Your home might be clean and tidy, but — if you’re like most people — there’s a very good chance your email inbox is just the opposite! To help start the New Year right, we offer the following tips and strategies for cleaning your inbox, keeping it tidy going forward and, most important, stopping the inflow of unwanted messages altogether.
1. Set up folders and/or smart filters to organize messages you wish to keep for the longer term
To determine a filing system that works best for you, think about how your brain and memory work best. For example, if you tend to remember things by people, conversations or projects, set up your folders along the same lines. Think about how granular you might need to be in order to find something easily in the future. Ideas for folders might include: online transactions and receipts; account setups and username reminders; children’s school, sports and health-related messages; tax related; important personal correspondence; emails containing photos, and so forth. If you don’t want to be that granular, you might set up a folder for each month, quarter or year, sort email by date received, and simply drag everything over periodically so it’s not mucking up your inbox.
2. Use your address book
Are you guilty of using old email messages to route new ones correctly? Start a new habit of adding people to your address book. Doing so requires no more than a couple of mouse clicks or finger taps and frees you to delete email messages you really don’t need to keep. A good winter weekend project is to sort your inbox by sender, add all wanted contacts to your address book, then mass delete (or file) messages by sender.
3. Delete and file as you go
Even if you have been undisciplined in the past about frequently deleting email messages or filing in folders, resolve for the New Year to make a daily habit of both as soon as you read a message or at least once a day or week.
4. Save down attachments
Oftentimes, it’s email attachments that you want to save rather than the messages themselves. Resist the urge to use your inbox as a filing system for attached documents, photos and so forth. Instead, make a habit of saving down attachments and deleting their useless email containers as they arrive.
5. Create rules for auto-organizing and filtering
Most email programs also have options for setting up automated rules for filing and organizing messages. Say, for example, you have a beloved aunt who never fails to forward chain emails. You might be too polite to ask your aunt to stop, but you can set up a rule to automatically delete or file any messages arriving from her address. It may take some time to learn how email-filtering works and to refine your rules, but the time you can save in sorting and deleting will be well worth it.
If you don’t know specifically how to do some of the things described above within your particular email program, you can be virtually certain that someone, somewhere has created an Internet tutorial for what you need to know, so put your favorite search engine to work, being sure to specify in your query which email program and specific version you are using. Good luck!