The best overall tip is to treat your email inbox & electronic mail just like you treat your actual mailbox & hard copy mail. The only difference should be that one is electronic and one is a hard copy. The thought process in organizing both is the same.
When you check your actual mailbox, you take all of the mail out of the box right then. Then you bring it inside and you have 4 basic things you can do with it
1. Do what is asked for right then
2. Throw it out
3. Put it on your To Do list and calendar/planner
4. File it for future reference
When you check your electronic mailbox, you apply the same steps. This means that you should decide what to do with each email in your inbox and take care of it right then. Ideally, you should have no mail in your inbox after an email checking session, just as you have no mail in your mailbox after you check the mail.
Your choices for what to do with the email are the same as the 4 choices you have with regular mail:
1. Do what is asked for right then – if the email requires a quick action on your part, ex. a reply to a friend, a reply to your child’s teacher, a quick phone call to make, printing something that needs to be in printed form, etc…do it right then and then delete the email
2. Throw it out – If it is spam, throw it out by putting it in the spam folder. If it is an email that you no longer want to receive (except for mine), unsubscribe right then and delete it. If it is just something you’re not interested in, delete it. If all you need to do is read it real quick, read and delete.
3. Put it on your To Do list and calendar/planner – Organizing your email requires creating folders in your email. Email is typically already set up with an inbox, sent, drafts, spam and trash. Depending on your email program, they may have slightly different names and/or be in a different order. To organize your email, you have to go beyond these folders. Remember to treat email like actual papers. You wouldn’t just have a trash can, one file folder and a to do list. I suggest creating two folders to place To Do items in: Act on – to Do and Act on- To Read. The Act On – To Do folder is where you will place things like bills to pay, events to attend, a larger task that will take time to complete, etc… This means that your Act On – To Do folder should be broken down into subfolders that suit your needs. The examples mentioned could be called Bills and Events. Don’t worry about creating a bunch of subfolders right now. You will come up with appropriate subfolders for you as you read your emails. Just like regular mail, place these bills to pay and events to attend on your to do list, planner or calendar. The Act On – To Read folder includes newsletters, posts from your groups, long important emails that you don’t have the time to read right then, etc… I suggest not adding subfolders to this folder. It is a temporary holding area for items you need to read. Once read, they should either be deleted or filed in other folders for future reference (#4).
4. File it for future reference – Remember that this does not include items that need action. They may have required action at one time, ex. a newsletter may have been in your Act On – To Read folder, then you read it and made the decision that you need to keep it to refer back to later or because you like it and want to save it for now. This is when you create other folders for your email other than the basic ones they give you and the two action folders you set up. These will vary widely according to your needs. Here are some examples:
Orders Placed Online
Future Project Ideas
After these folders, and subfolders for the Act On – To Do folder, have been set up, establish a routine for when you will check and sort your email. Try not to get distracted and start surfing the web. This is a quick sort of the email in your email. Get the inbox empty by sorting and filing in your folders, then surf the web.