6 lessons from my inbox obsession.

Hello. My name is Alli, and I’m obsessed with my inbox.

OK, so I don’t lose sleep in the quest for inbox-zero. (Ugh, only in my dreams do I have inbox-zero.) But the tendency toward hyper-organization that you’ve probably noticed in some of my other posts really rears it’s head when it comes to email. From the late-nineties days of my first AOL email account (#flashbackfriday, anyone?), I can remember feeling super overwhelmed anytime messages began piling up in my inbox. To this day, when email starts to get out of control, I feel a little extra twinge of anxiety. Sound familiar?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week as my inbox has exploded with post-Fourth of July sales junk mail and as I’ve gotten all of my communication back on track after spending the holiday in Turks + Caicos. People often ask me how I’m able to stay organized and (mostly) calm, cool, and collected as I’ve learned to run my own writing business, and I honestly credit a lot of it to my somewhat annoying tendencies in this area. As far as I’m concerned, a well-tended inbox is the key to tackling a busy day or a long to-do list. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by email (and, believe it or not, I’m actually really sensitive to things like this), I can get pretty freaked out — and I start to wish I could have what my parents used to call a “do over day” when I was little.

Email is such a major part of our lives both in the office and at home, and I know I’m not the only one who craves order there! More than a few times over the years, people have commented on how crazy-controlled my inbox is (if there are ten messages hanging out, that’s a lot for me), so I thought I’d share some of my weird and obsessive tips with you today. Here’s hoping they help you take on another week with a perfect (at least on the outside) composure — but not before you enjoy an amazing weekend!

Check out my six inbox tips here:

1. Don’t overdo it on the go. I only do two things on my phone’s email app: 1.) respond to urgent messages and 2.) delete messages that are clearly trash. Obviously, you may need to make exceptions to this rule if you’re constantly traveling for work, but I find that managing the vast majority of email in front of my computer forces me to stick to more of a system and to be more consistent with the other tips below.

2. Make morning and evening email purges part of your schedule. If you’re usually the kind of person who doesn’t care about an overflowing inbox, but you’re trying to get some new email habits, this is a great place to start. Kick off your day by going through your messages, deleting junk, and marking priority follow-ups. Do the same before the day ends. Even if your more relaxed nature (I’m jealous!) keeps you from purging your inbox continuously throughout the day, these two checkpoints will help you make progress!

3. Don’t be afraid to delete. Yes, I know that the new Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon you received today has you all excited about buying some new sheets, but you probably have (at least) five other Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons already in your inbox — and you haven’t cashed in on any of them yet. Get real about what you’re actually going to use, and then delete the rest. Trust me: streamlining your email is going to be really good for your productivity and for your mental health overall… even if you end up doing a little less online bargain shopping.

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4. Use folders, labels, and color coding. I’m not even going to tell you how many folders and labels I use in Gmail. Let’s just say it’s a lot (what you see above is only a handful of them). If you didn’t know you can create these in Gmail (I’ve found that a lot of people don’t!), you can get an easy how-to here. My favorite thing about this system is that it allows you to label things while they’re still active in your inbox and when you archive them later on. PLUS, you can color code them, which I love (duh).

5. Figure out a different place to track follow-up items. Instead of letting emails linger in my inbox simply because I know I need to reply to them later on, I archive them (in the folders described above!) and note the day I want to follow up in my trusty Passion Planner. You could do the same in your to-do list app or Outlook calendar. You’ll be amazed by how much this helps with clutter.

6. Stop procrastinating and just reply. Even on a good day, I can still feel really overwhelmed by emails, and sometimes, I just want to cover my eyes and pretend there aren’t more coming in. We all know how this ends, though. It just makes the problem worse. I’ve learned over the years that replying to emails is pretty much the last thing I should procrastinate on. Getting back to people quickly allows me to clear out my inbox… and everyone appreciates when you make a habit to respond ASAP!

Do you have any other email tips you’d like to share? Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s a total freak about this.

: )

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