Organizing Your Inbox

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If your email inbox is cluttered or unorganized, it can make it difficult to find the email or message you need or notice when you have a new one waiting. Many email systems have tools you can use to help sort and organize emails and appointments in order to go through them easier. When your emails are in order, you better able to stay on top of your incoming and outgoing mail and always have the information you may need.

Setting Delivery Rules

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Many email systems now allow you to create rules that you can apply to email being delivered to your inbox that can help you better sort and organize certain messages. These ‘rules’ use filters that you choose and will either flag/highlight an email for you or re-route it to another folder for you to access later. For example, any email from your manager’s email address can be highlighted in yellow for immediate attention. Or if you have been speaking with a friend about adopting their new kitten, any email with the word ‘kitten’ can be re-routed to a folder with her name on it. These filters and rules can help you reorganize your long list of emails and messages into appropriate folders and sections to help you access your information faster and with more ease.

Folder and Message Hierarchy

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To better organize email messages, a good folder structure should be in place and ready to use. Once these are established, a folder and message hierarchy system can be put into place. This hierarchy system allows you to sort folders and messages by priority or importance and can be done in several different ways, such as using a color code or relocating items to the top of the inbox for better viewing. Establishing hierarchy among your many emails will help you identify the most important messages first and reduces the risk of you skimming over it to read and handle something less urgent.

Tips to consider when establishing inbox hierarchy:

  • Sender of the message
  • Urgent topics/subjects
  • Upcoming deadlines or projects

Deal With Email Right Away

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Your inbox is not meant to be a storage area for your messages. When you receive an email, you don’t necessarily have to respond to it right away, but the message should be filed away to an appropriate location to retrieve later. If it needs to be handled at the end of the week, re-file it to another folder that can be reopened later. If the email needs to be addressed by someone else, forward to the appropriate party and remove from your inbox. If the email simply isn’t needed, then delete it right away instead of holding onto it any longer. Taking a few more minutes to deal with the email once you open it will not only save you time in the long run, but it will help keep better track of emails that require your attention and which ones do not.

Ask yourself these questions when handling your emails:

  • Does this email need immediate action?
  • If not, when does it need to be addressed?
  • Will you need this information at a later date?
  • Does this email pertain to me or my department?

Flag and Highlight Important Items

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Important emails should not be forgotten or lost, so you can assign these email a flag or even highlight them in a different color to call attention to them in your inbox or subfolders. Flags can be used to remind you of an upcoming event or project, including meeting or deadlines. Various types of flag categories can be set up, so you can flag some message for a follow up while some can be flagged as an appointment reminder. 

If you don’t want to individually flag every message, highlights can also be set up to highlight messages from certain sender or that contain key words, such as ‘meeting’ or ‘appointment’. For instance, all emails from your boss can be highlighted in red for urgency, but emails from your best friend can be colored in blue for a later time. Flags and highlights can be used individually if desired or can be used together to work in sync and organize your growing inbox.

Case Study

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Gina sat down at her desk and opened her email. She was amazed at how many messages she had at one time, many of them about upcoming deadlines and correspondence from her boss. She decided she better sort through it and get it organized before she missed anything important. First, she created several folders and subfolders by order of importance that she could use to sort her messages. She deleted several emails that were no longer needed or did not pertain to her. With her remaining emails, Gina sorted them into the appropriate email folder, including “Emails from the Boss”, “Upcoming Meetings,” and “Projects”. 

After she had her inbox almost clear, Gina set up several new delivery rules that would help her keep track of her emails, including highlighting meeting reminders in green and flagging all assignments and projects with a red flag. Any emails from unknown addresses were set up to go into her Spam folder. When she was finished Gina was finally able to find and read emails that actually needed her attention, instead of trying to find them among the mass amount of messages.