A person’s organizational acumen could once be measured by the tidiness of their sock drawer, but oh how the times have changed. If you really want to know if someone is organized take a look at their e-mail inbox. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not actually suggesting that you go around looking at people’s inboxes; what I am suggesting is that you look at your own.

The ability to effectively organize your e-mail communication is a critical time-management skill. No matter who you are or what you do chances are you could use a little more time in the day, organize your e-mail and you just might have it.

The Junk in Your Trunk

It may be difficult, but if you get junk email you must unsubscribe before you delete. If you shop somewhere often you’ll want to stay on their mailing list for coupons and specials, but for everything else unsubscribe. It takes a few extra steps to unsubscribe, but it will save you time in the future.

If you have unsubscribed and you still get their messages add them to your junk sender’s list. Steps for junking mail are different depending on the email service provider. In Microsoft Outlook, you simply right click the message and that option appears. Most providers offer some sort of method, Hotmail for example offers a sweep that allows you to set-up rules like “delete anything from this sender.”

Rank and File

Your next step is to set-up email files. Don’t worry this isn’t as hard as setting up paper files or organizing your hard drive. The file names will change depending on your line of work. Here are some that could work for your personal account:

Business is a little trickier, but you can start by looking at your paper or electronic files. One way to set-up your email files is by department: marketing, customer service, purchasing, etc. You could also set them up by subject or task: planning, meetings, financials, sales reports, etc. I use a combination of methods. I have some files by department, a few regarding important accounts, a file for receipts, and a meeting file.

The meeting file is my favorite. I’ve set up subfolders within it. When I get emails that are best covered in a weekly meeting I pull the email into the folder. Before each meeting I make a note of all the topics in the folder and make sure that each issue is covered.

Who Does The Dirty Work?

Unlike your kids and husband, your computer will do a lot of the work for you. It can actually file and sort your incoming mail. You’ll need to set-up more rules, similar to what you did with your junk mail. Items such as store coupons and specials are good candidates for rules. You can set-up store newsletters to go into a particular folder. Then just check that folder daily to make sure you don’t miss a 50% off at J.Crew or Restoration Hardware. Some items that I’ve set up rules for include regular reports, correspondence from my children’s school PTA, membership rewards statements and travel offers. These are folders I check regularly so if they bypass my inbox I won’t miss them.

Sorry You Tasked?

Managing e-mail tasks or to-do’s is a matter of personal preference. Some people view their inbox as a to-do list and everything that hasn’t been filed must be dealt with, others set up a task folder. Either way is fine, just be consistent. If the item is on your calendar and your physical to-do list it’s probably not necessary to leave it in your inbox.

Create a folder labeled Events and store calendar related email there until the event has passed.

Maxed Out

Space is limited for just about everyone, so at some point you will have to clean-out even email files. If you regularly receive large attachments you may already have a space problem.

Make a point of saving large attachments on your computer hard drive. You can also pdf or save as html the accompanying email.

If you or your company has a good method for archiving your email file, and the ability to retrieve the information if needed in the future, then purge yearly.

If you or your company does not have a good method of archiving make sure that you save important emails as pdf or html files to your computer hard drive or company server.

Last But Not Least

It’s good to copy yourself. It sounds a little strange so let me explain. When sending out important messages via email include your own email address in the cc field. You can then file the incoming email as you would any other email related to that topic. It’s a lot easier than searching through your sent messages.

There are many email accounts and a limited amount of space here. The point is you need a plan for your email. Set a 1-week goal to get your inbox in order; then spend a little time each day making it happen. Your stress level will thank you.

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