How to (re)organize your email in 5 easy steps

Are you a person who doesn’t mind hundreds (or thousands) of unread emails in your inbox? Or do you prefer to keep your inbox pristine? If you prefer it pristine, do you ever find it hard to keep that way? Me too.

I deleted over 4,000 emails last week. 4,818 to be exact.

I know, you’re shocked. I was also. I’m a fairly organized person, and am generally someone fairly on top of my email organization.

But…it had been a number of months since I had done a thorough email inbox cleanup of my email. It had also been a few years since I revisited the process I used to read, store and organize my email inboxes.

In all reality, I wasn’t that disorganized. I had just let a few things slide and needed to revisit them.

And the best part? The deep cleaning and re-organization only took about 3 hours total, in 30 second to 30 minute increments over a few days.

Ready to experience that same success yourself? Read on…

Wow! These email organization tips are super simple. Can't wait to try them in my work Outlook and my Gmail accounts! #emailorganization #organizationtips #productivity #organizationideas

How to (Re)Organize Your Email in 5 Easy Steps

1. Consolidate email addresses

At one point recently, I was maintaining five separate email inboxes. This was too many. I set the lesser-used email addresses to forward to my two primary email addresses. I now maintain one business inbox and one personal inbox. Gmail has a handy feature that let’s you reply from each of the actual addresses, so the email receiver still sees my response as coming from each of the five email addresses.

Action Step: Review your email addresses. If possible, consolidate.   

2. Set up and review email folders

Within each email inbox, I have a number of folders to set up to file emails. This can range from very simple to complex, and is one area that I tend to update every year or two, as life and business circumstances change. This round, I simplified many of the folders, and removed several.

In one example, I had a folder for Recipes that I hadn’t looked at or added anything to in at least three years. I currently save all my digital recipes to Pinterest, in Evernote and/or in Plan to Eat. I didn’t even remember that I had a Recipe folder, and I certainly don’t look for recipes there. I reviewed this folder and deleted recipes I was no longer interested in making, or knew I already had saved elsewhere. I then saved the rest to Plan to Eat, Pinterest or Evernote, and deleted the folder once it was empty.

Action Step: Review your current folder structure. Create, edit and delete folders as needed. File emails based on your streamlined organizing system. 

Note: This was a perfect task to do in the limited 1-2 minute pockets of time throughout the day. If I was already near the computer, I quickly went to that folder, saved one or more recipes, deleted and went on. What could have been tedious in one long session went quickly and utilized time that would have otherwise been unproductive.

3. Use Gmail filters liberally and strategically

Almost all of my emails except personal emails are set to skip my inbox and automatically filter into Gmail folders. I had ended up with too many emails that should have been filtered landing in my inbox. I spent some time adding a number of filters, and now only have a few stragglers to deal with.

Action Step: Add filters to keep non-critical emails out of your inbox. 

4. Unsubscribe liberally

I use Unroll.me, which is a fantastic free service. But I also found that it gave me a false sense of control. I also realized that I very rarely actually opened the daily email digest – which means that all those newsletters and mailing lists that I thought were important enough to roll up, I didn’t think were actually important enough to read.I unsubscribed to a lot more newsletters, and took most other newsletters out of unroll.me so that they would get the attention they deserve.

Action Step: Unsubscribe from email lists you no longer need or use – liberally!

5. Delete archived email

This was the most satisfying step for me, but also the one I recognize as the least important. If you’re skipping any step, I would skip this one. As I was re-doing a number of my filters, I realized I had emails back as far as 2006 that there was no good reason to hang onto anymore – even if I did technically have the space in the inbox.

Now, a few thousand of those emails were in folders that really didn’t matter if they stayed or went. Gmail also has enough storage space that I could have left them for years and never run into issues. But I gained the same huge sense of satisfaction from knowing that I don’t have Nordstrom Rack sales emails from 2008 hiding in a folder as I do from cleaning out the storage shed of never-used items that are hidden from regular view. Yes, it may be a bit of an overachiever, but I’m okay with that.

Action Step: Delete old emails and free up inbox space!

What is your biggest obstacle to email control? What other tips do you have for staying on top of the email mess? 

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