One of the things that I’m positive every entrepreneur or small business owner learns about 0.5 seconds into the job is that email is key.
You get a lot of it.
All the time.
In my case, over an hour a day.
That’s almost 15% of the time I spent on the computer today alone! [mfn] I used RescueTime to track my usage of my email client Wavebox. If you want to learn more about Wavebox or Rescuetime check out my post “5 Apps I Use Everyday” [/mfn]
So with all that email coming in, how on earth are you supposed to stay organized and keep your inbox from being a place where all your emails go to die?
Luckily I have the answer!
Step 1: Unsubscribe
I would be willing to bet money that for 90% of you reading this your email inbox looks something like this:
Which brings me to step one. Unsubscribe.
My general rule that I have adopted about spam is that if I don’t open it, or delete/archive it 3 days in a row, I don’t need it.
This rule has helped cut those grocery store flyers, random websites that force you to sign up to do a 3-second thing, and everything in between from even hitting my inbox in the first place.
It helps you only get stuff that you in your inbox that you will actually look at, and want to receive.
Step 2: Folders/Labels
So you’ve eliminated all the spam from your inbox and now you need a way to sort all of your useful emails. How?
One of the greatest ways to make sure you stay organized is to put everything in the proper folders. Treat your inbox as a holding point on its way to the proper destination. When you store everything in your inbox it becomes impossible to find anything you need.
As an example, for my job, I receive four important types of emails. Purchases, Sales, Completed Audits, and then weekly tasks, so how I have organized my folders is like this:
You’ll see a couple of things.
First, and most importantly, I have zero unread emails in my inbox. In fact, my entire inbox is empty, and shows “No new mail!” Everything has a home, and I’m never wondering where to find something.
Second, you’ll see that the messages I put in those folders I leave unread so that every time my email opens I have at least a small reminder that there are things that need my attention.
Gmail Trick! You’ll see I have numbers beside each of my folder names. This may seem strange but its to prevent Gmail from sorting it alphabetically. So if you find yourself needing folders in a very specific order (such as days of the week) try using this technique!
Step 3: Everything Else
If you look closer at my folder layout above you’ll see what many might consider a “strange” folder. A folder labelled “9 – Everything Else”. This folder is the result of a lesson I learned.
The lesson is this:
When a one-off email doesn’t fit in one of your pre-made folders … where does it go?
This could be anything from a reply you have to do some research before replying to an email that has information you’ll need for a couple of days but then never again.
All of these, before I created a folder for them, would just sit in my inbox constantly being read than unread as I completed things on them, didn’t complete others, etc and led to me having a slightly smaller version of the same issue I had set out to solve.
So to counteract this mess get a folder for miscellaneous, uncategorizable emails. It will still be full but it will help reinforce the habit of always keeping your inbox free of clutter.
Step 4: Archive it
When you’re done with an email, and it no longer needs to put in a category folder … ARCHIVE IT!
Gmail gives you a massive amount of space to store emails and you should use it.
Archiving gives you all the power of deleting, while still being able to search for it later on.
Step 5: Commit! Commit! Commit!
While this is the last step it is arguably the most important!
Without forcing yourself to keep your inbox clean it is extremely easy to fall back into old habits and end up with a swath of nonsense to wade through again.
So commit. Even in the short-term.
Tell yourself and force yourself to, for one week, have absolutely nothing in your inbox.
I promise you won’t regret it!