Aliza Sherman recently blogged about how she organizes her email over at Web Worker Daily. As a personal assistant, it's not uncommon to help people sort out their email process at the beginning of our working relationship. So I left a comment full of tips to help her get started in sorting out her inbox so she wasn't feeling so "like climbing Mount Everest".
Editor's Note: These tips are primarily for Gmail users, but with a few tweaks they can work for Outlook, Mail, or any other program/webmail you use. Have questions? Email me.
You are not alone.
There are many people that are behind you and need the same help! Here's some good tips I can give as a virtual assistant/project manager.
1. If you use FF3, download Better Gmail 2 and activate Folders4Gmail. Use this to create a list of folders that collapses.
2. Start with general labels, then add in specifics. I do Clients -> Client name. (Sounds like you've gotten so far on that, the collapsing should make it easier to see.)
3. Archive everything more than 2 weeks old. Just DO this. Don't think about it, don't worry about it, just do it. Gmail will save it to be searched if you need it, but you probably won't.
4. Once you've gotten the old stuff out, focus on getting the rest cleared. Be ruthless, delete, archive and label pages quickly. How?
Change your Gmail settings to show 100 emails on each page, then use the Gmail keyboard shortcuts to first mark everything that can be deleted.
One round trip through all the emails to delete. Back to the first page and then another round trip to archive everything you don't need to see or put on a to do list.
5. Once you're down to the emails you need to act on, act on them. Respond to anything that will take less than 2 minutes. Delegate anything that will take longer to a to do list. Archive them as you go. (Another trick? Use the Send and Archive button for Gmail, Gmail Settings -> Labs -> Send and Archive.)
6. After you've gotten this organized, stick with the routine. Get into the habit of checking email, archive, respond as necessary, add to dos as necessary and keep the inbox clear as possible.
I currently do all of the above and have done so for clients to get them organized so they can move forward with a new email process. The first steps are paralyzing until they're done.
Please don't crucify yourself if you have 10 or so emails in your inbox. Inbox zero isn't the ultimate goal here, taking away the stress of looking at your inbox is.
No one needs to use Better Gmail or Folders4Gmail or FF3 or any of the tools I mentioned above.
If you look at your inbox and think "How am I supposed to get all this done?" or find yourself procrastinating after you send a few emails, then it's time to take charge.
Here's the thing, I know my readers are probably at least a little familiar with Inbox Zero and Getting Things Done, but let's remember, the world is not going to end if you leave 5 or so emails in your inbox for attention now and then. Promise.
I'll also buy you a beer if you find that you don't feel better after taking the 6 steps above.
Okay, so put down the blog post, open your inbox, take a deep breath. Ready? Go!
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