Obtaining Control of your Inbox

Have you ever gone to someone else’s house and either because of their cleanliness or lack thereof, you returned home inspired to clean?

It happened to me again a few months ago–email style.

My dad and I run a small business. For business purposes, I needed a receipt from his email inbox. I knew the sender and approximate date, so I figured it would be easy to obtain. Not so much. I dove into the troves of his inbox searching among the literally thousands of emails trying to find what I needed. Thank goodness for search bars!

I managed to escape unscathed but not uninspired.

I realized, my inbox wasn’t looking much better. Part of being a freelance writer is being as organized as possible. It took months but all three of my email inboxes are now in the single digits! What used to show hundreds of emails now does not require scrolling.

I didn’t deleted a single email. (Ok, I did delete spam).

Does your inbox ever look like this?

I used Michael Hyatt’s method of two folders.

Inbox: Mail that needs to be handled. Upcoming flights, coupons I haven’t utilized, and incomplete jobs.

Processed Mail: Like the name says, mail I’ve taken care of. Correspondence returned, completed jobs, and anything else that has been crossed off the to-do list.

I do have a third folder, Receipts: items that need to be printed and added to our company paperwork. Every few months, I print and file everything at once. Then I move everything from “Receipts” to “Processed Mail.”

I do have a few practical tips, in addition to what Mr. Hyatt suggests.

1. Unsubscribe

One of my email addresses I’ve had since 1999. Yes, it’s an AOL account. It’s where all of my Twitter and Facebook notifications, devotions, and random newsletters go. Any interest I’ve had since I was 10, any newsletter I’ve subscribed to, any random account I have… they all still show up and I mercilessly hit delete without opening them. In opening them, I learned many have an “unsubscribe” button at the bottom. It’s my new best friend. At first I felt bad, but I’ve learned quite freeing to not be bombarded with things you don’t care about anymore.

2. A little at a time

Controlling that AOL inbox was the biggest undertaking. If I had a few awkward minutes (we all have those two minutes before a meeting starts), I’d go through and read/delete five emails. Five emails here and five emails there makes a huge difference. When I got to 55 emails, I figured that was good enough. A few days later, I pushed for five more. It hurt but making it to 15 felt really good!

3. Put a subject in emails to yourself

I had a lot of emails I’d sent to myself of Wacky Wednesday quotes, blogs I wanted to read, CDs and books I want to buy, stories and blog ideas, and anything else I needed to save for later. I feel like a dork putting a subject in an email to myself but as Adrian Monk would say, “You’ll thank me later.”

Will you share your secrets? How to you obtain and maintain control of your inbox?

<>< Katie

  • Lizzie

    I use my mom’s e-mail, but I have a folder.  It has over 3,000 e-mails.  Some from friends, lots of updates on blog posts and comments, lots from Compassion, and who knows what else!  I am planning on getting my own e-mail soon, and plan to organize it by sender.  And of course flag the e-mails I want to be abel to find quickly.  Sounds nice to have everything organized!

    • Be intentional with organization right from the beginning, Lizzie. It gets out of control so easily!


  • Kevin Graybeal

    My problem is that I only recently discovered the difference between the archive button and the trash can in gmail. I don’t even know what I’ve lost from that error.

    Folders rule my email life. I have over 100 for my work email, and around 15 for personal life, ranging from receipts to church to student loan accounts. Maybe I’ve gone overboard, but it sure helps. It’s about time for an inbox to zero project, thanks for the inspiration!

    • I will confession: I don’t know that I’ve ever made it all the way down to zero. I strive to keep it below ten or at least so I don’t have to scroll. My gmail’s at 17 right now and that feels huge but they’re mostly up and coming events, flights, or conversations and link that I reference regularly.