9 Quick Steps to Organizing Your Totally Overwhelming Inbox

woman organizing her inbox

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writer, editor, semicolon lover.

There may be Twitter DM, Facebook messenger and Venmo captions, but email is still one of the most reliable and versatile communication methods in our online sphere. Email’s on your professional side when applying to jobs, reaching out about opportunities, following up with coworkers or settling your next big project. It’s got the capacity to hold important files and spread the word to a team. 

When email is used for nearly everything work (and non-work) related, it’s hard to stay on top of every message, stream or interaction. Being able to respond promptly is crucial in the fast-paced, high-pressure career world. But you won’t be able to stay on top of your responsibilities unless you keep your inbox organized.

9 Ways to Organize Your Email

1. Keep emails separate.

The first part of organizing your email is making sure you know what should be sent and what you should send from your specific email address. You should not use your work email for any personal correspondence, including subscriptions to any non-work related companies, people or brands. Keeping your emails separate can help compartmentalize the different areas of your life and promote a healthy work-life balance. Having separate accounts also gives you protection over any unfortunate overlap or accidental emails.

2. Use the favorites section.

Some emails are more important than others. Using the favorites or starred tab can help you easily separate crucial work emails over not-so-crucial items. Instead of using the starring tab to indicate emails you need to respond to, keep this tab limited to emails that contain necessary information for long-term or repeated projects. You’ll be able to search within the tab to find key correspondence easier while you continue to work on your project or need to find information again.

3. Make it part of your routine.

With so much to do at work, organizing your email can become a dreadful task that takes precious time from your schedule. Instead of letting it break your productivity, make organizing your email part of your everyday routine. By doing a little bit of cleanup each day, you’ll be able to handle new emails with ease and stay up to date rather than letting things pile up. Try organizing when you first get into the office to get your brain running, right after your lunch break to catch up or at the end of the day to review what you’ve done and get oriented for the next workday.

4. Set or adjust your spam filter.

Many emails already have a spam filter, but if you’re getting emails in your inbox that you think should be sent to the spam folder, check your spam settings. Some email services allow you to change spam settings to adjust not only how much spam you get, but also what type of spam you’re receiving. You can block certain addresses that send you irrelevant information; you can even create your own email filter that will send emails with specific content directly to spam. 

5. Reorder your inbox.

Reordering your inbox can help you find what you want and need to read quickly and easily.  
Want a to-do list? Reorder your emails so your unread emails are at the top. This way, you’ll be able to go through each unread message, complete a task or respond and then move onto the next one without searching for a time or date. 
Want to make sure the important correspondence doesn’t get lost? Put your starred emails first. Make sure to favorite any necessary email that comes in so it gets placed in the top of your inbox. 
Swamped with emails and can’t figure out what’s most crucial? If your email server has it, turn on priority inbox. Priority inbox finds important messages in your inbox based on what you respond to and who you write to most, then puts them at the top of your email.

6. Label your emails.

When you’re working on numerous projects or with various companies, having labels can help break down your professional life even further. While labels take regular updating and sorting, they’re perfect for separating different work tasks or teams into organized sections. Making labels a habit can help bring relevant and similar email information together in one secure, well-ordered place.

7. Delete what you don’t need.

One reason your inbox can feel so overwhelming is the sheer amount of emails you’re getting. Going through your inbox and deleting what you won’t need ever again can help make your inbox feel less weighty and bring important emails to the forefront. If some emails may not be relevant to you right now or in the near future but feel relevant for far-off projects, use the archive function. The archive will clear the emails from your inbox to remove the clutter but won't delete them permanently. Emails that are archived can still be searched. 

8. Use groups.

If you’re responsible for emailing different groups of team members, copying and pasting email addresses can become a risky habit. Using the “groups” function in your contacts allows you to add individual contacts to groups of your own making. Once you’ve created the group and added the necessary contacts, you can type the group’s name as the “recipient” next time you want to contact everyone in that group at once. This function takes a few minutes to set up, but it can save you precious seconds for future mass emails and makes sure everyone gets included.

9. Go through your drafts.

While your inbox clutter may seem like enough, your draft folder is part of your email, too. Going through your draft folder can help you separate emails awaiting delivery and emails you’ll never send at all. If your draft folder gets too cluttered — filled with old responses or even multiple versions of the same draft — you can make the easy mistake of sending out something you never meant to send. Keep your drafts to a minimum to ensure organization and full control over what you’re sending and where you’re sending it.

Committing to organizing your email means setting yourself up for future email greatness. Prioritizing your inbox to your needs enables you to respond promptly and stay on top of important information — giving you peace of mind.

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Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.