Thursday, October 06, 2016


I read a status update from a clergy friend going on sabbatical. In this post a four-figure number was mentioned as the number of emails to be cleared out of the inbox.

Well, oh dear.

I know people have difficulties with jobs that become so big they will never be done but really. Thousands?

How do you claw your way back from this? Slowly. You know roughly how many emails you get daily so each day make sure you deal with more than come in until the problem is gone.

Or quickly. Put all of your current inbox in a folder called 'old inbox'.  Now deal with each day's new emails alone and only dip into the old inbox when you get a reminder. Diary to delete it in a year's time. Some people may be irritated but not as many as you have irritated so far with your massive inbox.

Some quick tips:

1. Stuff that is:
  • Not relevant
  • Not for you
  • Already out of date
  • No action required.
Delete it at once.

2. Stuff that needs to be retained for the future but not acted upon. File it. It is kind, but not essential, to send a quick acknowledgement. If it is more than a week old don't. You'll look stupid.

3. Stuff that needs a reply. Either reply quickly, if you can, then file it, or send a brief acknowledgement and add the job of thinking about it to your things-to-do list. Then file it. Yes. Get it out of your inbox to somewhere you will be able to find it. I use googlemail so you can label your emails so that they appear in more than one folder. I also always operate remotely so never download emails to any device or PC. Outlook is dangerous.

4. So, how do you organise an email filing system? Any way you want but I'll tell you about mine. By and large the bulk of stuff I need to keep is about future events, many of which are Sundays.

So my first few folder labels are simply Sunday dates. As they are numbers they stay at the beginning of an alphabetical filing system:


When the first email comes in about a future Sunday I start a folder for it. I delete these folders a month after the Sunday.

My second major grouping is 'Forthcoming Appointments':

Forthcoming Appointments
 CMD (13/3)
 E*** P****** Visit (12/10)
 Funeral (13/10)
 Hope for Life Dance (29/10)
 Reading Break November

When the first email comes in about a future event I start a folder for it. I delete these folders a month after the event.

My other folders are sub-headed under 'People', 'Church' and the inevitable few that will not categorise.

5. I deal with emails about three times a day for five minutes. I have turned off email notifications on my tablet and phone. Email is meant to be non-intrusive communication. It is not for the urgent. If you want me to come and give you a lift from the station now, ring me (unless you know the family secret group on Facebook).

6. Email is meant to be a communication aid but it needs a little bit of management to keep it under control.

7. Once a week diary to clear your inbox. There will always be one or two stubborn messages you couldn't decide what to do with. Shift them weekly.

8. I lose emails. I make mistakes with filing. I sometimes dither a bit. But I'm pretty good. This is why.


Kevin Webb said...

I also make the assumption that if I am cc'd in an email then it is for information only, and I put it to the bottom of the pile. You can also set up a rule to automatically file them separately too.

Kevin Webb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Peatman said...

I let my work inbox be an archive of useful info and use Gmail search to find stuff. The email I use for purchasing / registering, I delete everything except email receipts, which go into a folder.