I know someone with an inbox that has over 5,000 messages in it and 1,500 unread emails. Most of it is spam. Ironically, they tend to respond fairly quickly to messages but often lose track of topics over time. That got me thinking about how a disorganized inbox can really hurt your business. Worse yet, how much time would it take to get from 5,000 messages down to 50?
My inbox rarely has more than 50 messages
Yes, that’s right, my inbox almost never has more than 50 messages. Right this minute it actually has 33. Every one of those messages is a different conversation on an active topic. This is the start of how to get organized and take control of your inbox.
Your inbox is a “to do” list
Working with that mindset, you need only the most recent email in a thread in the box at any time. Older emails should be sorted into folders. How you organize is up to you, but I tend to organize by topic since multiple people may be involved with a thread.
Get a folder strategy
Mine is topic-based and the major topics include:
- Leads (inbound leads of all sorts)
- Clients (active clients)
- Clients – Past (closed and old clients)
- Colleagues (for random conversations)
There are several subfolders under each of those. For example, within “Marketing” I have advertising, events, customer success stories, media relations, photography, videography and writing (aka blogging). You have to decide what topics work best for you.
Now, you move all your outdated emails from the inbox to the folders so you can reference them when and if you need to. This is a critical step in managing your inbox. As you read emails in your inbox, move them to the appropriate folder once you’ve done whatever is needed for the email (action taken, reply sent, etc.). This is how to make your inbox work like a “to do” list.
Clean the inbox
To clear out those 5,000 emails is really easy with just a few tips. The first is to select a spam message. Then at the top of the subject column of your inbox (Outlook or similar) click the column header to sort all the messages. Now you’ll have all the emails with the same topic sorted together. Select all the spam and delete. Repeat the process for other spam.
You can do the same sorting technique on older important messages you want to keep. Just select those and move them to the appropriate folder. You can move dozens of emails this way in a matter of seconds. Clearing out all those old emails will sure feel good!
Ongoing best practices
As I said before, keep up on incoming emails and sort as you go. Keep the most recent email as the active “to do” list, and go from there. As your inbox grows, just take a bit of time to focus on clearing it out. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment keeping the inbox down, and being able to track what’s happening will make you look like a rock star to anyone sending a message.