11 Tips to (Finally!) Keep Your Email Organized

Is your email totally under control? Inbox empty? Congratulations! But this article is for the rest of us.

The fact is your email flow is not going to stop. So the more effective you are at managing it, the less frustrating and time-consuming it will be. It helps to imagine your Inbox as an old-school inbox and each email as a slip of paper in the tray — yikes!

Here are 11 tips for staying on top of your email so it doesn’t get on top of you:

1. Do this first: Move all of your emails that are older than a couple of days into a folder named “Backlog.” Handle this backlog over the next few weeks.

2. Create category folders in which to immediately move new emails so your Inbox remains empty. Efficiency experts have a rainbow of ideas but they all boil down to these three categories: To-Do, Reference and Archive.

3. Use your email program’s automated features (Outlook Express, Mail 4.0, GMail) to automatically place incoming email directly into folders you create for individuals, groups, projects and other categories you anticipate.

4. From now on, use your Inbox as a way station only, not as storage, by immediately moving each new email into a category folder.

5. Turn off the preview pane. Sure it’s handy, but the temptation to leave emails in your Inbox once you’ve previewed them is too hard for most to resist.

6. Move any emails you’re unsure about into your Archive folder.

7. Slow the flow — sometimes a two-minute phone call is more efficient than a string of emails.

8. Unsubscribe with vigor. You can always subscribe again later.

9. Control your “Reply To All” impulse.

10. Use your work email address for work only. Better yet, have a different email address for each different role you play in your life.

11. Set aside time each day to manage your email folders because guess what tomorrow will bring? More email! Depending on the kind of work you do and your other activities, you may need one to two hours each day to deal with email. So scheduling it in is a must … and remember to include the time you need to clear out the Backlog folder you set up in Tip #1.