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What do to when your Inbox is a disaster

By Beth Silver, Doubet Consulting

A few weeks ago, a colleague commented about how empty her Microsoft Outlook Inbox was. All of her emails were organized in folders or deleted and she could not believe how organized and focused she now was on what mattered in her business.

After hearing the excitement in her voice, I decided it was time to see if I could tackle the 1856 emails that were in my Inbox. I have to be honest. I am an organized person who knows where almost everything is, but could I be more productive with a little more organization? Well, the answer is YES. My email now has been 20-60 emails at a time and, I must admit, my digital life is easier than ever.

Here is how I did it.

Be in the Mood!

If you are not excited about organizing your Inbox, don’t. Look at this project as a way of finding lost treasures and making things easier to find. Organizing your inbox does not have to be done in one sitting. In fact, I organized my Inbox in 2 sittings, which ended up taking up about 3 hours of my time.

Don’t be afraid to Delete:

If you keep everything, you won’t be able to prioritize what you should keep. I realized that I was keeping emails that said “Thanks” even when I had later entries in the thread, which had the information I would need later.

Think realistically:

At what time in your business is an email null and void? I am sure it changes from project to project, but do you need every correspondence for projects that ended a year ago? Think about what you need. If you think you will need it for the future, see if it would be easier to print them put them in a paper folder.

File as you go – Don’t wait to put things away:

Don’t be afraid to create folders and sub folders. Folders help you keep yourself organized, but if you don’t keep putting email in the folders, you are causing more work for yourself. Each month, I now plan to look at all of my sub folders to see what can be deleted.

User your planner or calendar as your guide:

My calendar is invaluable when recording ideas and structuring when you want to answer those emails that require more think time. The great thing about this tip is once it’s done, you can delete the email!

Respond now or flag for the future:

I often flag emails that I need to follow up with in the future. I find it to be a helpful reminder that allows me to keep on top of my projects. If you are not sure about the reminder function in your email program, mark the email name and date in your calendar. That will ensure that you take care of it.

Archive does not mean delete:

Be aware that the archive reminder in Outlook does not mean that Outlook wants to throw your stuff away. I have learned that Archived mail is moved into a PST file and resides on your computer. You always have the ability at any time to retrieve it.

Recruit help if needed:

If you don’t think that you are ready to tackle organizing your inbox or your office alone, there are many professionals that can help you. Sonya Weisshappel of Seriatim is an organizer who works with people who need help organizing their offices and homes.

After three weeks, I am proud to say that I often end the day with 15 emails in my Inbox. Some days it’s more and others it’s less. I am more productive and confident knowing where things are. The next step in my organization plan is my bookshelf! Storage and the donation bin, here I come. Happy Organizing!

Other organizing resources:

If you are in the organizing mood, these resources may be of help.

This Management & Personal Skills article was written by Beth Silver on 11/7/2005

Beth Silver is Managing Director of Doubet Consulting, a marketing and management firm that works with entrepreneurs and business owners around the country. For more information, please visit