Back in the olden days (!) getting an email was exciting. That ping was the highlight of your morning. Now, I don’t know anyone who actually has an alert for email arrivals – it would be non-stop.

As a VA I have not only my own inbox to manage but that of clients too. And also multiple email addresses. In fact, I have 6 inboxes to monitor and manage! So over the years I have read many things, tried many things to best stop my inbox(es) from taking over my life. I use Outlook so a number of these tips are Outlook specific but some are generic. I hope you might find some of helpful in organising your own inbox:

1) Categories

I organise my inbox by coloured category rather than by date received. This means I can sort them depending on what needs doing with them. My categories are by and large: Do Today, Do Soon, Waiting for Reply, File, Bring Forward. I may have others for specific projects that I change week on week.

2) Quick Steps

Outlook has these magic things which do things for you with one click. They are rules basically. There are some standard ones (“done” “reply and delete“) but you can program your own. So with one click I can mark an email as read, give it a Do Now category and flag it with today’s date. Another one turns an email from To Do to Waiting for Reply. Play with them, they are brilliant time savers.

3) Folders

I know everyone hates filing but it really is worth it to be able to find things again if you don’t have a decent keyword to search on. Plus, with Quick Steps you can set up folders you use a lot and instantly file things in the right place.

4) Flags

Actually I am not a huge fan of the flag (I prefer the bright colours of my categories, it gives me an at-a-glance idea of what needs doing) but I have a category called Bring Forward and set a specific date for follow ups etc.

5) The 3 minute rule

If you open an email and you can action it in 3 minutes or less, then do it now. Don’t let little jobs clog up your To Do list. Action it, then delete or file.

6) Keep it closed!

If you are head down working on something, close your emails! Nothing distracts faster than an email pop up. Have at least an hour “off” email during the day.

7) Junk and unsubscribe

Still getting newsletters from a lego set your bought in 1998? Rather than just delete, mark as Junk. Or better still, click-through and unsubscribe altogether.

8) holidays, untick

When you go on holiday put an Out of Office on and then untick mail on your devices! That way you won’t be tempted to look.

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