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3 steps for getting your inbox under control

My friends.  I have a confession to make.  While my home is an area I keep organized and for the most part running smoothly, my inbox has been quite another story.  I spent some time a few weeks ago getting my inbox under control.  It was under control at one point in time but somewhere along the way while we were building our house, control was lost and I’ve been swimming in a sea of e-mail madness ever since.  Sometimes my inbox overwhelmed me so much I just pretended it didn’t exist for a few days.  Wouldn’t recommend that little trick!  :)  But I do have a few tricks I would recommend.  If you too have lost control of your inbox here are 3 things that I did to get mine back under control.  And now I’m determined to keep it that way!

1)  CLEAR OUT THE CLUTTER.  The first thing I did was to eliminate unnecessary e-mails.  Some e-mails we don’t want we can’t do much about.  :)  But there are a lot of unnecessary promotional e-mails that we can get rid of.  Clear out any e-mail you don’t want to receive that is cluttering up your inbox by unsubscribing.  To do this, scroll to the bottom of the e-mail and it will say something like this in fine print: “if you prefer not to receive promotional emails from us, unsubscribe here.”  Click that button and never look back!  You have to stay on top of eliminating e-mails like that from stores or before you know it your inbox will be cluttered with junk mail.  I only kept e-mail subscriptions to a few stores that I really love and shop at often.

2) SET UP FOLDERS THAT WORK FOR YOU.  You all know of my love for categorizing.  You also know that I love a good folder system.  Just like with organizing your home – everything has a place!  It’s how I organize my pictures on my computer (folders inside of folders) and it is crucial to keeping your inbox organized as well.  This step takes a little time initially, but will save you so much time in the long run.  The important thing to remember when you are setting up your e-mail folders is to do what works best for you and your specific e-mail needs.

I recognize that your folders will be completely different from mine, but I’m going to share how I organized my folders to give you some ideas.

First folder:  BLOG
Folders inside of BLOG:
     – to answer (questions that need a longer response when I have more time)
     – Q & A (questions that have popped up more than once that would be good to answer in a post)
     – comments (I save a lot of your sweet comments!  They mean so much to me.)
     – design/programs (other blog related e-mails I want to save)

Second folder:  NEW HOUSE
     – decorating (this folder is a busy and fun one these days!)
     – cabinets (all of our cabinet/built-in sketches)
     – new house e-mails (HUGE folder full of e-mails from the past two years)
     – house specifics (details like where things were ordered from – so I can tell you when you ask!)  :)
     – pics (inspiration pics I emailed our builder/architect that I want to keep

Those two are the large folders for me where a big chuck of my e-mails come from.  These are the rest of my folders:

El, Ad, Kole (I have a separate folder for each of my three kids.  I put everything in these from birthday invites to school forms to friend info. – anything related to that child that I want to hang on to.)

Young Women (e-mails relating to what I’m helping with in my church right now)

Coupons (this folder is working so well for me!  Any coupon I get from a store that I think I’ll use I put in this folder.  Then when I get to the store I pull out my cell phone, open the e-mail folder, click on the coupon I received and show it to the clerk.  Done!  No more printing coupons!  And I can locate them so fast.  Love it!)

New recipes (a place to stash any recipes I receive through e-mail.  Until I use them.  Which will most likely be in the very distant future.  But when I’m ready I’ll know where they are.)  :)

New addresses (a place to stash “our address changed” e-mails so when it’s time to mail out Christmas cards they are all in one place and easy to find)

Pictures (pics I get through e-mail that I want to save)
Like I said, obviously your folders will look different than mine.  Take a minute to go through your e-mails and see what the majority of them are about and how you can categorize them in an orderly way that makes sense for you.

3) READ, ACT, AND DELETE!  Deal with your e-mails immediately and try to keep your inbox as empty as possible.  Now that you have your folder system in place it is so easy to take care of each e-mail as soon as you get it.  Is it a question you can quickly answer?   A date you can instantly add to your calendar?  Something you can file away in one of your folders to save that doesn’t need immediate action?  Something important you could quickly jot down on your to-do list?  If at all possible, take care of the e-mail as soon as you read it and then DELETE it.  The only messages that get left in my inbox are messages I need to respond to soon and just have to wait until a more convenient time.  Then when I have a minute (usually after kids are in bed) I can go through them and take care of each one.

Following these three steps has made a HUGE difference for me! I feel completely on top of my inbox (LOVE that it is often EMPTY!) and I can find any e-mail I need in seconds.

Most importantly, I no longer feel the need to periodically pretend my inbox doesn’t exist.  

What about you?  Any tried and true tips that have helped you stay on top of your e-mails?

xoxo, Erin
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25 thoughts on “3 steps for getting your inbox under control

  1. You should try! It goes into your email and finds everything you’re subscribed to, and then you either unsubscribe right then, or choose to “roll it up.” I get an email once a day now (the “Roll Up”) that includes everything I’m still subscribed to, and it’s AWESOME. I didn’t realize how much time and annoyance I spent deleting promotional emails throughout the day.

