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Email Organization Strategies That Work

Discover email organization strategies to help keep your inbox organized and clutter free.

It's hard for most people today to imagine a world without email. We use it for almost everything—keeping in touch with friends and family, contacting businesses with customer service issues, subscribing to newsletters, and of course for work.

But many people also feel overwhelmed by email. They may worry about missing important messages or being unable to find critical information when they need it. We probably all know someone—maybe it's even you—who has hundreds or thousands of unread emails in their inbox.

Not only does a cluttered, unorganized email inbox keep you from making the best use of this powerful tool, but it can also be a source of stress and frustration that affects the rest of your day.

However, by implementing a few simple organizational strategies you can get the flood of messages under control and set yourself up for success.

The benefits of an organized inbox

The downsides of having an email system that’s disorganized and just not working for you are clear. But thinking about the benefits of an organized inbox for your work, schedule, and stress level can motivate you to create your personal email management plan.

More efficient workflow

It's easy for work to become inefficient and difficult to manage when your desk is disorganized. Looking for one bit of information in a pile of papers can slow down what should otherwise be a quick and easy task.

Email works in the same way. Sorting through a full inbox or thousands of archived messages isn't the best use of your valuable time. Making sure your work or personal emails are well organized can help you avoid that frustration and delay.

Time savings

You probably need to access information in your emails from time to time. Searching for individual messages can be time-consuming. Even using the search function to find what you're looking for doesn't always work if you don't remember a message's sender or an exact search term. Even if you get the search terms right, you may still be faced with lots of unimportant emails that you'll need to look through to find what you need.

Reduced stress and hassle

A well-executed email organization strategy simplifies your digital life, helps you manage your time more effectively, and contributes to a more focused and less stressful work environment. It makes it easier to prioritize tasks and prevents information overload. In addition, good email management means that you can concentrate on the task at hand without the worry of overlooking important email messages.

Ten email organization tips to try

When it comes to organizing email, there's no one method, process, or secret that works best for everyone. You may need to experiment with a few things before discovering what makes the most sense for you. The following are some tips to start building your email-organization strategy.

1. Check email at scheduled times

Many people have gotten into the habit of leaving their email inbox open on their computer desktop all the time. It's also common in many workplaces to expect responses to emails right away.

Besides being an inefficient way to process messages, it can hurt your performance on other things. Switching between tasks requires the brain to disengage in one task and then reengage in another, which can decrease productivity and increase errors.

If your coworkers or clients always expect that you'll respond quickly, it's important to address this assumption. Make it clear that if something is truly urgent, you can be reached another way—via text, instant messenger, or phone. Otherwise, you'll only check email messages at certain times. Then when you open your inbox, you can focus just on the task of responding to messages.

2. Split email into multiple accounts

You may use email for several different roles—personal messages, a home business, community activities, and online shopping. If you do, it might make more sense to use multiple email accounts.

For example, reserving one inbox for professional use and another for online shopping and newsletters means that you'll never miss a message from an important client because it's buried in discount offers from your favorite brands.

Using multiple accounts also means that you can check one inbox regularly and check another inbox less often, as it suits your schedule.

3. Combine multiple email accounts into one

On the other hand, it's possible to have too many email addresses, especially if some of them are rarely used. If you already have several email accounts, you may have found that your messages feel scattered across the different locations.

If checking multiple inboxes is a hassle, it may be time to let some of them go. Make sure to notify any contacts so you don't miss any important messages and then close one or more of those accounts to streamline your workflow.

4. Deep clean your inbox

While some emails are important to hang on to for the long term, you probably have an email account full of messages that you no longer need. Whether it's the reminder about the community bake sale that's long past or a discount code that's expired, get rid of those unnecessary emails!

Do a deep clean by deleting any messages that are no longer useful. If you're worried about deleting something you may need later, you can put them all in a separate folder or archive them, but at least getting them out of your main inbox will make your account feel more organized and streamlined right away.

5. Explore routing rules

Every email that comes into your system is routed somewhere. For example, most email systems have spam detection mechanisms that send messages suspected to be spam into a separate folder.

You can take advantage of that routing system to keep yourself organized. Create rules that assign emails to different folders when they arrive rather than sending everything to your inbox.

You can identify emails by subject line, sender, or keyword and direct them to separate folders. For example, if you are a freelance worker you may want to create folders for each client's project and direct emails from clients to the appropriate folder.

