How To Organize Your Inbox, My Way.

Email, which is mostly awesome, has altered our perception of what is an acceptable speed of every day communication to the point where the idea of waiting two or three days for a piece of snail mail is almost totally preposterous unless you’re waiting on an old-school wedding invitation or a package from Amazon.

The way I see it, there are two bad things about email: the way it has totally reduced our patience level (see above) and the way it can clutter up an inbox beyond belief so that you A) can’t find anything and B) lose your marbles over the sheer volume of it.

Or is that just me? Anyway.

I hate clutter.

Yes, I just quoted Simon Cowell. Seems like I found another spirit animal.

My inbox fills up quickly.
Wait, can an inbox FILL UP? I don’t want to know.
I bet yours has a lot of activity too. And yours. And yours.

The bolded number of unread emails gives me anxiety, as do the nearly 2000 read emails that I leave sitting there until the next spring (or summer, or fall, or winter) cleaning.

I can tell you that, when I make time to clean it all up, the deep sigh of relief is worth it every single time.

If you’re wondering how to organize your inbox, I just want to say one word to you. Just one word*.


Email folders and sub-folders have saved my sanity and, when I use them, keep all the parts of my life nicely compartmentalized.

I have folders for each of my jobs, and sub-folders within. Let’s take LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER as a good example because what looks like a hot mess filing system makes total sense to me. Here’s an outline of my LTYM folders (each heading is a folder), to show you how they all nest.

I. LTYM (main folder)
      A. LTYM National Business
      B. LTYM Chicago
           1. 2012
           2. 2013
           3. 2014
           4. 2015
      C. LTYM New Cities
           1. 2015
                a. Albuquerque
                b. Anderson
                c. Bangor
                d. Baton Rouge
                e. Evansville
                f. Lehigh Valley
                g. Pittsburgh
                h. Providence
                i. Rochester
                j. San Francisco
                k. Seattle
                l. Southwest Michigan
           2. 2014
                a. Atlanta
                b. Baltimore
                c. Boston
                d. Charleston
                e. Little Rock
                f. Nashville
                g. North Jersey
                h. OC
                i. Portland
                j. SE Texas

Dizzying, isn’t it? And that’s only one category (but honestly, it’s the one that’s most involved). I have a main folder called “Blogging” with sub-folders for website backend stuff (emails from my hosting company and my web guru, etc.), brand campaigns (each company has its own folder), and blog redesign stuff. I have folders for receipts that I file by year so I’m all ready when tax time rolls around. I have a folder for vacation info, a folder for Jim’s business trip itineraries, recipes, and J’s college info (invoices, schedules, book rentals, etc.). I have a folder where I keep all payment confirmations, and of course my Keepers folder, which I wrote about in detail last year. I also have a main folder called “Z Inactive Folders”, and that’s where I shove old folders that I don’t need to see or access all the time. I slide those folders under that heading and because of the “Z”, it keeps everything at the very bottom of my folder list.

I know that I can set up filters so emails get filed automatically, but I think my filing system is too detailed for that so I do it manually. I know there are programs you can buy, but I’d rather spend money on other things.

I apologize if I have nauseated you.

Keep in mind this is what works for ME.

I check email all the time and delete what I can, like Facebook notifications after I’ve acted on them (for work). It’s similar to bringing in the mail from the mailbox outside and immediately recycling all that junk mail before it sits around, making you crazy. One more thing I suggest? UNSUBSCRIBE to any email catalogs, newsletters, or other miscellanea that you aren’t excited to open when it pops up.

I save anything that I consider an action item as “unread”, so I remember to go back later and take action. The unread ones stack up until I find time to clean it all up and file file file. Typically after a big clean up I stick with daily filing until my work life gets crazy busy again and then it builds up until I start to think about it all the time and will myself to dig in. Like yesterday.

send chocolate

Laughable Inbox

Nobody email me

It’s a process, you guys. A PROCESS.

Will my system work for you? I have no idea, but I bet if you take the parts of this strategy that you like and add some game of your own, you’ll be a lot happier about your inbox than you were before you read this. Now go forth and file!

*I might be the only person on earth to quote Simon Cowell and the movie “The Graduate” in the same blog post.