How many emails are in your inbox? Is it terrifying? Do people commonly follow up with you about emails that you’ve missed? Do you struggle to find emails people have sent to you? It’s probably time to clean out your inbox. Back in tip #33, I recommended that you unsubscribe from retailer email blasts. Now we’re going to take it a step further.

Take some time (up to an hour) right now to work on cleaning up your inbox.

Here are my general rules.

  1. If an email still needs your attention, keep it in your inbox. Mark it as “red flag” or color code it if your email has that capability and if it’s your thing. Me, I just leave it alone in my inbox. Coding things takes extra time.
  2. If you are done with an email and don’t expect to ever need it again, delete it.
  3. If you have read (and responded, if applicable) to an email, but want to keep it, then I suggest you put it into a file. I sort emails into files based on:
    • Clients: Folders containing emails from my clients (each client has a separate folder).
    • Entity info: Items pertaining to my own business. For example, my own marketing correspondence with my graphic designer.
    • Clubs/Organizations – I have a separate folder for emails from each club or organization (ex: Rotary) in which I’m a member.
    • Prospects: These emails help me remember where I left off with a potential client, so I keep them in a Prospects folder.
    • Contacts: These are emails from non-clients but contain contact info for people I want to keep in touch with for whatever reason.

That’s it. It isn’t very difficult.

I’m a very organized person. However, I don’t keep my inbox at 0. I do not take the time every day to sort my emails into folders. Instead, I keep it manageable. The definition of manageable is going to vary for each person. For me, it’s under 100 emails in my inbox, with ZERO unread messages. Once my inbox creeps above 100, it’s time to start deleting or sorting into folders.

Before you can organize your messages, you need to read them. And please read them in a timely manner! As a management consultant, it pains me to see clients’ missed opportunities caused by not reading emails. When you don’t read your emails, you may miss out on orders, inquiries, or invoices. Cleaning out your inbox will greatly improve your ability to react to pressing items – because you’ll notice them!

My personal goal is to read and respond (if applicable) same day to all emails received before 3pm. For emails received after 3pm, I strive to read and respond by noon the following day. I learned this rule from the 2002 employee handbook of the first company I worked for – US Bank. Since my US Bank days, I’ve worked at many companies from tiny to huge. This rule has worked at every one of them. If you want to be known as having good customer service, you need to respond in a timely manner.

If an hour won’t completely organize your inbox, schedule additional time on your schedule. You’ll make great progress in an hour even if you don’t finish.

Another tip – this isn’t the time to read deeply and respond to emails. The pressing emails should already be dealt with before you start this process. If a non-pressing email still requires attention, keep it in your inbox and come back to it later. Use this hour to delete or file emails that are no longer pressing. Cleaning out your inbox will help you focus on the items that still need action from you.

4 Oranges is committed to bringing you weekly tips in the form of To-Do List items that you can complete in an hour or less. These tips were generated from reviewing best practices from the hundreds of businesses I’ve worked with over the past 15 years. I expect you’re already doing some (but not all) of them. Improve your business by making quick fixes that have long-lasting results.

© 2019 4 Oranges