Routing incoming emails to the correct folder allows you to deal with all emails about a certain project or topic at once and keeps your inbox from getting overwhelmed. It also means that those messages are already organized by topic.

6. Unsubscribe from unwanted emails

It's easy to find yourself on so many email lists you don't even remember signing up for. Rather than just deleting any emails from senders you're no longer interested in, take a few moments to unsubscribe.

To unsubscribe, look for a link at the end of the email message. It may be hard to see at first as it’s usually in a lighter font or at the very bottom of a long message. You don’t have to unsubscribe to everything all at once. Set aside a bit of time once a week or do a few a day. The effort you invest now will save time later when you no longer have an inbox overflowing with ads and content that’s not relevant to you.

7. Have a spam strategy

Spam is an unfortunate reality of using email. Spam is unwanted or unsolicited messages that are often used for advertising or malicious activities like phishing. According to statistics site Statista, in 2022 48.63% of all emails were spam!

Your email system may be great at filtering out spam messages and directing them to their own folder. But spammers are always improving their tactics, so it's likely that your system's spam filters aren't perfect.

Check your spam folder occasionally to make sure that nothing important has ended up there. In addition, you can create your own spam strategy: When an incoming spam message makes it to your inbox, mark it as spam so similar messages will be filtered out in the future.

You can also regularly delete unused email addresses from your contact list. Inactive accounts are often targeted for use by spammers. Review any permissions you've granted to third-party apps connected to your email account and revoke any you're not actively using.

By deciding how you'll handle spam messages ahead of time, you won't need to spend any time or effort deciding what to do. When a spam message arrives, you'll just put your strategy into place.

8.Snooze emails

You're probably familiar with the snooze function of an alarm. It allows you to turn off the alarm and delay it for a few minutes, allowing you to sleep a bit longer.

Snoozing an email works the same way. Using the snooze function, you can schedule emails to return to your inbox at a more useful time. For example, if you receive the agenda for a meeting next week, you can snooze that message until Monday morning so it won't clutter your inbox until you need it.

9. Flag and star incoming messages

Flagging and starring are features offered by many email clients to help you prioritize incoming emails.

Many people use the flag as a way to mark an email as important—perhaps something that requires a quick response or follow-up. If you can't deal with an email immediately, flagging it allows you to go back when you have a chance to give it your full attention. Stars allow you to organize emails by categories—different projects, follow-up timeframes, or priority.

Flags and stars can function much like labels or folders, but they're useful if you don't want to file messages away. Marking them with these simple symbols while keeping them in your inbox will help you see at a glance what messages need your attention.

10. Use conversation view

Your email provider may offer a feature called conversation view—the option to view all the messages of a conversation grouped together. This is sometimes also called threaded or grouped view.

Using conversation view reduces the clutter in your inbox. It also allows you to read an entire conversation chronologically rather than searching through your inbox or other folders for related emails.

Folders and beyond: Popular methods for email organization

There are as many ways to organize your inbox as there are email users. Below are some popular options. You can use these as described or customize them to your needs.

Time-folder method

The time-folder method (sometimes called the five-folder method, with the inclusion of the inbox itself) is popular with productivity and organization experts. In this method, you create a set of folders (or labels in Gmail) to organize email messages by when they will require future action.

When emails arrive, they should be either acted on immediately or put into one of your folders depending on their urgency. The important thing is to keep them from sitting in your inbox.

The exact folder names will depend on your needs, but common options include:

  • Today: These are messages that need a response or some sort of action right away.
  • This week: This folder includes messages that aren't urgent, but should be acted on in the next few days.
  • This month: These messages need a response or action but are low priority.
  • Archive or FYI: These are emails that you want to keep for future reference, but don't require any future action.

This way, the folders function like a set of to-do lists. With this method, you can focus on the most important tasks that need your attention right away. Then when you've dealt with the messages in the today folder, and when time allows, you can review the messages in your other folders and either move them to higher-priority folders or act on them immediately.

Waiting-folder method

If the time-folder method doesn't make sense for you, the simpler waiting-folder method might work better. In this system, any message that comes into the inbox is acted on immediately, archived, or put into the waiting folder.

The waiting folder is for any messages that need an action or a reply. Within this folder, certain messages can be prioritized with stars and flags, or you can use search criteria like time or sender to decide which to tackle first.

