I keep hearing people say that they got their inbox down to zero or their email is so organized and I never knew how they did it.  Then, last weekend, I sat down and started organizing a few messages.  Before I knew it, I was cleaning out my inbox and got it down to only a few messages.

So how’d I do it?  Here are my keys to success.

  1. Create folders for topics that best match your email style.  Like Friends, Family, Shopping, Wife.  Think of who you get the most email from or what topics you get a lot of email on.  Then create folders to file all those emails into.
  2. Search and delete.  Not all messages need to be saved.  iTunes Tuesday emails for the past six months, Amazon Newsletters, Target ads and so many more emails are just un-necessary.  Find them, and delete them.  Search by sender or by subject to find them all at once.
  3. Search and file.  I searched for all the email from my Mom and filed that in my Mom folder.  All my email from my wife when into her folder.  Searched all messages for iTunes receipts and they went into my Shopping folder.  The key here is to search search for email from people, for emails with the same type of subject to get a lot of emails at once.  Filing your email away one at a time will take forever.  By selecting 25 or even 100 at once, you’ll be able to knock out a of of email quickly.  
  4. Mark as read.  As you’re filing things away.  Start marking emails as read.  I had a lot of email from last year, or older, that was still marked unread.  Sorry, I’m no longer going to email you back if it was that long ago.
  5. Once you start getting down fewer emails, you may find your folders need to become more generic.  I have one folder named Friends for those that send me an email every so often.  I don’t have enough to make an entire folder, so I just drop them all into Friends.
  6. If you’re like me and have email from 2004, then create archive folders.  2004, 2005, 2006, 2007.  If you can’t figure out which folder to stick an email in, or you just want to make a lot of progress fast, then go ahead and just archive it by year.  At least it gets out of your inbox.

Eventually  you should have a clean inbox.  It took me an hour or so to get my inbox under control, but it’s much nicer now to see less than 20 messages in my inbox.  Even that number is starting to sound high.

Keep it under control!  This is just as important as cleaning out your inbox.  With new email, don’t file it later or leave it just sitting around, take the time to keep your inbox organized.  I find this extremely easy to do with a combination of labels and filters in Gmail.  The system is setup beautifully.  Heck, I don’t even go back to my desktop application any more.

I think the biggest thing I get out of a clean inbox is the sense of accomplishment.  There are no longer hundreds or thousands of emails sitting there.  There are only a few and they seem really easy to manage.

Take some time and get cleaning.  You’ll be happy you did.

Do you have other tips you’d like to share on how you organized your inbox?  Share in the comments below.

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