In Goal Setting and Productivity

8 Tips and Apps to Organize Email

8 Tips to Organize Email & Take Control of Your Inbox

Have you ever been afraid to check your email? There was a time in my life that I was terrified to check my email and face the hundreds of messages waiting for something: a response, to be deleted, or to be saved. But last year I found a system that helps me manage and organize the beast that is my email and my world was flipped upside (in a wonderful way).

Before I get into the real steps to managing an inbox, I suggest that you go ahead and  make it a pretty, pleasant thing to look at / less of an eye sore. I tend to rotate between the solar system, mint green, and trees. Okay, much better.

Consolidate.

Raise your hand if you have too many email accounts. I currently receive email at 6 different email accounts and would go crazy if I had to individual check each of these. Instead, I have consolidated these email addresses into two Gmail accounts that make sense for my life: 1) Everyday (personal, work, and school addresses), and 2) Blog emails accounts.
8 Tips and Apps to Organize Email
Additionally, I have these two gmail accounts linked that I can be logged into my personal account and still check my blog email in a new window.

Organize with Labels, Tabs, and Filters.

Labels. The label function is critical for me. Some people say that you don't need them because you can use the search function. This is mostly true, but sometimes I forget the proper keyword to use to search. For example, perhaps I am looking for an email about a paid advertising opportunity but I can't remember the name of the organization (oops!). Luckily, I have filed it under a paid sponsorship label and can find it easily. I personally use labels within labels within labels so that I can quickly find emails but the important thing is to find a structure that works for you and stick with it.

Tabs. If you use Gmail then you may have seen the tabs along the top of the inbox. Again, while some people don't find it helpful, I really like it. The tabs allow me to quickly scan emails within each category  (primary, social, promotions, updates, and forums) and mass delete if necessary (a common occurrence in the social and promotions tabs).

Filters. Many people recommend setting up filters or rules for your email that allow messages to automatically be deleted or archived so that they don't clutter your inbox. I personally don't like this strategy as I get nervous that I'll accidentally miss something important. For example, I always archive my auto-confirmation emails for my credit cards and healthcare payments so it might make sense to set up a filter or rule that would automatically do that for me. If I were to set up this filter, however, I wouldn't be able to see if I did NOT get a confirmation email since I wouldn't be expecting it. I prefer being able to see the subject line and archive it myself. And since I use the tabs function I can mass archive or delete in about 5 seconds.

Unsubscribe.

The last step for organizing your email should be unsubscribing from emails you don't want to see. While you can click the little unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email, I prefer using Unroll. This program searches your email for all your subscriptions, compiles a list (I had 64 in my blog email account), and allows you to go down the list and unsubscribe from the ones you no longer read. Genius!
8 Tips and Apps to Organize Email

Establish a Routine and Boundaries.

This is the most critical component of managing my inbox. Ideally, I check my email during my scheduled ‘housekeeping' times throughout the day: in the morning, after lunch, and at the end of my work day. One rule that I established for myself last year is that I do not respond to work or school emails after 5:30pm or on the weekends with one exception: I told my peers that I would respond to emails outside of that time if it was marked urgent. This was a game changer. Once I set up email expectations and a solid routine, checking email because considerably less scary.

Turn Off Notifications.

Related the the previous point, go ahead and turn off your phone notifications. This may not work for everyone, but I decided to turn off my notifications this year and no longer feel like a slave to email.

2 Minute Rule.

The easiest rule in the book: If it takes less than 2 minutes to send, read, or respond to an email, do it immediately.

Canned Emails

Canned / pre-saved messages make the process of sending emails so easy! I use several canned messages each day for school, work, and blog correspondence. Gmail users can find this function in the labs section of your account.

Get Inbox to Zero

EDIT: Mailbox no longer exists (RIP) but the apps Inbox and Polymail will also help you get to inbox zero the same way that Mailbox did! As of right now, I think that Polymail is more powerful but it is currently only available for iOS and Mac. Mailbox is by far my favorite email app. The whole point of the app is to get your inbox to the magic number of 0. I go through my inbox and either 1) reply to messages, 2) archive or delete, or 3) save for another time. I find that last feature especially helpful. Maybe I don't have time to respond to that particular message right then so I schedule to respond to it later in the day. Or perhaps the email is from a friend but I'm too busy to reply that day so I save it for the the following day.
8 Tips and Apps to Organize Email
I suggest playing around with the app for a while before you make a decision about it. I actually didn't like it at first (similar to Evernote) but am obsessed with it now.

Schedule Deliveries

While I don't typically respond to emails after working hours, I like to have a clean inbox (meaning no messages). So sometimes I will respond to messages outside of work hours. But since I've already set up the expectation that people will not be getting emails from me at that time, I use Boomerang to schedule the delivery. I absolutely love this plugin! I can respond to an email at 11:45pm and schedule it to send at 8am the following morning.
8 Tips and Apps to Organize Email
Boomerang also has other great features like sending your sent massage back to you in a couple of days if the receiver has yet to reply so that you can follow up with them.

To Summarize:

1. Consolidate your accounts.
2. Use labels, tabs, and possibly filters to organize messages.
3. Unsubscribe from unwanted messages with Unroll.
4. Establish a routine, turn off notifications, and set boundaries.
5. Follow the 2 minute rule.
6. Use canned emails.
7. Get inbox to zero with Mailbox.
8. Schedule deliveries with Boomerang.

How do you manage and organize email?