Inbox zero method

Imagine having an empty inbox—no urgent requests for a follow-up, no event reminders, no advertising messages from your favorite brands. That's the goal of an organizational method called inbox zero that's popular among productivity experts.

Inbox zero doesn't mean you never get messages in your inbox, of course. Rather it's a way of keeping your inbox clean by dealing with every email only once. Every time you open your email account to deal with new mail, you take action on each message that removes it from your inbox.

Those actions may be responding to a message and then archiving it, deleting an unimportant newsletter, delegating an email by sending it on to another member of your team, or filing it away in one of your folders for future reference.

The goal of each email session is to finish with an empty inbox. In this case, the inbox functions like a to-do list, and your reward for finishing everything on the list is a clean and organized email account.

Organization tools within popular email services

Most email software systems offer many ways to organize your email. Take a look at some of the tools offered by the most popular email providers. You may find helpful options you didn't know about or decide to switch to a new system that better fits your inbox organization needs.

Gmail

Rather than using folders to organize messages, Google's Gmail uses labels. In many ways, labels function like folders. They can be used to sort messages into categories. But in Gmail, individual messages can have more than one label, allowing Gmail users to archive emails that can be found later in multiple places. This function helps keep your Gmail inbox clutter free.

In addition, it's easy to set up and manage multiple Gmail accounts and switch between them easily from a web page or mobile app. Gmail also offers message templates for messages that you send frequently.

iCloud

Apple's iCloud email service offers many popular organization tools like folders, templates, and flags, and also offers a dedicated attachments viewer, where you can look at all of your email attachments in one place.

Subscribers to Apple's paid iCloud+ service can take advantage of a feature called Hide My Email, which generates unique, random email addresses for submitting web forms and signing up for newsletters. Messages sent to those addresses will be forwarded to you, but email senders won't have your actual email address unless you want them to. In this way, you'll reduce the number of unwanted messages in your email inbox.

Yahoo

If you receive a lot of messages and archive emails frequently, Yahoo might be a good choice. It offers a terabyte of storage space—the largest of all the popular free email services. This can be a helpful tool to organize your email account if you often need to reference old messages. You won't have to waste time deciding which emails to keep and which to delete.

Outlook

Microsoft's Outlook users can organize email by folders and use many other popular tools. In addition, Outlook offers Quick Steps—a set of customizable one-click shortcuts that perform multiple actions on an email at once.

For example, if you get feedback from an important client in your Outlook inbox, you can flag it as high priority and forward it to your boss with one click if you've set up that process in Quick Steps.

Third-party apps and services to keep you organized

In addition to the tools installed by popular email providers, there are other options for adding organizational tools to your email system. Some of them work with any email service, while others only integrate with specific ones. In general, any method that makes sense for you to organize your inbox is probably supported by your email client or a third-party service. Read on to learn about a few popular options.

Clean Email

Clean Email has several organization tools that integrate with your email account. The program can help you sort and delete emails in batches, unsubscribe to mailing lists, and automatically organize messages into useful categories for more efficient responses. It also offers multiple-user plans for your staff or friends and family.

SaneBox

SaneBox uses artificial intelligence to learn your email habits and categorize emails based on their priority. High-priority messages will come right to your inbox and the program will send you daily updates about what was filtered out. You'll have fewer emails calling for your immediate attention while being sure that you aren't missing anything important.

Unroll.Me

If going through all of your unwanted emails and unsubscribing one at a time seems daunting, Unroll.Me helps you mass unsubscribe to spam, advertising, and unwanted email lists. The program will also put all of the mailing list emails you do want into a single daily digest so you can go through them more efficiently.

Boomerang

Boomerang is an email management tool that currently offers versions that work with Gmail or Outlook. Boomerang has several functions to help organize emails and make your inbox more functional. It can schedule emails, set follow-up reminders, and return email messages to your inbox at a designated time.


Email is a useful tool, but it should work for you, not make additional work for you to deal with. Whether it's your work or personal email, take the time now to organize your email inbox and start using email management tools to keep it clutter free and easy to use.

Not every tip will work for everyone, but there's almost certainly something here you can use to improve your inbox organization, whether it's setting up your account to automatically send routine messages, mark emails that need a quick response, or store emails in project-specific folders.

If you get started organizing your email today, you can look forward to less work and stress the next time you sit down to check your messages!

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