Challenge #16 – Email Inbox

Email Inbox. we are conducting an electronic sort today.
photo credit: recreahq via photopin cc

Since we are conducting an electronic sort today, we won’t need our regular supplies.


Depending on how frequently you delete email, this will be either an easy hit or a task you’ve been dreading. Like it or not, we live in an age where electronic communication is prolific. Emails and texts are constantly pouring in, and the temptation is to ignore them.

Sometimes this is a smart decision—after all, getting distracted by each incoming message can easily derail us from accomplishing our work. However, we need to schedule regular times during the day to review and process our email, just as we do with the paper that comes into our lives. If we fail to do this, we will end up with a cluttered inbox where we are likely to “lose” important information.

If you are staring at an overflowing inbox, the first thing you need to do is set aside a little time. I suggest you work on a computer, rather than on your phone, so you can sort and see things more easily.

Begin by sorting your inbox by “From” or “Name.” This will enable you to quickly see who sent each email—the most important piece of information for helping you know whether or not to keep it.

Now it will be obvious which emails are spam. I suggest you go into one email from each of the spammers and, if possible, “unsubscribe.” To do this, simply scroll to the bottom of the message and look for the link. Marketers are required by law to provide a way for you to unsubscribe. As a second line of defense, mark at least one of each as “spam/junk” using your email options. This should result in emails from this sender being caught in your “spam” folder in the future. Once you’ve done this,  go through, highlight in large blocks, and delete.

After you have gotten rid of the obvious spam, the next step is to sort through those that may have content you either need to remember, act on, or respond to. To help with this process, create folders in your email with these names. As you read each email, either:

  1. Delete it (it is old, you missed the window for responding, it is irrelevant, etc.)
  2. Move it to “Respond” folder (you need to make a decision and get back to someone)
  3. Move it to “Action” folder (you need to perform some task before you can delete it)
  4. Move it to “Hold” folder (you don’t want to delete it, but you don’t want it sitting in a general inbox where you will forget it.)

You may want to create sub-folders within these three that help you. For example, within the “Hold” folder you may have categories such as “Reference” or “Upcoming Events” or even “Photos.”

If you are working with a business email inbox, you may wish to use different/additional categories, such as one for each client, one for accounting/expenses, one for office updates, folders for networking/professional groups, etc.

**Be prepared for this to take awhile, and you may only have the patience to work on this task in small blocks of time. This is fine, just keep at it until you are finished, even if you need to come back to it over the weekend.**

To take email management one step further (perhaps a project for another day….), consider adding some filters to your email inbox. Filters automatically route emails from predetermined senders or with designated “keywords” into the folders you choose, saving you time.

Unlike some of the other projects we’ve been tackling this month, the email inbox needs to be cleared out much more frequently than once or twice a year. It should be addressed at least daily, if not more often. Each person handles this responsibility differently, but if you find you hate this task, and tend to procrastinate, make a conscious effort to use your “down time” (e.g. in the pick-up line, “on hold,” at the airport, etc.) to pull out your phone and delete, delete, delete.

What tools do you use to keep your email under control?

12 thoughts on “Challenge #16 – Email Inbox”

  1. This is the one thing I am on top of everyday, because I cannot stand when my e-mail box is overrun with messages. So, I actually have an inbox, but then sub-folders to sort through for which topic it belongs to and then get back to who I may need to get to as time permits out of those sub-folders. It works for me and just thankful, because like I said huge pet peeve for me to have my e-mail out of control.
    Janine Huldie recently posted…This Is The Time To RememberMy Profile

    1. Yes, I’m a bit OCD on this myself… I hate that red circle. I do keep a few things in my inbox, but most of it I clear out obsessively. And there are some folders for me as well, so I might accept my own challenge and clear those out. Now my daughters – another story altogether. They have thousands…

    1. I love it when someone tells me that they can “skip” this challenge because they’ve already done it. That is awesome! I wish more people had a good email system… pat yourself on the back with this one for sure!!

  2. Yes I am a stickler for keeping my inbox clear, I have folders and subfolders. Some are temporary, say I am doing a trade show and I need the info at hand, when it’s over I delete the folder.
    Every month I go through my permanent files and delete any that I don’t feel are relevant anymore, i do the same with incoming emails, deleting ones i no longer want.
    Jill Robson recently posted…Do you have the perfect body?My Profile

    1. I think you need to do a blog post on your method, Jill! I run into so many people whose inboxes are a mess. I’m pretty good about what comes in on a daily basis, but I often forget to go back and cull through the folders and delete… so I’m l taking my own challenge on this one:)

  3. I have both personal and work email address to deal with. I’m pretty good with handling it. I auto-delete sometimes (and I mean deleting without reading), boo! I love your idea of Respond, Action, Hold folders. I’m gonna do that. Like now. Hehe. I usually “star” those I need to read again or for my email outlook at work, I flag it for follow up. 🙂
    Rea recently posted…UnwrittenMy Profile

    1. Yes, it can certainly add up to a lot of email when you are managing both work and personal. ACK on the auto delete… of course, if they are very old, probably too late to respond anyway:) Sounds like you’ve got a system for making sure you respond, so maybe this is just kicking it up a notch!

  4. I’m such a stickler for a clean inbox, ever since my old boss taught me it at work. Now I’m almost obsessive about it. When there’s something I want to follow up on, it goes in my starred folder. Everything else mostly gets deleted or archived or filed accordingly.
    It’s a big mess, though, because I have to go back and apply this method to many years worth..
    Tamara recently posted…Slow Cooker Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe.My Profile

    1. Yes, it is going back into the archives that is particularly “pesky.” But I totally relate to your obsession.. I hate that little red circle – it taunts me:) Hope you are safely back and had a wonderful vacation!!

  5. I need this! My inbox is crazy, even though I use an Email consolidator ( I am terrible about deleting Emails and I get a boatload from all my Facebook groups, Scout troop, and other causes. Right now I have 403 Emails in my main inbox, despite the fact that I “cleaned house” at the beginning of December – ugh! I think I need a 12 Step program for Email. Your idea about sorting it by name is helpful though. I’d never tried that. That would help me sort it out into folders much more easily.
    Adrian recently posted…Enjoy a Cruise Without Going Broke or Getting FATMy Profile

    1. They are relentless the way they keep marching in, aren’t they? You spend time getting it cleaned out and then “poof,” you’ve got a mess again. Good luck!!!

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