Tips For Taming Your Email Inbox

Do you struggle to stay on top of the high volume of email messages that arrive in your Inbox every day? Many people struggle with this, including me. Here are some suggestions on how you can start to tame your Inbox. You don’t need to implement all of these suggestions. Instead, just pick a few that sound like they would be effective for you and use them. If you have your own suggestions, please send them to me and I’ll update this list.

Use multiple email accounts and segregate your email

Personally, I use 4 email accounts. My first account is the one I use for corresponding with clients. As much as possible, I try to prevent emails from vendors or anybody other than clients to not be delivered to this account. My second account is used for correspondence with friends and family. I use my third email account for all online shopping, both personal and professional. This way all email receipts, shipping confirmation messages and flyers and newsletters go to this account. My fourth account is an address that I give out to people when I’m not sure I want to hear from them or it’s not clear why they need my email address.

Unsubscribe from as many mailing lists as possible

People often think the email newsletter and flyers that they get from online vendors like Amazon, FTD, LL Bean, etc are spam. They are not. Technically, spam is unsolicited commercial email. While you may not really want these email messages, at some point, you intentionally or unintentionally agreed to receive these emails. If you do not want to receive these emails then scroll to the bottom and look for button to click to let you unsubscribe from these messages.

Set Up and use email folders or mailboxes

Email folders and mailboxes are synonymous but some mail applications use one term, while others use the second term. Regardless of what you call them, create some mailboxes and file your messages into them. Some people like to create mailboxes tied to dates, like Inbox Archive Quarter 3 2014. Personally, I create a mailbox for each client and each vendor. I organize these folders alphabetically within major categories like Clients and Vendors.

Set Up Rules to automatically file email messages into folders

Both Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook have the built-in ability to automatically file email messages into folders. This feature is called Rules.  If there are some messages that you receive, but you only need them around for future reference, if the need arises, then these would be good candidates to automatically file into a folder using a rule.

Have good spam filtering systems in place

Set up a good spam filtering system like or SpamSieve or Big Mountain’s spam filtering. I’ve covered both of these options in a previous Tech Tip about reducing the amount of spam in your Inbox.

Act on emails and then file or delete them

Read and then file or delete all purely informational emails. Read and reply to emails requesting information. Then delete or file them into a separate folder. If additional work   is needed, set up a task in your task management system. Email applications are not good task organizers. Your task management system can be as simple as a written to do list. Alternately, you could set it up on the computer using Reminders, Things, 2Do, OmniFocus or any of the myriad of other task management applications.

File email messages by hand or speed things up using an application

If you use Apple Mail and you have dozens or hundreds of mailboxes and then are nested inside of each other, then it can be time intensive to drag messages into the appropriate mail folder. You can speed up your filing process by using an application like MsgFiler, MailHub or Mail Act-On. I used to use MsgFiler but a couple of years ago I switched to MailHub since it was faster than MsgFiler.

Set Up a tickler or reminder system

Sometimes it’s helpful to be reminder to do a follow-up with a client on a particular day or check-in with a client or vendor if you haven’t heard back from them by a certain date. To help you remember these tasks you could schedule them in your task management system. Personally, I use FollowUpThen as my reminder system. A client turned me onto this handy service. FollowUpThen lets you schedule email reminders.

Related Resources

Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero philosophy and tips.

TechTarget’s brief definition of Inbox Zero.

Washington Post article about Inbox management.

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload an eBook by Mark Hurst

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