Nothing can spoil your morning cup of coffee quicker than checking your email and finding dozens – or even hundreds of new ones for you to deal with. Whether it’s your personal email or your business account that is perpetually out of control, it can be as frustrating and crippling as a messy house or a disorganized office. Neat and tidy virtual space can bring peace and productivity to your day.
While I admit my business email can get away from me, it’s usually just the messages about blogs I follow or my favorite font supplier’s daily deals that pile up. My personal email (yikes!) however is always overflowing with special sales at Wayfair and Target, Starbucks telling me I only need one more star to get to the next level, or Pinterest luring me astray to see what unique crafts have been posted.
This is why the blog post entitled “The Joys of Inbox Zero” caught my eye. I was on the Simply Organized website and saw they had a blog. When I clicked on it I found it was authored by a professional organizer. I was intrigued! I am obsessed with becoming 100% organized… one can dream.
Author Nancy Nino of Aloha Organizers in Honolulu had a two-part post on email organization and I read it immediately, full of hope. She follows a concept called Inbox Zero developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann, as well as concepts suggested by David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology.
Here is Nancy’s step-by-step plan to email nirvana:
- Set Aside a Block of Time to work solely on your Inbox Zero project. A minimum of one hour may be enough time to completely finish it or at least get you off to a good start.
- Create Folders in your email account. There will be two categories:
a. Action Folders to hold emails that require you to do something
b. Reference Folders to hold email containing information you want to be able to find and refer to in the future; create these as you sort your email
Action Folder Tips
- Use a symbol, ie @, !, #, etc. at the beginning of the name so it stays at the top of your list of folders.
- Break actions into 4 sub-categories.
a. @Action – items that will take more than 2 minutes to do
b. @News – newsletters and similar items to read
c. @Financial – put all financially-related items in here including bills, statements to review, receipts to load into Quicken, etc.
d. @WF – “Waiting For” emails are ones in which you’re waiting for a response from someone else before you can act
- Sort your email by Sender.
Doing this will allow you to deal with chunks of email at one time – either by deleting or moving them as a group to the appropriate folder. If you have a habit of keeping every individual email in a chain, here you’ll be able to sort them and keep only the most recent one – providing it contains the original email and all responses.
- Ask yourself “what is this” then act accordingly.
a. Attack the Trash First!
Move groups of old sales ads, newsletters, etc. and delete them with one click. This will make a huge dent in your list and you’ll feel like you accomplished something.
b. File the Reference Emails
These should be easy to find by the sender and subject line. Only include email that does not require an action. Select groups of similar ones and drag to the appropriate folder.
c. Act Upon Remaining Emails
With all the trash and reference emails cleared out, you are left with Action Emails. These have 4 categories:
- 2 Minutes or Less – if it will take less than two minutes to complete the action – do it now!
- Waiting For – you need to wait for someone else to do something – move it to @WF, after contacting the person of course, and check weekly, sending follow-ups as needed.
- Reference – you didn’t catch these on the first round, but you want to keep the info and there’s no action needed.
- Trash – final cleanup – you decide you can live without it and you don’t need to act on it.
Tips to Maintain Your Newly Organized Email Box
- Process email daily, at set times
- Unsubscribe to subscription-based emails you can live without
- Use filters to automatically sort email upon arrival
- Read only critical email outside of your set processing times
Thank you to Nancy Nino for this great information. You can follow her blog on her website at alohaorganizers.com. Contact either one of us for more information or help with your email madness!