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Mar05

5 Rules for Keeping Your Inbox Clean


Keeping things neat and tidy around the office is one of the keys to running a productive business.  But, unfortunately, in many cases, this same sense of pride in place doesn’t seem to extend to email inboxes.  Messages pile up endlessly – especially when you get hundreds each day – and they just seem to never go away.

But really, it’s not a matter of being overrun – it’s a matter of procrastination.  With a few simple steps, it is possible to keep your inbox clean with very little additional effort on your part.  Truly, within minutes, you can set up an organization system that makes sorting email automatic and that will have you well on your way to “Inbox Zero.”

Rule #1 – Create folders

Every email client – web-based or otherwise – offers the ability to create folders.  In fact, many already come with a few folders already up and running.  Just like the folders in your filing cabinet, the folders in your email client will help you stay organized – if you let them.

To utilize folders effectively, start by creating a logical hierarchy, either on paper or in your mind.  Then, create folders to match.  As an example, a basic suggestion on how to get started would be to create folders and sub-folders for:

  • Bills/Invoices
  • Receipts
  • Urgent Action Needed
  • Personal Correspondence
    • Family
    • Colleagues
    • Hobby or entertainment related
  • Business Correspondence
    • Clients
    • Customers
    • Advertisers (media outlets etc.)
    • Employees/Employers
    • Leads (potential customers)
  • Subscriptions
    • Newsletters
    • Marketing materials
    • Motivational/educational

The next step is to actually use these folders!

Rule #2 – Create message rules

Windows Live Mail, Outlook, Hotmail, Gmail and many other email clients allow users to create message rules (and even rules within rules) in order to automatically sort incoming emails.  You can create rules that sort for specific keywords, sender’s names, sender’s domain names, subject content and more.  Then, you can choose to automatically delete these messages, mark them as spam or shuffle them off into the appropriate folder you created earlier.

You can also choose to set message flags for any of these email rules so that you never accidentally “lose” important emails in the rush.

Rule #3 – Guard your email address

Beyond setting up and utilizing folders, an important part of decreasing inbox spam is to adopt the good business habit of keeping your email address to yourself in the first place.  If you don’t give your address out, spammers won’t be able to target you.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, as just about everything you do online (and offline, more often than not) requires your email address.  However, read the fine print of any offers you sign up for carefully and look for radio button and/or check boxes that allow you to choose which information – if any – you allow third parties to send to your inbox.

You can also set up a separate email account – either locally or web-based – to use just for this purpose in order to minimize the amount of junk mail you get.

Be aware, though, that no matter how religiously you scrutinize these permissions, you’ll still get spam.  Spammers have created insidious pieces of software that will actually scour the internet for your email address or that mail out spam messages to randomly generated email addresses.  So if your personal address is listed on your Facebook account, your business’s website, your Google Places information or anything else, it will get spammed!  There’s nothing you can do about that – or is there…?

Rule #4 – Manage your subscriptions

Whoever (or whatever) is sending you email messages must offer you the option of unsubscribing from their mailing list.  If they don’t, they’re in violation of several laws (including the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act) and could be held accountable in a court of law.

Take a look at the bottom of any spam emails you receive for unsubscribing info.  This usually takes the form of a link you have to follow, or it might include instruction for replying with a certain phrase in the subject line in order to unsubscribe.

But even if you knowingly subscribed to these mailings, it’s still important to regularly update your preferences.  Think of email subscriptions as you would your closet or the junk drawer in your kitchen – if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it.

Rule #5 – Be judicious with the delete button

The delete button is your last line of defense and first best friend when it comes to email management.  When all of these other methods fail to stop frustrating messages from appearing in your inbox, the delete button will.  It only takes a second to tap it and, even if your inbox is full to the brim, you can clear out your account in less than a minute.

Remember, if you can’t sort an incoming message into one of your folders or reply to it right away, trash it so that it doesn’t waste more of your time in the future.

By setting yourself up for success with organized folders and a neatly-pruned list of email subscriptions, keeping your inbox clean is simple – you just need to take the time to do it.  Once you train yourself to stay on top of the problem, you’ll see it doesn’t take that much effort at all to keep your inbox as neat and tidy as the rest of your office.

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