I was checking my email on my iPhone this morning when I deleted something. A second later, the contents of the email clicked in my brain, and I immediately undeleted it.
Does this often happen to you? You are cleaning out your email, and a second after you delete something, the words click with you? It happens to me all of the time.
This email was a Groupon email, and what clicked in my mind were the words “Free HBO.” I recovered this email, read it, and still deleted it.
I’m one of those people who often leave emails in my email box and end up cleaning it out once a week. I don’t mean to, and I’ve tried to develop a set system for maintaining my email box, but I still let bad habits sneak back into my actions.
Hopefully my mistakes will help you evaluate your email management system and tweak it to best work for you.
Email Systems I Tried
The first system I tried was just checking my email three to four times a day. This was great when we didn’t have phones that could receive our email. I would log onto the computer a couple of times a day and read my email and handled it.
Then I tried to get into the habit of just checking email hourly. One of the rules is that I don’t check my email until I’m ready to read them AND dispose of it. It’s essential to have a final disposition whether you reply to the email, turn it into a flagged task, delete it, or save it. This technique has stuck in that I check email hourly, but I’m not so great as disposing of emails.
The Winning System
As it turns out, it’s good that I don’t just delete emails. So, I have a new rule. Instead of deleting each message immediately, I read all of my emails, reply as necessary, move them into another folder, and delete the remaining emails. This gives my brain time to process everything before I delete it.
Three Essential Folders
I don’t keep emails in my Inbox when I finally get around to cleaning it. I have three folders that I created for managing my emails. The first is labeled “Short-Term Follow-up.” I put items into this that need further review or filing at a later time.
I then have a folder labeled “Flagged” for emails that I flagged as a task. This creates a Task in Outlook, which pops up on the Microsoft To-Do app.
The last folder I have is a “Knowledge Base” folder. These are emails that are educational and instructional in nature, such as company policy or procedure or necessary for retention. Within the Knowledge Base folder, I have subfolders of various topics.
Of course, I don’t have just three folders. I actually have about 30 folders that I actively copy things into. When I have a client or project, I will create a folder and add it to my Favorites in Outlook for easy access.
Use Sent Emails as a Record
Another thing that I do is that I keep all of my sent emails. My day job in the Public Service sector, so it’s essential to keep a record of everything. Our ITS department does backups for retention periods, so I know that if there is an open records request, we can retrieve the data in the future. But I still practice the habit of saving my sent emails and other emails relevant to my work.
To do this, I use my sent folder as my record. Whenever I receive an email that is directed at me even if it to multiple people, I will reply, writing “received.” It’s clean and straightforward. I make sure the reply has the original email text in it. If there are attachments, I will save them appropriately or move the email to the proper folder.
By replying to each email, I am keeping a record since I don’t delete my sent emails. If the email isn’t something I need to keep in my Knowledge Base, Short-Term Follow-up, or Flagged as a task, I can delete it still having a copy in my sent folder.
There are many systems for managing email. Each person has to develop their own system based on their habits and ability to comprehend things. My system of reading everything first, replying to received emails for my records, moving them to the appropriate folder, and deleting the remaining email works for me.
If your system doesn’t work or you don’t have a system, then making a conscious effort will help you develop one. Read articles on email management and take bits and pieces from different processes. Hopefully, my experience will help you get started.