Productivity, How-to Blog Post

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How I Organized My Email and Emptied My Inbox (and how to keep it that way)!

Yep! My inbox is empty!

That’s not a typo.

Empty Inbox with No New Mail

It has been cruising at 20 or more messages cluttering up my inbox and my brain for a couple months now. A link to a video to watch. An item to remember. An errand to run.

But they aren’t getting done, they are just collecting in my box. I’m tired of them.

My mind is unclear a lot lately, and I decided its time to simplify. If I don’t have 20 things to look at each time I open my inbox, maybe I can think that much more clearly!

Apply Time Honored Organizing Principles for Paper Clutter to Online Clutter

On my way out the door for a blood draw, where I knew I’d be sitting in the waiting room for at least one hour, I grabbed one of my favorite books, Simplify Your Time: Stop Running & Start Living!

I bought this a few years back, read it cover to cover and implemented a lot of the great ideas. I was in the early marriage stage. I had no kids, worked outside the home and we were living in a rented a condo.

Now I have three kids, own a home and work from home. I needed to read it again and see what works for me now.

The principle Marsha suggests in Ch. 5 is creating a paper-clutter-sorting-station in your home. The station has folders for each different kind of paper you need to deal with on a regular basis.

How to Create Labels

Using this principle, I created “Labels” for my Gmail inbox. (If you are using outlook or another email software program, this would be like using folders.)

Create New Label Dialog Box

To do this, click “Create New Label” in the left hand sidebar, then enter the information in the dialog box as shown above.

First, I created one “parent” label. I called it “home filing,” but you could use this system for work or school, too. Then I created eight more labels and “nested” them all under my Home Filing label.

Choosing Your Labels

My Home Filing Folders

Here are some of the labels I’m using.

Bills – Some of our bills come via email and they typically sit in the inbox until they get paid. This way, I can open up the bills folder when I sit down to do the weekly budget and they are all right there for me, not clogging my inbox and my brain!

Craigslist – When I post a Craigslist ad, Craigslist sends me and email with a link to my ad. Its not necessary to keep if you have an account with them, but for some reason, it helps me remember to go back and re-post them if I need to, so now I can just find them all in one place.

Online Orders – After ordering something online, you usually get a confirmation email and I always tend to keep them in my inbox until it arrives. I need to keep those, but that’s one more thing to look past in my inbox.

Coupons – I am signed up to get coupons and sale alerts from places I like to shop and eat, but these just sit in my inbox until I decide if I will use them. Instead, now they live in this folder. Most of them can be used on location via a smartphone, so I can just access them in my Coupons folder when I need to show them to the clerk.

Library Notices – My kids and I utilize the library a lot. Good writers are readers, right? So we read a lot. My library will collect requested items and put them all in one place, which is fabulous. I don’t have to run all over the library looking for call numbers with three little wanderers in tow. When they email me telling me an item I’ve requested is ready, I put it in this folder until all my requests are ready. I need to save them so I know when is the last day they will hold it. Then I can make one trip to the library and easily grab all the books I want.

These next three will be key to stay caught up on. 

I’ll have to take a little time each week to get to these items, but at least now I can go straight to them instead of spending the time looking through my inbox, only to decide I don’t have time to clear it!

To Decide – This folder is for anything that I let hang around because I can’t decide what to do with it or need to talk to someone else about before acting on it.

To Do – Emails that require action that I don’t have time for right now.  Gmail has this great feature you can check the boxes and turn them into “tasks” which show up at the right. I did that for these emails as well, and hopefully that will keep them at the forefront where they’ll get done when I have time to do something.

To Read – This is also one that I will have to stay on top of and keep a strict eye on “unsubscribing” but when I have a minute to read, I can go straight here instead of poking through a messy inbox.

This system has been working splendidly for me for some time. Of course the inbox still gets clogged if I get complacent about sorting them after I read them. But even if that happens, I can still take about 10 minutes and sort through 50+ emails.

What about you? How do you organize your emails? What categories would you use?


I'm a writer and mom to three. I was born and raised in Arizona, and I love spending time outdoors, reading, playing basketball, my morning coffee and learning about the world around me.
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