Clawing your way back from email bankruptcy

Do you ever feel like declaring email bankruptcy? In 2007 Fred Wilson got so overloaded with the Frustration(103052)amount of email he had to respond to, that he made an announcement on his blog to say if anyone REALLY wanted to get in touch with him, to send the email again!

Such drastic measures shouldn't be necessary if you can follow these simple steps to clearing up your email, and keeping it ship shape.

You've probably got loads of emails in your inbox already. You'll be surprised how quick we can sort those!

I hate long introductions before getting to the meat of the thing, so here goes.

  1. Create two folders within your email program one called Done-File and one called Action. If you have other folders that you have been storing emails on particular themes or subjects, they could be moved into Done-File as a subfolder
  2. Sort the whole of the inbox emails into Action, Done-File, and delete. Secondly the thing to do here is to quickly sort the whole list. If you have tons of emails, you may feel that this almost impossible, but stick with it, you should be able to get through them all with reasonable ease, using one or two standard tools.
    - If the action to do in your inbox is to simply READ the email (such as a mailing list), then make a subfolder of the Action folder, and call it Read.
    - If it's spam, or other junk, just delete. If it's not demanding any action, then just file it.
    - If in doubt about whether to file it or not, I'd say file it. Don't be afraid to file something, you should easily be able to find it again with searching.
    - Don't worry about making folders for every subject or project. You may find this partly helpful, but actually may hinder you from finding a particular email when the need arises.
    - Don't don't get sidetracked into reading or 'actioning' a particular email at this point
  3. Once you've sorted the whole list, leave your email client open in your Action folder - not your Inbox.  

Keeping it spick and span

Schedule times to look in your Inbox and process as above - say 3 times a day.
That will stop you from being distracted every time an email comes it.

Simply go through the emails in your Action folder at a set time convenient to you. If you can, schedule a particular time to 'action' an email, this is helpful if the email is particularly taxing (e.g. "please can I have all the photo's of Aunty Jean from the month of May 1958")

You may realize you need to find an email that was archived.  Two of the most valuable tools you have here is search and sort. All email clients will allow you to sort your emails according to date, or subject, or sender and whatever. Also, most clients will enable you to search your emails, to varying degrees of power.

Gmail is particularly spectacular at searching. As is typical of Google, it will take just a fraction of a second to search years of emails. Other desktop clients are not too bad, but may require time to 'index' them before searching quickly.

Most importantly, don't let your email control you!  Stay in charge, and don't hate yourself for letting it get this bad!