At last count, I had 63,322 emails in my inbox, many of which are unread. Safe to say, inbox zero is not a priority. To some, I’m sure this sounds absurd. For me, it works.
Several years ago, a friend and I were discussing our email organization strategies. She described to me how she had five separate email accounts: one for school, one for work, one for family and friends, one for newsletters, and another for spam. I thought it was insane! Why would someone want five separate places you need to go, five separate accounts to remember, every time you want to check your email? I, on the other hand, had one email account and just let everything go there. If I had a second email account, messages going there were forwarded to my main account. To my surprise, my friend thought my method was absolutely insane.
This conversation happened before I started using Gmail in 2007 and definitely before I started using Gmail’s multiple inboxes in 2009. Funny thing is even though I now have a different email address and even multiple email addresses, I still organize my email much the same way. Everything goes to my main account. I only log in once.
A few years ago, I read a story in Real Simple about organizing your jewelry by your personality. The advice was that the neat freaks—ahem, people who like to organize—should keep things out of sight, in separate labeled boxes, or in drawer dividers. And us naturally messy types should instead go with the flow, forget strict organizing tactics, and let our clutter patterns determine the most appropriate organizing scheme. Trying to follow a system that doesn’t work for you and your patterns will only lead to a bigger mess. I’ve since realized email is much the same way.
So if you like to organize, go for it: create multiple folders, colors, flags, and empty out your inbox on a daily basis. But if categorizing and deleting emails sounds like a waste of time and energy, don’t bother. Best practice or not, having an email system that works for you will make you more productive. Whichever system you end up using, just make you have a process for 1) converting emails to action items, 2) saving important information for future reference, and 3) limiting the amount of time email takes out of your day… and you are all set.
Curious to hear from you all—how do you organize your email?