How to Organize Your Inbox for Online Businesses

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No matter what kind of online business you run, you need to organize your inbox. We all have to deal with emails these days whether we’re the CEO, customer service rep, or virtual assistant.

Email is an integral part of our daily lives. Many people have come to dread it because it can be painfully time-consuming and tedious, but I’ve got some tips in this article to help you conquer your inbox once and for all!

How to Organize Your Inbox with Gmail

These tips will help no matter what email service you use, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on Gmail since it’s the most popular and also what I use and recommend.

The first thing you need to do to organize your inbox is set it up in such a way that will make it easy for you to sort and find your emails. The best way to do this in Gmail is by creating labels.

Create Labels to Organize Your Inbox

Gmail uses labels instead of folders for organizing emails. The big difference between labels and folders is that you can apply multiple labels to your emails instead of putting them into a single folder.

Before you can start sorting your emails properly, you need to have a label for each type of email you deal with on a regular basis. Think of the emails you typically receive in a week. You can even take a few minutes to look back at all the emails you recently received.

Here are some label examples:

  • Affiliates
  • Clients
  • Connections
  • Contractors
  • Education
  • Events
  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Products
  • Services
  • Tech Support

You may also need sub-labels:

  • Financial >> Expenses
  • Clients >> [Client Name]
  • Courses >> [Course Name]

Now, start creating labels in Gmail that will work for your business. Keep them short and simple, but also clear so that the purpose of each label is obvious.

Tip:

Never create a “miscellaneous” or “other” label for your inbox. These are labels where emails go to die. Instead, make your labels clear and specific so that anyone using the inbox could understand.

3 Ways To Create A New Gmail Label

There are 3 different ways to create a label in Gmail:

  1. Go to Settings >> Labels >> Create new label
  2. Scroll down the left sidebar to the bottom of your labels and click Create new label
  3. From an email, click Move to or Labels, then click Create New

In order to create a nested label (aka sub-label), use the same method but check the box for “Nest label under:” then choose a parent label.

In the future, add a new label or nested label any time you are processing emails and don’t have a clear place to put an email that you need to save.

Once your inbox is set up for organization, it’s time to start dealing with the hundreds or even thousands of emails currently living in your inbox.

How to Declutter Your Inbox

The first step to decluttering your inbox is to put a stop to the incoming mail. As long as the junk keeps pouring in, you’ll never be able to get organized.

Unsubscribe from anything that…

  • doesn’t help you meet your goals
  • isn’t particularly helpful - just fluff
  • doesn’t bring you joy in some way
  • you have no idea how you even got on their list

Don’t report someone as spam unless it’s truly spam. If you can unsubscribe instead it’s much kinder (being flagged as spam can hurt someone’s business).

Once you’ve unsubscribed from as much as you can, you can start cleaning up the mess.

I’ve outlined three different ways you can clean out your inbox below. Choose the best option for you and get started!

Option A (if you can sort through your inbox in a few hours):

  1. Look for repetitive junk mail, unsubscribe, and then delete them all by searching for them in your inbox and deleting them in a batch.
  2. Look for outdated emails like sales or newsletters and delete as many as possible.
  3. Start taking action on what remains.
  4. Make a choice about each email. You have only these 3 options:
    1. Delete, label, or archive it.
    2. Respond immediately (if it takes less than 2 minutes).
    3. Add a task to your calendar to deal with it later then label it.

Option B (if you cannot sort through your inbox in a few hours):

  1. Create a label in Gmail. I recommend using a date as the name of the label… the date by which you will finish going through all of these emails. 
  2. Select all of the emails in your inbox.
  3. Apply the label to all of the emails so that nothing is left in your inbox.
  4. Add a recurring task to your calendar to spend 15/30/60 minutes each day/week/month cleaning up those emails until you’ve finished.
  5. Never skip this recurring task. Commit to yourself that you will get through those emails and get them organized.

Option C (if you are 100% DONE and ready for a fresh start):

  1. Select all of your emails.
  2. Delete them.
  3. Move on.

This might seem like an extreme option, but if the people who emailed you really needed to contact you, won’t they email you again?

Consider what percentage of those emails are junk, newsletters you would never get to anyway, or outdated info. 80%? 90%?

It’s okay to give yourself a break and start over. Use this as a learning experience and move forward.

Develop Good Habits for Inbox Management

With your newly organized and decluttered inbox ready to go, it’s time to start developing good habits for yourself in order to create a solid inbox management system. 

Your habits include things like:

  • When and how often you check email
  • The types of emails you save or delete
  • How you convert emails into tasks

Here are some of the most popular habits I’ve discovered from productivity experts. Feel free to pick and choose the ones that work best for you.

