One of the fundamentals of emails many forget, is keeping things organized. It is tough to get things in order once they have been neglected. Every email program has a way to file away your emails; some easier than others. Sure most email apps have a tagging and search option, but this not the ideal way to keep your files.
If you want any hope of clearing your inbox you will need to file things away. I will show you the basics of how to get your inbox to zero using folder, filters and some elbow grease. If the programs you use are not shown, there are similar options available with the majority of the applications.
Using email folders
Your folders are going to be the cornerstone of your organizational efforts. Everyone has their own way of sorting, but you must have several folders to start. A common method to sort is by person. I use this for my work email because I do not have any collaborative projects, email is strictly about keeping in touch. This isn’t the same for everyone.
If you were in B2B sales for example, a good method is have a folder for the business, then have a sub-folder for each person or project you deal with. Another method is to have a project folder with sub-folder for each project. In the individual project sub-folder, you can have emails broken down into parts of the projects or people.
Outlook or Thunderbird folders
I personally use Thunderbird because I can run it from my USB drive. This allows me to remain untethered from a specific computer at work. All of my folders, rules and emails will be accessible on any Windows computer with a USB port.
With most desktop email programs, you can have a main folder then several sub-folders. Like I mentioned in my B2B example in the beginning, this is a great option if you work with multiple businesses or vendors. Set up a main folder for the client, then have a sub folder for each person or project.
Gmail has what they call Labels. These are similar to folders in Outlook or Thunderbird. The difference is, you cannot have sub-folders in Gmail. For the extremely organized, this may cause you to have a nervous twitch. To find items within a folder you can search for the text or sender you are looking for.
Keep your folder system as simple as possible or you will either spend too much time keeping it organized or simply not organize your emails because it is too much work. Luckily most email clients or web applications have automation features to help you sort your mail.
Using email filters
Email filters, or rules as they are sometimes called, will help you automate the process of sorting your email to the correct folders. There are many ways to configure email filters. One of the basic options will filter an email from a specific person into a folder. Others will pick out emails with an attachment or even a combination of multiple triggers.
Outlook or Thunderbird rules
In Thunderbird, you can sort your incoming emails with rules. To create a rule while reading an email, you simply right-click on the sender’s email address at the top of the email. You will be presented with an option to create a rule. When you do this, a window will pop up.
In this window you will need to select the different things to look for while sorting the email. Names, keywords, attachments, if it does or does not contain something… The list of ways to configure the rules almost limitless.
Gmail filters have a similar way of sorting your emails. You can choose the criteria; name, keyword, subject, etc.
With Gmail, you can also add an automatic reply to any email matching the criteria.
In the end, you need to be able to have a method that works for you. Leave a comment with any tips you may have to manage your inbox.
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