The basic principle should always be to keep the inbox as uncluttered as possible!
Let’s start with the most inexcusable aspect: keeping emails in the Inbox long-term. I have heard so often “I just use the search function to find something.” Have you tried this after having accumulated emails for any length of time? Not only does it usually bring up a huge number of hits that have to be looked at separately, it also takes a lot of time the more detailed your search becomes and the more emails need to be searched. A completely avoidable loss of time! Creating folders takes no time at all and allows you to separate things into categories easily: by client name, by time period, by alphabet, by sender, by subject,… you name it, you can do it. I hear you shout “but I am using tags!” Indeed, tags can be useful, but have you tried juggling more than a dozen or so tags? It’s unwieldy to say the least.
Tip #1: Create folders when it becomes obvious that you have a reasonable number of items you want to group together, and if that number is likely to grow.
Tip #2: Refrain from creating folders in bulk to avoid empty folders; stick to creating them when they become necessary.
When it comes to emails containing information you want to keep and access when needed, there is no logic in keeping these emails in your inbox. They only distract from emails that need your attention. Separate long-term information and emails holding information that only serves for a short period (think delivery tracking, etc.): make sure to move long-term information into the corresponding folder (e.g., by client or subject, etc.) and create a separate folder called “keep a while” for short-term information.
Tip #3: Create a folder for temporary information and clean that out regularly. Remember, you already know that the information you place in there is not crucial after a given period of time: after four weeks or so you can delete these emails without problem.
By doing those two steps consistently, you’ll be left with only two types of items in your inbox: new items (usually marked in bold) and actionable items (not bold). The actionable items are by definition a to-do list of things that you need to deal with. Add a simple tag system to mark pressing issues with a colour or flag and you’ll be on top of what to do at any time.
In order to save time and nerves, read any new email and answer these questions:
Once you have gone through all new emails, you’ll be able to easily find any information, and the inbox only contains actionable items. Apply the sorting principles laid out above right after you have dealt with an actionable item to keep your inbox clean.
Once every couple of weeks, delete anything older than a month from the “keep a while” folder. Since these emails only contain information of temporary usefulness, there is no need to review the emails before deleting them.
Ask the ClutterMeister
Some pertinent ideas from the 'old office dog' who has seen it all, to help clear away the mess in your office.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.