You sit down at your desk and look at the perfectly stacked papers. You grab a pen from your perfectly organized utensil holder, and begin to work. You need a file so you open your drawer and the perfectly labeled folders let you know exactly where you need to grab that report you need.
Everything is perfectly organized, perfectly in place. Or at least that is how you’d perhaps like it to be because you envision that’ll help you be a more organized person.
For many of you, perfect physical workspace or not, when you open your email, a cascade of bold hits you – new messages, messages you marked as unread so you’d remember to come back to them, and older messages that you never bothered to open or mark as read. And between bolded subject lines are unbolded ones that may or may not be important later, so you haven’t deleted them. You search for that assignment you’re supposed to do today – the one your boss emailed you about last week – but you have to search through a couple dozen emails to find it. You’ve wasted nearly five minutes doing this.
How could it have gotten to this point? You ask. How could you have gotten so disorganized with your emails at work when you’re so organized in every other aspect of your life?
Well, you didn’t employ the same organizational habits with your digital workspace as you do your physical one. Just because we can click the magnifying glass and search a keyword doesn’t mean the one email or file we need will easily pop up. Oftentimes there’ll be others that have the same keyword, too.
Minimizing visual clutter isn’t only important for your physical workspace. That’s why it’s important you take the time to keep your digital workspace equally as orderly. Make sure you do the following, and learn how to be more organized with your work emails:
1. Use Folders AND Labels AND Colors
Just like the filing cabinet in your office, your email has a filing cabinet too. It may be categories in Outlook, or labels in Gmail.
But if you opened your desk drawer and you had two dozen unnamed folders, are you sure you’ll always be able to find exactly what you need right away? Of course not! Writing down the client’s name, or the type of work on the folder will ensure you can quickly identify whatever it is you need. Adding a color-coding system to that helps too (Gmail has this, Outlook is not as crisp). Important client? Maybe label it red. Finished with the work but storing it for later reference? Maybe that’s gray.
Find the naming and coloring system that makes sense to you, and you’ll have a significantly easier time with your organizational process.
Bonus tip: Make sure everything is categorized and alphabetized for quick reference!
2. Don’t Procrastinate
We all know what happens when we tell ourselves “eh, I’ll just do this later.” We either don’t do it, or we rush because we have ten other things to do, and then we make mistakes in our haste.
When you’re going through your emails and you know it’s junk…just delete it. Don’t wait until later. Don’t add more visual clutter that can complicate things when you need to search later.
Is this email for the “Smith” client? Move it over right away so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
You want to make sure that when you’re doing something, you follow through on everything immediately in that moment, when you have the mental energy and focus to do it right. When you wait until later, you risk that something slips through the cracks because you’re no longer 100% focused on the current task, and instead thinking about another client or project that needs to get done. That’s when you find that you’ve touched the same email twice, thrice, or more, asking yourself each time “what do I need to do this with? Oh yeah, nothing.” File it away before the future you is inconvenienced yet again!
3. Do a Little “Spring Cleaning” Here and There
At a certain point, dust collects. Every spring (or more likely in the moment that we are procrastinating on that big project), we pull out the couches and go through the attic to throw things out because dust gets into the cracks, and we throw things into storage we might get to later (but often don’t).
Your email is the same. Often there are emails that you think you may need later, but eventually find you don’t. But rather than making it a chore, you can handle your email spring cleaning on a micro maintenance level. What do I mean? Well, if you’re following these email organization suggestions, then you’re likely living with Inbox Zero or Inbox Zen. Every so often, you’ll discover a folder or label you made is no longer relevant. Then you can delete the whole folder at that moment without wasting more time.
Think of it like this: you discover a box in your garage labeled “wedding favor kits.” When you made that box fifteen years ago, it was a great idea. Now, you realize it’s not something you need anymore. A quick glance in the box confirms it’s all outdated information and you’re able to recycle the box and its contents. Easy peasy.
It doesn’t take much, just stay on top of your emails, organize them immediately, and go back every now and then to do some maintenance. Then you’ll find your work email is as pristine as your desk.
There’s no need to guess as to how to do this the proper way, because I’ve already learned the hard way what doesn’t work. That’s why I created the ARTT Email Productivity System! I saw how many people around me struggled with their email, and were drowning in a sea of bold, and wanted to change that.
So 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. 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.
See you there!