There are 1,600 unread emails in your inbox. Finding an important message takes a couple of minutes, instead of a couple of seconds. The idea of scrolling to the bottom of your inbox and seeing all those missed, unanswered, ignored emails fills you with a bit of dread. Your inbox is a mess.
But it doesn't have to be. Adopting a few good habits can help you develop a clean, efficient approach to email for the New Year.
Don't Read, Separate
Perhaps you've heard of the cult of Inbox Zero. That's the idea, first evangelized by the tech writer Merlin Mann, that you can and should eliminate all messages from your inbox.
Whether you get to zero or not doesn't matter to us, however. Instead, steal Inbox Zero's techniques, not its zero-email goal.
That technique is: separate. If you don't respond to an email immediately, file it away for later. The easiest way to do this is by flagging (in Outlook) or starring (in Gmail) important messages and archiving or deleting the rest. Those marked emails become a virtual "to-do list" -- you mark an item off the list every time you respond to an email. When you have zero marked emails left, you can be sure that you've gotten to everything that's important.
User Filters and Rules to Separate Emails for You
You can save yourself a bit more time by putting the machines in charge of your filtering. Both Gmail and Outlook allow you to set rules that will automatically sort your email. For example, if you're working on a case with Marissa, you can create an inbox folder in Outlook and create a rule to move all of Marissa's emails there instantly. You can also use Outlook rules to automatically remind you when you've gone more than an hour without responding to a client email, for example. Gmail offers essentially the same thing, through its label and filter features.
With a little experimentation with rules and filters, you can have your inbox running like a well-oiled machine.
Consider Multiple Inboxes
You have a personal number and a work number. You may even have if a phone number you keep away from all but the most VIP callers.
You can do the same with email addresses. Instead of using filters, flags, or rules to separate your emails, use different email addresses for different purposes. You may have one email for clients, for example, one for colleagues, one for you blog readers, one for your personal communications. You can look at all of these emails at once in Outlook or Gmail, quickly jumping from one inbox to another.
Sound complex? It's not. Take some time to play around with your email settings and you'll soon see how simple it can be to turn your mess of an inbox into a well-organized messaging system. We promise.