Your email inbox is probably the electronic equivalent of a pile of useless junk mail. Somewhere in there is the important letter you’ve been waiting for, but it’s buried among the piles of useless offers, coupons, catalogs from companies you did business with once a few years ago, and notifications of events you have no intention of attending. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just sort through it all automatically and get rid of everything you don’t need?
Categorizing your email
Your incoming email can probably be divided into five categories.
- Commercial email and newsletters you don’t want
- Commercial email and newsletters you do want
- Work email
- Personal email
You can train your computer to recognize these and deal with them appropriately. You can delete anything you don’t need to read, file regular or low priority emails into folders for looking at later, and then all you have to worry about is the ones that demand your immediate attention. It takes a little while to get it working properly, but once you’ve done it, it’ll save you a lot of time and effort on a daily basis.
Most email services include a junk mail filter that recognizes spam and either deletes it or puts it into a special folder. They’re all slightly different, so check out what yours can do. This is Outlook’s filter, which allows you to set how ruthless you want it to be, and also lets you block senders who you know to be spammers, and mark other senders as always okay.
For any junk email that gets through, use the “mark as junk” feature if it’s available, and gradually your email system will learn to recognize what you don’t want. This is one big disadvantage of checking your email on your phone – there probably isn’t a suitable junk tool.
If you’re getting newsletters you don’t want, unsubscribe from them. It’s usually a quick and process, since they’re legally obliged to provide an easy opt-out method. Some aren’t so obliging and will keep sending you emails even after you’ve unsubscribed. Just mark them as junk and eventually they’ll get filtered out anyway.
Email filtering is one of the most powerful ways to streamline your email. As with the junk mail tools, every email system is slightly different. The shot below shows Outlook.
Create a set of folders for different senders. For example, you could have a folder called “Coupons” for daily offers, and one called “Events” for all the notifications about movies and concerts, and one called “Kids” for everything that comes from school, clubs, etc. Then set up rules that recognize the sender and automatically puts the emails into the right place as soon as they arrive. You can then look through them when it’s convenient.
Using the same filtering technique as above, you can easily separate out all of your personal email and put it directly into a separate folder. That way, you won’t get distracted by it when you’re trying to focus on work, and you can read it all during your lunch break or after work.
By now, pretty much all you should have in our inbox is your work email. Once again, you can use filtering techniques to streamline this by project or by client. You can separate out regular weekly reports, orders, or requests for information. If you’ve been following our suggestions to use “cc” or “bcc” to indicate that an email is for information only, then you can separate those too, and read them when it’s convenient.
Once everything’s set up, your email will all be neatly sorted for you, without you having to do anything. Instead of being faced with hundreds of messages, mostly useless, you should have the following:
- Inbox: work emails requiring your immediate attention
- CC and project/client folders: categorized work emails you can check later
- Personal folders: personal emails you can read later
- Useful folders: offers, coupons, and news you can read later
- Junk: emails you don’t need to waste time with
Isn’t that a whole lot easier to deal with?