8 Tips to Organize Email & Take Control of your Inbox

Related:
4 Ways to Use Evernote to Organize Your Life
Using Wunderlist & the Pomodoro Technique to be Productive
Envelope System for Budgeting

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Nicole

Nicole is a treasure hunter and pup mama located in Seattle, Washington. Loves travel, politics, lifestyle, TV, & wine. She's an unapologetic SJW & feminist AF.

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  • I have three (four) emails, one for social networks (for those spammy ones that I’ll never check), personal, school, and blog. So if I know I’m getting a certain email I’ll go to that inbox. Keeps it neat and not as chaotic as having them all shoved in one. I’m obsessed with my inbox too, I hate when it’s not empty.

  • OHHH love this!! I am going to check out Boomerang right now — that sounds very handy!

    • yes! so happy that this is helpful. Let me know what you think about Boomerang? It is a life saver for me.

  • I’m going to sort my inbox out right now! : )

  • Britta

    I can only imagine how many things my email addresses are signed up for hahah .. I should probably check out unroll.me asap

  • Awesome post!!! Those apps are magical! :P My Gmail is all kinds of pretty and organized now, and every time i log in i sigh of relief because i don’t feel stressed!! :)) Colors + Labels make all the difference!! I also discovered the tasks list! It’s a little pop-up with your to-do list. It’s a pretty cool way to keep in mind the emails you have to reply to, especially when you need to – fill out a form/write something/send a picture – to the people you sponsor before a specific date !

    • thanks, Laura! Isn’t is amazing how refreshing a clean inbox feels? I like the tasks list as well. it is so nice to have everything in one place!

  • I would be nothing without labels and filters in my inbox. I’ve never heard of the Boomerang plugin though… that’s AWESOME.

  • SimplyEvani

    I love the 2 minute rule! I’ve never heard that before! :) Great tips friend! <3

  • I love the Boomerang idea, I’m going to have to look into that. I try not to respond to work emails after hours, but then sometimes I worry that I’ll forget it so it stays on my mind. This would be helpful.

    I’m quite organised when it comes to my emails, although I never have my inbox down to zero. I’m a big archiver, including my sent mail (by month). These tips are great though. Definitely going to have a re-work of my current system.

    • I hope that Boomerang helps! let me know what you think. Good luck re-working your system!

  • This is SO helpful. I recently unsubscribed from all my junk mail and need to finally disable mail notifications on my phone. Also downloading the mailbox app now! xxx

  • I just signed up for unroll.me and I am so excited to get my first one tomorrow. Thanks for sharing!

    • how are you liking unroll? I am so thankful that I found it!

      • I think I like it – I feel like I am missing things, but I’m sure I’m not. It’s a good adjustment, but it does take getting used to receiving 20 emails in one!

  • SHUT UP. I didn’t know that this Unroll.Me existed. I think you just changed my life!! I have the notifications shut off on my iPhone and it definitely alleviates stress in my life BIG time!! Thanks for sharing these tips – I love this series :)

  • I just went through a HUGE unsubscribe thing about a week ago. I unsuscribed to almost everything that came to my inbox! IT WAS AMAZING!

  • This is amazing–I’ve never heard of Boomerang, but it’s pretty genius! My goal is to get my mailbox to a respectable 40. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it down to 0…I’m kind of an e-mail hoarder.

    • I’m a bit of a hoarder as well. But I like to keep mine out of sight until I need to attend to it. Have you tried Boomerang yet?

  • I love the way that Google just re-did their inbox! It sorts my mail for me and made is so much more manageable!

    • I do too! I’ve heard that a lot of people don’t like it but I think that it is awesome.

  • You are amazing. And the key to me organizing MY LIFE!!!! :) Thank you for this, Nicole! How timely!

  • Man, we all know I need this! I currently have Yahoo Mail but desperately want to make the switch to Gmail- I’m just worrying about alerting everyone of my new address and having to keep up with both! I do love labels though :) helps me stay so organized!

    • make the switch! You can get your yahoo mail forwarded to your gmail account while you’re transitioning.

  • Great tips! I always love when people share their methods for keeping their inbox under control :)

  • stephanie court

    Awesome tips. I just set up canned responses and it’s such a time saver! Looking into Boomerang now. I don’t like emailing outside of my “office hours” so that seems like it could be a good solution. Thanks for sharing all these tips!

  • CloudComputingExpert

    Good to know this. Thanks for sharing..Here I would like to share a simple tool called Beyond Inbox to organize your Inbox. It’ll also helps you to Backup, Archive, Transfer and Restore your Emails.
    Some more tips and tricks to organize your inbox : http://www.beyondinbox.com/documentation/mail-backup–organize-your-inbox.html

    • thanks i need serious inbox help! gonna check it out now! :)

  • I am definitely a huge proponent of labels, tabs and filters. I have sooooo many labels and (like you) labels within labels, but it really works for me! I also like the different colored stars in Gmail so I can mark important emails by what they are regarding (really urgent, blog business, sorority business and money/receipts/orders). I am going to check out Unroll right now – thanks for the tip!

    • I didn’t know that you can change the color of the stars!! amazing.

      • Yup, you can do it in settings! I think the main settings page. And I think they have some shapes besides stars, too!

  • awesome! I need to check this out! thanks for the tip!

  • OH MY GOD the 2 minute rule is genius! that’s what I’m bad at – and then when I finally sit down to respond to all the little emails I always get mad at myself for not having just dashed off answers earlier! I don’t do labels in my gmail but I do use the folders extensively (I have 12, which is a lot more than the 1 I had over the summer before I made my new (married) email). And unsubscribing is SUCH a good feeling :)