Get your email organized in 2017

We closed last week with a post about how to get a jump-start on uncluttering and organizing. Today, I’m going to look at how to get email sorted out in 2017. From cleaning out your inbox to setting up best practices, this is how to tame the email dragon for the new year.

Clean out your inbox

I’ll never forget an experience I had several years ago when a co-worker wanted to show me a certain email message and I stood by her desk while she scrolled through literally 5,000 messages. The experience was a time-wasting exercise in frustration. If you’ve been using your email inbox as a filing cabinet (a practice I rallied against in my first post for Unclutterer in 2012), follow these steps.

First, create a new folder called “2016,” and then sort your existing messages by date. Place any emails from 2016 into this new folder. You aren’t deleting or archiving anything yet, just getting them out of the way. You can then sort them later, when it is more convenient for you.

With that done, take control of what actually arrives in your inbox with SaneBox. I wrote about SaneBox before and in 2017 I will gladly renew my membership. SaneBox learns what you consider high-priority messages and automatically moves the rest to a folder called SaneLater. Once a week you can review those results, and correct any instances of important email being moved to SaneLater (Sanebox remembers this correction for the future). I save literally hours per month thanks to SaneBox and sing its praises at every turn.

Deal with unwanted newsletters

While you’re sorting through email, take the time to unsubscribe from all of those unwanted newsletters, digital catalogs and other mailings that sounded good at the time. As they come in over the next month or so, look for the “Unsubscribe” link. It’s usually at the bottom of the message and deliberately hard to find, so take a minute to scroll through and click on that unsubscribe link.

If you’re using SaneBox, you can train it to move certain messages to a folder called “SaneBlackHole,” never to be seen again. Goodbye, persistent spam!

Best practices for 2017

Now, let’s adopt a new practice to prevent a cluttered accumulation of email in 2017. When a new message arrives, ask yourself the question, “What do I need to do with this?”

There are three possible answers:

  • It requires action. Put the action items on your to-do list. I use Todoist but there are a number of good project management tools available.
  • It is reference material. No action is necessary, but it is useful information. I keep these emails in what I call, “cold storage.” Evernote works for me but you may wish to save it on your hard drive.
  • It is trash. Unsubscribe (if necessary) and delete the email.

If you can, you may delete original emails but be aware that your job, and/or legal requirements may prevent you from doing so.

With these practices in place, you’ll have a tidy, clutter-free inbox for 2017.

6 Comments for “Get your email organized in 2017”

  1. posted by Kate on

    YES! One of my 2017 goals is to declutter my e-clutter. I spent last week deleting emails, unsubscribing, etc. and have since been staying on top of reading and/or deleting emails as they come in. It’s amazing how many emails some companies send per week or month… sometimes multiple emails a DAY from the same company. I’m interested in whether you use Todoist for simple things like “Respond to so-and-so’s email?” I live far away from a lot of my friends and we use email to catch up, so I can’t always respond right away, but then I often forget about it…

  2. posted by laura ann on

    Simply have an email address for broker statements, online ordering invoices,etc. separate from other email. Then keep a junk email address usually your internet carrier. Then have a regular email address and CHANGE it every so often. People that don’t blind carbon copy (BCC) when they send out emails, is one reason junk or spam comes in from unknown emailers. addresses “get stale” after so long.

  3. posted by Dave on

    You should look into http://www.mailstore.com (no affiliation). It lets you archive emails into a local, super-fast searchable database. It even indexes attachments. When you search and find an email, you can move it back into your mail client. If you can convince your Exchange administrator to install it in your corporate environment, the benefits are amazing. I used it in the last startup I was involved it and LOVED it.

  4. posted by Pat on

    In answer to Kate’s comment: I also use Todoist (thanks to Dave’s endorsement on the Home Work podcast) and I have been trying to dump almost everything in there. Even when you don’t get it done on the day you intended, it does get done. I recently got the Amazon Echo and one of its best features is that I can tell it something to put on my Todoist for a particular date and then see it on my computer screen later. And I can ask “Alexa” (the Echo) what I have on my to-do list and “she” tells me.

  5. posted by Alex Phillips/ Streamline Organization on

    Love that you’re addressing technological decluttering practices as it is certainly a category most of us struggle with, even though it isn’t physical clutter.

    Thank you for sharing- your approach, it is spot on and perfectly communicated. Well done!

    Best,
    Alex Phillips
    Streamline Organization
    StreamlineSeattle.com

  6. posted by Brittany Joiner on

    These are really great tips. Unsubscribing from emails is really helpful – there’s a great tool called “Unroll.me” that can help a lot with all of those newsletters.

    Another thing I’ve found helpful is to create a “study” folder – helps me sort those newsletter that I want to read eventually, but also gets them out of my inbox.

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