An Overwhelming Inbox

Recently, I did some work in a small office.  Because it was a small office, there were a few things that just never got done.  One of them was regular checking and organizing the email inbox.  The first time I opened this office’s email account, I found more than 500 emails sitting in the inbox.  The problem was that a system had never been set up and each assistant who had been brought in to the office to help wasn’t ready to tackle this massive project.

If every time you open your email you see dozens (or in this case, hundreds) of emails both read and unread, all hanging around the inbox, you are likely to become frustrated and overwhelmed.  And while I agree it’s pain-staking and time-consuming to start a new organizing project, when it’s done you will feel so much better and will release the anxiety of scrolling through pages of emails looking for that “one message”.

The process for organizing your email is exactly the same as organizing any other area: sort, weed, then find a home.  Not only that, but it’s something that our organizers help clients with all the time.  It’s not just about clearing it out, but developing the habits to keep up an organizing system.  If the habits aren’t created, you can be sure you will fall into the same dreaded email-overwhelm again.

Here’s the process:

1)      Go through and delete the “strings.”  These are the conversational messages, where a back and forth email string has been created.  The only email you need to keep is the most recent response; go ahead and delete the rest.

2)     Sift through the emails to find important attachments.  Save the attached documents if you need to keep copies and delete the email message.

3)     Delete irrelevant messages: ones you have responded to or junk mail.

4)     Make folders based on the types of emails you receive. Some of mine are labeled Admin, Clients, Events and Newsletters.  This step is different for everyone and often the most challenging part of organizing emails.  If setting up the system and folders is where you get stuck, let us help you.  Email me at

5)     Set up automatic filing.  You can set your inbox to automatically file emails to specific folders.  For example, if you receive notifications from Facebook, you can create a folder and tell your outlook or email app to send the notifications directly to the folder labeled “Facebook”.  This helps reduce the number of emails landing in your inbox.

6)     Unsubscribe to newsletters you are not reading.  We all get bombarded with newsletters and if these emails are not from a source that is helpful to you, then have your name removed from their list.

7)     Once the sorting and weeding is done for your current inbox, make sure to maintain the new habit and clean it out regularly.

You are not alone in feeling frustrated by the inbox overwhelm.  Sort, weed and find homes. Most importantly, set up the time to maintain – even just 5 minutes a day will make a dramatic difference.  And remember, we are ready to come to the rescue if your email, office or home needs attention.

Image: renjith krishnan /

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