    And I love your folders, I’m just like you! My inbox serves as a to-do list, and everything else is easily accessible. Such a good feeling.

  2. Hi Erin,
    This is brill, thank you so much for it:)

    My inbox is something that has been stressing me out lately & I’ve also been trying to sort it all out.

    I have various folders, such as Feb ’13 – Feb ’14 & keep special emails in that folder that I want to print.

    I have quite a few emails that I want to print & include in my memory books as they’re part of my personal history.

    I totally agree about unsubscribing from certain shops etc. There was one that I signed up to at the weekend & received about 20 emails by Monday. On Monday morning I unsubscribed:)

    Hope you’re enjoying your yw calling.

    Take care
    Best wishes

  3. I recently started using a free service called and it is amazing! It “rolls up” all my subscription emails into one daily email, so that my inbox isn’t clogged all day long. Love it!! :)

  4. This is something I sooo need to work on! I must set up some folders! A question for you, when I read and delete emails from my IPad they are still in my box on my computer. Is there a way to deal with them only once? Same with the folders, can you access them from both iPad and computer?

  5. Love this Erin! I have my emails organized at work like this. NEVER took the time to do it for my personal account. Thanks for the reminder to fully utilize the tools we have :)

  6. Thanks everyone! I’m am going to look into unroll me! Sounds like an amazing service! Thanks for the tip!

    Heidi – they should be connected so you only have to deal with them once. Just like with your phone. If you delete emails on your phone it should also delete them from your computer/ipad. Google how to sink them up together! I can delete emails and access my folders from any device. (Not sure why yours isn’t doing that?)

  7. I too am going to check out the! My company has recently stopped allowing us to access our personal emails at work. THAT is why I am behind. When I look at emails on my smartphone I’m only looking for the important ones and end up missing dates because I can’t look at it while I’m at work.

    Great tips!

  8. I just thought of something – To the ones, including myself, are doing with the comments updates on this.

    In my folder for ’13 – ’14 I have a separate folder named Facebook etc & put all Facebook updates & blog comments in there.

  9. Love your ideas! I did the same (create folders) a few months ago and it has changed the way my email inbox looks. It’s so less cluttered and I can find what I’m looking for quickly.

    My tip is to have two email accounts. One is for my family & me (school, friends, sports, etc.) the second account is for all the “extra” emails that I want, are not important urgent for me to respond, and I can read when I have time (stores & catalogs, coupons, daily deal sites, various newsletters, your blog, etc.).

  10. Great tips. I recently unsubscribed from a bunch of newsletters etc and it cleared up my inbox so much. Plus Gmail automatically filters my emails into social (blog, FB etc), promotional (coupons, sales etc) and primary (the rest). sounds awesome.

    I try and keep my inbox almost empty (it’s email triage not a final resting place, lol) and I read a great tip the other day- when you check your emails in the morning sort by sender and then you can pick your way through it and work by task, not chronological order ie you can file away coupons, read all your dad’s forwarded jokes, deal with email chain about the group playdate etc and can also quickly identify and deal with any emails you were waiting on because everything will be grouped together by sender.

  11. Oh, how I <3 you, Erin! I needed to hear this the other day! I keep meaning to comment, then forget. I had over 200 messages marked as unread 2 days ago, and hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) more just sitting there. I still have WAYYYY too many (40 marked unread, a couple hundred more just hanging out), but I deleted over 800 (800!!!!!) messages the other day. Most were completely inane and I have no idea why I hadn’t just bid them adieu weeks/months/years ago! It makes me so happy to see at least some of that clutter disappearing!

  12. HiErin,
    I was so excited to see that I have a very similar folder system for my emails. Love it when someone I admire thinks along the same lines as me:)

    It has made things so much more streamlined. There were a few times when I asked my husband to “mistakenly” delete my inbox because I just couldn’t deal with the clutter any longer when I had just a main inbox. That doesn’t have to happen any more. A couple additional folders that I use: online purchases (keep the receipts and shipping confirmations when I buy something online) and BHG (I get the daily emails from better homes and gardens and I keep them here until I can browse the once that interest me). Having a separate folder for each child has really helped. I also save some emails here as part of memory keeping such as an email from their teacher or re-caps from a coach during a sporting season. As always, thanks for sharing your ideas with us!

  13. Guess what? I finally sorted my inbox out. (Does that sentence makes sense, it sounds strange wording it like that:))

    I’ve been working on this ever since this post & I even emailed myself an email congratulating myself:)

    Thank you for all your help Erin & everyone else.

    By the way, I wish blogs had a like button as I’d be hitting the like button on everyone’s comments:)

  14. I have the same email problem where it doesn’t sync from my iPhone to my laptop. What email provider do you use? Is it gmail? I think I need to switch in order to make this happen.

  15. Thank you Erin for this post! I love your blog! The tips that you provide are items that I can actually implement with little effort because your writing style comes from a positive place, and it’s reallly motivating. I have followed through with many of your time, organizational, project, routine suggestions and they have all made such a wonderful impact on our family life! Next on my list, my email inbox! Thanks again, keep up the great work!

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