  • Check email only once or twice per day.
  • Set boundaries with your clients so they know when you will be checking emails and when you won’t.
  • Turn off email notifications so that you don’t get distracted outside of your set times for checking your inbox.
  • Set a timer when you check your emails and make sure you finish by that time to prevent distractions. Try limiting yourself to 15-30 minutes.
  • Take immediate action when you open an email. Delete, label, respond, or make a task. Don’t let emails sit in your inbox; it’s not storage.
  • Keep your responses short. It will save you time and the other person is more likely to read and act on a shorter email.
  • Choose one location to add all of your tasks. I like Asana, but Trello, ClickUp, and Google Tasks are good options too. If an email requires action, create a task for it instead of treating your inbox like a to-do list.
  • Have a “Read/Watch/Listen” list somewhere so that you can save links to articles, videos, and podcasts that you’d like to check out when you have time.
  • Be ruthless in unsubscribing and deleting. YOU get to choose what comes into your inbox. Make sure it’s worth your time.

Once you’ve chosen your email habits, write them out in an SOP or someplace you’ll see them every day.. Here’s an example of what it could look like for you:

  • I will only check email Monday - Friday. Once in the morning, and once in the afternoon for 15 minutes.
  • I will not have email notifications on my laptop, phone, or watch because they distract me from my priorities.
  • I will not check my email outside of normal office hours.
  • I will immediately unsubscribe or delete anything I don’t truly need or that I don’t enjoy.
  • I will immediately respond to any emails that take less than 2 minutes, and I will keep my responses short as possible.
  • I will create tasks based on my emails in Asana with a due date.
  • I will save articles, videos, and podcasts in Airtable for later.

Developing good habits for email management will help you stay on top of the clutter and organize your inbox quickly. It’s much easier when you take a little action every single day instead of letting things get out of control.

Create an Inbox Management System

It’s not enough to just clean up your inbox. If you want to keep it organized you’ll need a complete inbox management system.

It might sound complicated, but it’s really quite simple! A system is just the combination of all the things you use together to organize your inbox.

Your inbox management system needs to include these tools:

  • Your organized inbox!
  • A digital calendar
  • Task or project management tool
  • A place to store reference materials
  • Read/Watch/Listen later list

For your inbox and calendar, I recommend using Google Workspace. Gmail and Google Calendar work together flawlessly. They also integrate easily with a lot of other tools you’ll use for your business. As an added bonus, you’ll have Google Drive where you can store any attachments from your emails.

My favorite task and project management tools are Asana, Trello, and ClickUp. I use Asana for my own business but there are a ton of great options out there. 

When it comes to storing information, Airtable is the clear winner. It’s so easy to use and keeps my entire business organized! I keep a list of any articles, videos, or podcasts that come through my email so I can check them out later when I have time.

When you combine a solid inbox management system with your good habits, it’ll be easy to stay on top of your emails.

How to Process Your Emails Quickly and Easily

Once you have created a system for your inbox and decluttered, it’s time to move on to “processing” your emails on a regular basis.

Processing simply means sitting down, going through your inbox, and taking action on each email.

Here are some “rules” you can use for processing emails:

  1. Do your best to never open an email more than once. Process it immediately and move on to the next.
  2. If you can reply in less than 2 minutes, do it right away. Otherwise, add it to your to do list. The truth is… most emails can be answered very quickly.
  3. Keep your emails short, no more than 4-5 sentences. It saves time for you and the person reading it. Refer back to rule #2.
  4. Don’t let your inbox control you. It’s a tool to make your life easier. It shouldn’t consume all your time or cause you stress!
  5. Your inbox is not a to-do list. Don’t leave emails sitting there. Your inbox is your processing station, like your kitchen counter for your snail mail.

You may need to adjust this process to fit your own email habits, but this covers the basic idea. As always, organization is tailored to you and your business, not the other way around.

  1. Set a timer (like Flow) for the amount of time you’ve decided to spend on emails.
  2. Start with the oldest emails and work your way to today.
  3. Decide if you need to:
    1. Unsubscribe
    2. Delete
    3. Archive
    4. 2 minute-response
    5. Longer response (add a task to your list)
    6. Schedule an appointment or event on your calendar
    7. Save a link or text for later
  4. Take action and move on to the next email. Don’t leave anything sitting in your inbox.
  5. Stop processing when your timer ends and save the rest for the next time you check emails.

Take Action

It’s not enough to just skim through this post. You need to actually take action to organize your inbox. Follow the steps outlined below to get started:

  1. Create labels for organizing
  2. Unsubscribe from emails you don’t need
  3. Declutter your inbox
  4. Develop good email habits
  5. Create an inbox management system
  6. Start processing incoming emails
  7. Take a deep breath and enjoy your inbox!

Want to learn more advanced strategies for managing your inbox? Join The Organized Corner! You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how I manage my own inbox, video walkthroughs with even more tips, and of course, templates!

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