Keeping Your Inbox Clean and Organized

One thing I have learned about myself over the years is that I prefer things to be organized and in order. Not only does it make it easier to find and use things, but it helps me to keep my mind clear. When I feel like I have a good handle on something (insert "control freak" joke here), I find I am better able to deal with the complexities and chaos of life. This approach most definitely  applies to how I manage my Inbox. Email, after all, is a critical communications tool for me.

I work with many people who don't necessarily have the same philosophy, and quite honestly, I'm fine with that. "To each their own", as the saying goes. For those who would prefer to be more organized, however, but don't know where to start, I offer some insights into how I manage my busy Inbox.

It's quite simple, actually. If I were to illustrate my Inbox management process as a flowchart, it would look something like is:


As a new message arrives, I quickly scan it to determine if it's junk mail or not. If it is, I delete the email. If not, I move on to question #2. That initial decision, by the way, usually happens in the fraction of a second. Next, I determine if it's something that I need to act upon. If it is, then I table it until I have the time to act on it (more on that later). If it doesn't require a response or an action, then I simply read it, internalize and digest the information, then delete the email. Types of my mail that fall into this category would be quick "FYI" and "Just a heads-up" type emails.

If the message is something that I need to act upon, I then determine if it's something that needs immediate attention. If it's something that needs my immediate attention, I act accordingly (respond to the email, make the phone call, send the document... whatever it is that I need to do). When I'm done, I then delete the email.

If the message is something that I need to act upon but it isn't considered to be urgent, I will defer it until a time later that day or evening where I can take the time to respond to it properly. In most cases, that time is no longer than 30 minutes out, but in some cases, it can take up to 6-8 hours, depending on how full my schedule is. Once the action has been performed, I consider it to be complete and delete the email.

In a way, I look at my Inbox as a task list. Because I use a decision tree the way I do, I know that everything in my Inbox is an actionable message that I need to respond to or otherwise do something with it. This helps me to stay on task and on schedule, and most importantly, sane. They key to all of this working, by the way, is constant supervision of the inflow of new messages. I do also use some mail rules to draw attention to specific messages, but in large part, when a new message arrives, it has my attention, and the decision process outlined above begins.

Do you have some Inbox management tricks that you use to help keep you organized? If so, share them with us using the comments below.

Posted on May 13, 2015 and filed under How To, Opinion.