Email inbox nightmare solved - Are you making this mistake?

I have read a lot about inbox management and keeping on top of emails. Inbox management is probably the number one frustration we see when we meet with new clients. It is crazy the number of emails we all get each day and it can be hugely stressful just trying to keep on top of them.

Do you know the number one mistake people make when attempting to manage their inbox?

Setting up a complex folder structure!!!

And by complex, I mean more than five folders and very complex is subfolders upon subfolders.

Take a look at your inbox right now and I can bet that 99% of you have a list of folders set up, accompanied by an out of control inbox. That's the mistake right there. And I'll tell you why.

The dilemma: You get an email from Supplier B about Client A - do you save it in the Supplier B folder or the Client A folder. The decision is hard, right? So you don't file it at all. Maybe you make a copy of it *squirming in my seat* and put it in both. Rewind 10 years ago and I would have said yes we need to have a folder structure and file away our emails so we can locate them later, and we did. However, times have changed.

Technology has advanced, tools have advanced, internet speeds have advanced, and search functions have advanced. This is the key. Want to find something quickly now - use the search tool.

Now here's the inbox management game changer...

You only need three - four folders...ever. Yes, no more than four. Ideally just two but I know some of you would like the comfort of more. Any more than four and you're setting the system up to fail (see above dilemma explained).

There are few systems that I have seen work throughout my career as an EA and in working with Strictly Savvy's clients. Whatever system you choose, you must be diligent or you'll be back to having an out of control inbox. But trust me, the system I will take you through is super easy.

Step 1 - Fresh start and archive

This is a variation of the technique that Michael Hyatt recommends. He calls it email bankruptcy.

There is a fundamental thing that you must do first! And this is going to seem crazy….but trust me...you need to archive your entire inbox. Yes, every email that is currently in your inbox prior to last week must be archived. For Gmail and Outlook 2016 users you select all emails prior to last week, mark all as read, then click the Archive button. If you don't have an Archive button then create a folder called Archive and then move all emails to it. This may take a while so let it do its thing.

Not convinced? Well if the email is down below the window view or on the second page you forget about it anyway, right? ...so you won't miss it if it is in the Archive folder. Trust me – the feeling of dread over that email is far outweighed by the feeling of relief when you have only a few emails in your inbox.

Step 2 - New structure

Clear out your existing folders by moving everything to the Archive folder you have or have created and then delete the now empty folders. This can be tedious I know, but hang in there, it'll be worth it once it's done.

Set up your new folders. Here's my recommendation:

  1. Archive - all processed mail will go here.
  2. Reading - all your newsletters, subscriptions and things you want to read later will go here.
  3. VA/EA - (optional) This is the folder that you can move items to for your virtual assistant or executive assistant to take care of.
  4. Invoices/Receipts - (optional) Only use a folder like this if you are manually managing your receipts. If you are, check out Xero and Receiptbank or talk to us.

Step 3 – Get it to zero

Take a look at the week's worth of emails and sort through them one by one deciding whether to:

Delegate - forward the email, or move to a folder that your VA manages, or send a request to someone...and then archive it

Delete - read it, then archive it or delete it

Do later - Forward it to or write the action in your to-do list app (e.g. Nozbe, TodoistTrello), then archive it

Do now - Complete the task or reply to the email, then archive it

Step 3 - Set up rules

Take the time to set up rules. Go through your Archive folder and scroll through spotting emails that you can set up a rule for.

I have a reading folder and I set up rules to move all newsletters and subscription emails to so I can spend time I put aside each day to scroll through the folder and read things I want to read and delete the rest. If it is something I never want to see again then I unsubscribe.

For invoices you receive, set up a rule to forward (to your Xero account, Receiptbank account or wherever they need to go) then move to the Archive folder.

Bonus for Gmail users
For you lucky Gmail users there are two essential and awesome free tools that you can use - Sortd and Unroll.Me.

I miss my Unroll.Me like crazy. (I'm now an Office 365 user because of the shared folders syncing issues we were experiencing with Google Drive) *sigh*

Unroll.Me identifies your subscription emails and neatly lists them for you. Then you decide what you want to keep in your inbox, what you want to roll up into one daily email and what you want to unsubscribe to. Unroll.Me's email management is a game changer. Check it out.

Sortd transforms your email into organised lists. Your inbox was never designed to be a to-do list so Sortd combines your inbox and to-do list management. You could set up 4 lists – Me To Action, VA/EA to Action, Waiting on Response, To Read. Check out their intro video here.

Step 4 – The Four D's

Every day work through the four options for each email. Read each email only once then take the appropriate action.



Do later

Do now

If you follow the steps, keep setting up rules and do the four D's consistently, you'll reduce your anxiety, declutter your mind, be more organised, miss fewer deadlines, and be more productive. Who doesn't want to be more productive?!

For those who aren't yet convinced, here's why archiving everything works... If you ever need to find anything, use the search tool to find it in seconds. It's not deleted, it's just put away for safe keeping. The search function in tools has advanced tremendously so finding what you need is a breeze.

I'd love to hear how you get on with wrangling your inbox nightmare. Comment below.

If it all still seems too hard, then here's something to make it all go away like a fairy godmother waving her magic wand....hire a virtual assistant! Check out Strictly Savvy's website.

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