How to Organize Your Inbox Once and for All

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How Much Email Do You Have?

A lot, right? Too much?

How would you like to organize your inbox once and for all?

It’s not that hard to do.

There are just a few things that you need to do to get it in order, and then a couple of simple things after that to keep it neat, orderly, and under control.

Your Email Provider

If you do a search online for the best email program out there, Gmail is going to end up at the top, or near the top. I have actually read a number of articles that suggest that if you are not using it, you should.

I have some issues with their email service, but it’s still what I use. (I’ll get into that in a minute, along with the way I work around it.)

For this article, I’m going to talk about Gmail and how it works.

If you use another email provider, they most likely have the same features, so hopefully you can figure that out. And some of my suggestions are not dependent on who you use, so that’s even better.

One way or another, we are going to organize your inbox!

Let’s Talk About Your Inbox

Email arrives in your inbox mostly because you want it to, for one reason or another. Remember, I said mostly.

All of us get email that we don’t want, necessarily, but for the purposes here, we’re not going to discuss spam. Your email provider should be filtering that out.

But we’ve all signed up for newsletters that we no longer want, or just signed up to get whatever free thing they were offering. Sometimes we’re in a store and we sign up with our email to get a special deal. We’ll talk about those later, too.

Those things you can control.

If you’ve got a father-in-law like I had (or other relative) whose retirement consists of playing games online and sending you numerous emails with old jokes in them, I’ve even got a solution for that. (The thing about my father-in-law’s emails was that once every 2,000 or so emails, he would send one with an old picture in it that you really wanted, so you were forced to at least open what he sent.)

Here’s the Thing About Email

As I said, most of your email is there because you wanted it for one reason or another.

You needed information, you like getting updates, whatever.

And then some comes to you from other places: maybe your work, your friends or relatives.

But for all of it, there’s one thing you must do when an email arrives in your inbox in order to organize it: you have to take action on it.

That is where we fail.

We look at it, maybe open it, then decide to deal with it later.

There’s that tricky word: later.

When is “later”, exactly?

That’s how we end up with an inbox with way too many emails in it.

Purge, Then Organize

As with any organization project, first you have to get rid of the junk before you can put what’s left into some kind of manageable order.

This may be a task, depending on how much email you have. There are actually some people who say that they never delete emails. I couldn’t stand it.

Most of us with ADHD (even though we tend to exist in less than orderly lives) tend to do better overall in a structured environment, in my opinion.

So, get ready to start deleting those emails!

You can approach this in two ways:

  1. Go through, one by one, and delete the emails that you absolutely do not want.
  2. Do a mass delete. You can choose to delete everything and start fresh, or you can choose everything past a certain date. I’d say anything older than two weeks is about right.

Now I know you better than you think I do, and I know there’s going to be a bunch of emails that you just can’t decide about.

You can’t bring yourself to delete them, because you might need them for some reason.

I strongly advise you to rethink this, and see if you can’t delete some more. If not, here are your options:

  • Can you easily get this information again? If yes, delete.
  • Is the information in it valuable enough that you might want to refer back to it a few times? If yes, then create a folder and put it in there.
  • If it falls somewhere in between, and you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of it, archive it. This is available in most email programs, and if you need it, you just have to search for it.

Note: you may have some recent ones that don’t fall into these categories. That’s OK. We’ll deal with those next.

Organizing, Part 1

Part 1 is to get your inbox organized; part 2 will help you keep it that way, once and for all.

So you’ve deleted the junk and identified the ones that you want to keep, and taken action on them.

You may still have emails left: ones you haven’t opened, recent ones, ones you know you want to keep. Hopefully, there are only a few.

Your “ideal goal” in this – if you were an organizational superhero – would be to “handle” each mail once:

  • Open and read it.
  • Decide what action to take – delete, reply, add to your calendar, to do list, or a folder, archive. I suppose if you were a real superhero, you could add delegate to that. I don’t have an assistant; do you?

Assuming you have deleted your way down to a manageable number of remaining emails, go ahead and take care of the rest right now.

Here are a few tricks you may not know your email service can do:

  • Add a canned response. Let’s say you get emails all the time asking the same question. You can create what’s called a canned response, and with just a few keystrokes, answer your email with an already written response. Gmail offers what are called “Smart Responses” in their settings area.
  • Add the email to your calendar or to do list. Many email programs let you use add ons like Trello, Evernote, and more, or contain their own calendar and to do list. One click, and the email is sent there to be acted upon.
  • Divide your inbox into different areas. Gmail has a couple of different ways to divide theirs: you can do “important” and everything else below. (You decide which emails are important.) Or you can have it divided by kind of email: primary, social, promotion, and updates. Gmail makes those decisions, but you can change them at any time.

Organizing, Part 2

You want to organize your inbox once and for all, right?

So once you’ve got it in order, you need to put a few inbox rules in place, and develop a few good habits.

Don’t worry. It’s not bad, and if you keep up with it, soon it will be something you do automatically.

So start by identifying the kinds of emails you get. Can you put them into categories (beyond the way Gmail might sort them)?

For instance, do you have more than one email address, and do you use them for different things? Or could you do this?

For me, I have two email addresses that are level one in the way I categorize my mail:

  1. A Gmail address that I use for personal things – a store coupon or newsletter, my Imperfect Produce and updates, etc. I also use it if I know I’m signing up just to get the free thing and will unsubscribe soon after. And I use it for the charity that I volunteer for, Those emails come in with a colored label so I know to put them in the right folder and possibly take action right away.
  2. My An ADD Woman address, which is linked to my Gmail. This one has a blue label attached when I get it that says “Business”. The labels are an option that I chose in the settings area. It would be preferable if the entire subject line were color coded, but apparently no one does that anymore.
  3. There is also the option to select certain emails that are labeled and then go directly to the correct folder, bypassing my inbox completely. I choose not to do that, in case they are important and need immediate action.

So, if you follow these things (and use Gmail or something similar), you already have them sorted:

  • Which part of the inbox they go to
  • The email address that is used
  • Any labels that are attached

Taking Action

With this much sorting done for you before you’ve even opened a single email, you should easily be able to finish the rest.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Set aside no more than two or three times a day when you will check your email. “Checking your email” means something different now. It means that you will sort through it and deal with each piece, completing the job start to finish. If it’s time to check email, but you can’t follow through on the rest of it, then wait to check it until you can.
  • Remember – delete, archive, respond, calendar, to do, or answer. Take action immediately! If you’re waiting for more information before you can answer, put it on your to do list with a due date within the next two days.
  • Prioritize! Deal with your most important emails first now that you can see where they are.
  • Consider using It’s a free service that will put any emails you choose into one daily email – great for subscriptions – and makes it super easy to unsubscribe.

To keep your inbox organized once and for all, be sure to be these good habits in place and use them daily.

Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

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