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Clean up Your Email for Easier Use and Access

written by: Meryl K Evans•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/5/2011

A well-managed email box helps you become a more organized and efficient worker. Whether you use your email for business, personal or both, having an email system makes it easier to find things and manage.

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    Many experts advise having an inbox that has no more than 10 email messages. Like with snail mail, a good way to handle your messages at once is by taking the following actions:

    • File in a folder.
    • Respond.
    • Delete.
    • Save.
    • Leave longer responses for later.

    Also consider creating special filters for emails. You might notice a pattern and find it would be better to filter certain messages into a specific folder. For example, if you use twitter, you probably receive messages from twitter letting you know someone is following you. Rather than letting those clutter your inbox, create a folder for "twitter" and filter all messages from twitter.com into this folder.

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    Newsletters and Regular Emails

    You probably subscribe to newsletters, RSS feeds by email and other messages that come in a regular basis. Pledge to start paying attention to this email messages and take one of these actions:

    1. Unsbuscribe: No longer useful to you.
    2. Change subscription: Switch to have the newsletter sent to a web-mail service. If you receive the email in Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird or other computer email client, you might prefer to receive it in Gmail, Yahoo, or other web-based email account.
    3. Change options: Some newsletters let you change the frequency. Instead of every day or every week, change it to weekly or monthly.
    4. Create a filter: Send the newsletters into a newsletter folder or a folder for things to read when you have reading time. Sometimes you might not want to unsubscribe, but you don't want to read the newsletter for a while. In this case, filter these messages to the delete or trash folder.
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    Email Actions

    Try to review email several times a day instead of several minutes apart. This way you can take fast action on a bunch at once.

    • Take action right away on emails that take less than five minutes: For example, an organization is asking for coat donations. Instead of leaving the email -- quickly go to the closet, grab the coat(s), and put it by the garage door. Done. All you have to do is deliver it.
    • Create folders.
      • Current projects: These contain messages related to things you're working on. You don't want to file these away yet because you might need them. Rather than letting your inbox fill up with these, put them in this folder and check it daily. File them when you finish the project.
      • Other email accounts: Create a folder for each email address you have that's forwarded to you. For example, you might be on the board of a nonprofit organization and have an .org email for it. Have these filtered into their own folders.
      • Take action right away: Someone asking for canned food donations? Get up, grab the cans, and put them by the garage door. Done. All you need to do is deliver. You can delete the message or file it. It takes less than five minutes.
      • Reply: This folder contains messages you need to reply to, but have no time constraints. This way they're out of your inbox and you can check them less often (could be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly).

    If you have a lot of clean up to do, no worries. Just pick one task each day to address. Before you know it, you'll have a manageable email box.

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    Additional Tips

    You can also be more productive by keeping backups of your e-mail data, avoiding spam, and learning how to properly work with e-mail attachments. For those using Microsoft Outlook 2007, here are tips for organizing and saving emails.