessment? Not so good! I actually did very poorly on incoming email, but scored above average on outgoing email!
* Handling Incoming E-mail and Inbox Management: 41
Incoming Email Score: Below Average [35 to 49]: Your e-mail habits need plenty of work.
* Handling Outgoing E-mail and E-Message Writing: 70
Outgoing E-mail Score: Above Average [70 to 84]: Your outgoing emailing habits are serving you well, with a few tweaks. Don’t let up now.