27 June 2013
The Search for Inbox Nirvana

By Gina Blitstein

Your inbox — is it your friend or your enemy? It’s the clearinghouse for all the emails you receive. But what happens to those emails once they land in your inbox is the difference between feeling on top of your messages – or buried beneath them.

There are as many theories and practices about managing your inbox as there are email recipients. The reason for that is probably because everyone has a unique take on inbox management – just as with any organizational activity, like filing or straightening your desk.

The key to finding the most appropriate way to deal with your inbox is to discover how you naturally approach it. Once that’s determined, you can create your own unique process for email management that suits your work style. There’s no more inefficient way to manage your email than to cram yourself into someone else’s organizational style. Your natural inclinations will butt against the foreign system and you’ll end up abandoning it in frustration.

Take these factors into consideration when deciding how to best handle your email:

  • Do new emails distract you from your work at hand? If so, make certain to turn off all notifications (visual and auditory) on your computer and any other device on which you receive email. Set aside “email time” for yourself at certain times of the day to deal with your emails when it won’t distract you from productivity or divide your concentration on important tasks.
  • Do you have several “levels” of email that all come into one inbox? Most of us have everything from Requests for Proposals to newsletters; contract revisions to social media notifications constantly bombarding our inboxes. Taking the time to discover how to filter your incoming emails so you can more easily identify those of greatest importance will help you to keep up with the most critical issues first, and attend to the rest at your convenience.
  • How timely a response do you want / need to provide those who email you? If you need to be “Jenny on the Spot” when it comes to responding to certain emails, make your check-in times with your inbox more frequent. If you’ve already filtered out the “important” emails that are most likely to require a response from the deluge of less-critical emails, those which require your timely consideration and response are separated from the rest, making the process more efficient.
  • Are you a filer or a searcher?
    • Filer – These folks go through their inbox and file like items into folders so they can later pull up the contents of that file in its entirety. The rationale behind this organizational style is that, “All of Corporation X’s emails are contained in this one file.” Or, at least when looking for a particular item, they can limit the items they need to look through because it’s all contained within one file. Another use for filing emails is to create a way of indicating when a particular email is “dealt with.” Once the action it requires is completed, the email is filed as a means of removing it from the “action required” list.
    • Searcher - Others don’t use files or labels much – or at all. Instead, they rely on their email program’s search features. These folks archive their emails without identifying particular content. When they need to retrieve an email, they simply search upon keywords that are contained within the email (such as the topic of the email, its sender, company of origin or any criteria by which the email can be identified). This often brings up a short list of items through which the searcher can look to find the necessary information.
  • Do you work directly from your inbox or do you move actionable items to a to-do list? Some people use their inbox as a type of to-do list from which they work. When actionable items are received, they may be performed on the spot. Alternatively, they could be filed within the email client in a to-do folder or even transferred to a separate to-do list. There’s not a right way, but if you do use your inbox as a to-do list, you want to make certain you keep it organized to prevent important actionable items from getting lost in the fray.

Simply put, there’s no one way to organize your inbox. The only wrong way is to let it become an enemy to your productivity by being cluttered and disorganized. The “right” way for you is to identify the way you work and tailor your inbox organizational strategy to that. Keeping your system close to the way you naturally work will help your organization methods feel natural, rather than foreign.

You’ll feel your productivity and your sense of mastery of your work increase tremendously when you take control of your inbox. Is that nirvana, or what?

Gina Blitstein is a freelance writer and blogger, as well as a small business owner.

Looking for more ways to get organized? Check out an archived version of Insights from David Allen: Efficiency and Productivity. This FREE interactive webinar is part of a series of webinars hosted by Nevada State Bank through NevadaSmallBusiness.com.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.  Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank.


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