If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times: You read the email in your inbox and then do nothing with it. You let it sit there, and the only thing separating the read emails from the unread emails is the bold text of the unread ones. When you look at the bottom of the screen, you see there are 5000 emails in the inbox. Yikes!
Don’t do that! Your important emails are getting lost in the clutter of all that mail.
The fact is that too many of us have a mess in our inboxes. If you are one of the many, you need to know this:
- You’re not alone.
- There are ways to stop the madness!
First, let’s be honest: We didn’t learn how to use our inboxes in school, so there is nothing to be ashamed about.
Second, that’s what Order University is for! We are here to help you make sense of how to use this fantastic electronic mail system.
Let’s get started.
The first thing we need to clarify is what the inbox is and what it should be used for. The inbox, of course, is where your new mail comes in.
What should be in the inbox?
Two things, and only two things: new mail and mail that requires immediate action.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say that you open an email from your Aunt Suzy, and she is asking you for your Cousin Jim’s new address. Cousin Jim moved last month and Aunt Suzy wants to send him a birthday card. Let’s also say that you have to ask your spouse for the address because it’s in their phone, but you won’t see your spouse until tonight. This email should stay in your inbox. Yes, it has been read, but it requires immediate action.
Okay, now let’s alter the story a bit. Let’s say that you do have Cousin Jim’s address and you can quickly reply to Aunt Suzy. In this case, you reply to Aunt Suze with the requested information and then you DELETE the email. Yes, I did just say that. DELETE the email.
You say, “But, Jeremie! What if I need to later prove that I did indeed send that email back to Aunt Suzy? She’s getting older and very forgetful and I would not want to make her upset!” Not to worry; your email is safely stored in your recycle bin. More on what to do with the recycle bin in a bit…
What about an email that you need to keep long term? Be careful with this category! Many of us who are “organized” feel that everything could be “reference material” and end up keeping emails in tidy folders that end up with a thousand emails in each folder (no exaggeration, I’ve actually seen that many). The truth is that on average, 80% of the files that we save we never go back to. So be careful!
What you want to do is create folders underneath your inbox that will contain these emails once you have determined that you need to keep them long term.
Categories for these folders may include:
- Love letters
The rule of thumb here is to only keep emails that you will need six months from now. And if you may need it, DELETE it. Yes, I said the D word again.
The only other set of folders would be the “working” or “action” folders, which would be for those reference emails that you will need within the next 6 months. These folders would include a folder for online orders that you have placed and have not yet been delivered or a bill that you need to pay the next time you sit down to pay bills. You’ll want to create a folder called “Working” and then create subfolders under it for your categories of working files. Tip: Do not put anything in the “Working” folder itself; instead, use only the sub-categories that you create under the “Working” folder.
Categories for these sub-folders may include:
- Bills to pay
- Pending orders
Once you have paid the bill or received the order delivery or used the coupon or taken the trip, these emails should be…yes, say it with me…DELETED.
Which leads us to the recycle bin. I love the recycle bin. It’s a great place to put all the email that fall into these three categories:
- Junk mail
- Mail that has been read, completed or replied to
- Mail that you “may” need within the next 6 months
You will find that these three categories account for the vast majority of your email.
So when should you empty your recycle bin? I’d say every six months, and only items that are 7 months old or older.
In a nutshell, here’s what this system looks like:
Inbox: Contains new mail and mail that still requires immediate action. The beauty about this is that you always know your email workload. Simply put, the number of emails in your inbox that are not in bold are the number of items that you need to check off your to-do list.
Long-term files or folders: These contain emails that you need long term. There should not be very many of these at all. Keep from having too many categories and really think about what emails you drag and drop into these folders, as they will be there for a long time.
Action files or folders: These contain either emails that you are waiting for someone else to take action on before you can delete them, or emails that are related to a specific event happening within the next 6 months.
Your recycle bin: This contains all the emails that you are done with, including those that you “may” need within the next six months. With this system, you always have at least the last six months of emails in your recycle bin, so don’t worry—you won’t lose anything!
So there you have it. Following this system provides you with a place for everything and everything in its digital place. See, there’s no need to fear your recycle bin. It’s your friend that helps you keep your inbox clean and ready for the next “you’ve got mail.”