How To Organise Your Inbox

It’s 3:00pm on a Tuesday afternoon and you’re trying to get through the long list of tasks that you were unrealistically supposed to have finished within the morning. Your manager approaches and asks whether you have executed a project they emailed you about last week. You frantically search your inbox and type “from: <managers name>”. Nothing. You can’t find it. Did you delete it? You have a million emails from said manager, which one was it?! An unorganised inbox can cause problems for our productivity and for our psyche. Returning to it over and over again creates more ‘work about work’, as the saying goes, which is highly inefficient and rarely central to the real work we need to do. If any of this this sounds like your life, it's time to clean up your inbox and here’s how you do it:

The Purge
Imagine if you left every letter, package, or parcel sent to you unopened or opened on your desk, eventually it would soon become an unmanageable heap of boxes and paper. Now imagine your desk is your inbox; it works in the same way – most effective when you clear it out. So, start by deleting the emails you will never need again (that Zara summer sale for 2015 or that email from a colleague who left two years ago). Remember to be thoughtful in your approach of deleting and don’t erase items you may need to refer to at a later date (email chains with crucial suppliers or invoices for an upcoming event). The biggest mailbox cloggers are the emails you receive on a daily basis, those e-newsletters from every retail store on the high street and those social media updates from Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. Think about what you need and what you don’t need to be subscribed to and be brave, just hit that unsubscribe. After you have rifled through the unwanted it’s now time to file.

Filing can be very hard and there is a big debate on whether you should file by recency of action needed or subject. Both can be useful and both have their disadvantages. At Freedom, we advise filing by the latter. Although this may take longer than filing by time and you will inevitably have more folders in your inbox, you will see the benefits of the approach when you come to locate an old email. Start by thinking holistically - wider functioning folders that can be broken down into sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. For example, categorising a folder such as ‘Invoices’ allows for the folder to be segmented further into smaller folders such as ‘SS18’ and ‘AW16’. This way, when you need to find that ever important invoice, you will be able to navigate through your inbox to find what you need efficiently and effectively.

Let Your Inbox Do The Work
One of Freedom’s favourite functions within Outlook is the ability to set rule functions. This allows you to almost train your inbox to know which emails belong to which folders when they fly into your inbox. For instance, when you receive your Payslip from your place of work, you can automatically set these to go directly into your ‘Payslip’ folder. This way, your inbox stays clean without you even having to manage it. You can even set rules in Outlook to have emails skip your inbox directly. For example, invoices from a supplier that are automatically paid can go straight to the rightful folder so you never have to see them, but if you need to reference them, they are still there.

Don’t Let It Slip
Now that you’ve deleted your unwanted emails, you’ve filed away all the important ones and placed rules on domains where possible, it’s crucial you don’t get back into old habits. Some emails with no rules allocated will land straight in your inbox. Make sure you keep on top of them, deleting where possible, and filing where necessary. A clear inbox is a clear mind and effectively managing your emails will only improve your efficiency at work and in your personal life.

Freedom’s Top Tip
Have you ever seen an important email arrive in your inbox that you can’t deal with at that very moment but you’re afraid that you’ll forget about it if you don’t? Well worry no more; there is now a plug-in called Boomerang, available for both Outlook and Gmail, which is perfect for that situation and more. Boomerang has the ability to schedule an email to disappear and reappear when you are ready to deal with the email – leaving you inbox clearer and manageable until then. The plug-in can also schedule an email to be sent at a later time and also lets you set recurring emails. You can also have Boomerang remind you to follow up with someone that hasn’t got back to you i.e. if you request a certain report from a colleague for Friday, Boomerang will make that email chain appear at the top of your inbox on Thursday morning if the recipient has not got back to you. If your colleague has got back to you, Boomerang knows not to bring the email back. Brilliant! You’re most welcome...

Eager to get started? Set some time aside, maybe on a relaxed Friday afternoon, or even this weekend to overhaul your inbox. It may take a few hours, but we can promise you, the time you will save in the long run, will make up for all your hard work.