How to Organize Emails

how to organize emails

Organization is a skill set that not everyone has intuitively; however, it’s often important to gain at least some basic organizing skills. There are so many different approaches to getting organized, that sometimes it can be hard to figure out which one is best for you.

Instead of bogging yourself down worrying about whether or not you’re following a technique correctly, consider taking a step back and doing something else first: adjusting your mindset.

While I’ve written about adjusting your mindset using techniques to help with the stress of email, as well as strategies in tackling inbox organization as a whole, this concept is a bit different. When it comes to having the right mindset, specifically for organizing your inbox, the way you frame the context makes all the difference.

How is this accomplished? Start thinking about your digital mailbox like your physical mailbox, and reduce the stress of worrying about how to organize your emails.

Let me explain.

The mail carrier drops off your mail in a box or mail slot.  You then pull out whatever is in there and, for lack of a better word, triage it. Your junk mail (hopefully) is going in the trash. The bill that confirms your auto-payment may get placed in a filing cabinet – so you pull out that bill’s folder, put the bill in there, and close the drawer.  Or perhaps you have a bin or file that you put them in for later access.

Then what you have left is the rest of the mail that still requires you to do something: a bill you have yet to pay, an invite to a wedding, a reminder from your dentist to make an appointment – things that trigger that you need to do something. You probably have some system for this mail in place already: a pile on your desk, a special folder, a day planner, or even on your refrigerator. 

What you wouldn’t do is put that mail back in your mailbox, reminding you there’s still something you need to take action on. That would be absurd. But that’s exactly what you’re doing with your email by leaving emails in your inbox. You’re putting your action items back into your mailbox that the mailman will be adding to again tomorrow. You’re working too hard to triage and prioritize emails each and every day.

The process that you do with physical mail: pull it out, sort it, throw away, file away, and keep out to remind of a pending action – is what we call a workflow. Let’s go through a workflow process with an email to contextualize.

First, the email arrives in your inbox. Ask yourself: “what am I doing with this message?” If there’s an outstanding action that needs to be taken, we want to follow an appropriate workflow so we can stay on top of our to-do list.

For example, if you get an email related to the Wilson case, you may put it in the Wilson action item folder for when you’ll work on that matter later. This way you can batch-think about that project, and all outstanding action items and correspondence, at a later time when you can put your attention on that project. In another situation, you may receive a lower-priority email related to an organization you belong to. You have a very busy week with a large deliverable on Thursday, and so you won’t be able to focus on emails about this organization until later in the week. You may put that in a pending action folder for that organization until you can focus on quickly going through what you need to do for that project at once.

If there is no action, but you want to save it, it’d go in the appropriate folder or label.  If it’s not important at all, you’ll send it to the trash bin just like your physical junk mail.

Make sense?

You use your judgment when sorting letters from your physical mailbox, and have designated spots for everything, so why not do the same with your digital mailbox too?

By putting yourself in the right mindset, you’ll almost-instantly find your email is less imposing, and struggle less with decision paralysis.

If you’re ready to dive deeper into these techniques and processes for taking control of your inbox; if you’re ready to reclaim time lost to email management; if you’re ready to achieve the realistic goal of “Inbox Zen” and learn how to spend purposeful and intentional time with your inbox so that it serves you the way you need it to, sign up for a free webinar to learn more about the ARTT™ Email Productivity course. In the webinar, I’ll personally introduce a new way of thinking about email, show you step-by-step how to conquer your inbox, and build a routine that causes less stress and allows you to get more done each day.

Author: Sarah Tetlow, Creator of the ARTT™ Email Productivity course.

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