Organising your email is probably one of the most written-about topics there is.
There’s a reason for that: unlike snail mail, email is cheap and instant – so people send lots of it. It’s also a way to keep tabs on things, and to record important conversations, and so on. But mostly it is a way to have a world of trivia appear on your computer screen, all day and every day.
Many approaches to email self-help focus on how to control the emails that have landed in your inbox. A good article that covers much ground in sorting out email overload problems is this one: Email overload: here are 6 approaches I’ve found useful for managing my inbox. (And read my tips on how to write good emails.)
THE FIRST STEP
That article touches on an important step to take before you start dealing with the avalanche: get the system itself to do most of the work. You can use almost any email system to take an incoming mail and put it in a place, or a folder, where you deal with it if and when you want. And you can sort the important messages (from your boss, or clients) from the unimportant (newsletters that you want to scan at some point).
The first step would be to work on a system that makes sense to you. This article has some really sane things to say about how to set up systems: Freelance Productivity: How to Tame the Whirlwind. (My system for getting things done doesn’t deal with email but does help you to get things out of your head and on to a list.)
Remember that email programmes often want the folders or categories set up before you create your filters. So you might make a folder called Client X. And set up a filter (or a rule) to take all messages from that person and send them straight to the relevant folder. When you open your email, you can find those client messages instantly, rather than having to sort through all messages to find them, or possibly missing them altogether.
HOW TO DO THIS IN GMAIL
Note: Gmail has slightly less obvious names for things: you set up filters by making a system of labels, which are effectively folders.
1. To set up a filter, hit the Gear icon in the top right-hand corner. Select Settings.
2. At the top of the next page, click on the Filters and blocked addresses link.
3. Then scroll to the bottom of the page, and find and select the Create a new filter link.
4. A pop-up window will appear. This is where you tell Gmail what you want it to find. Assuming you want to filter email from your boss, you would select the From field, and enter his or her email address. This tells Gmail that you want it to find any email coming to you from a particular address. Then click Create filter at the bottom.
5. You’ll get a new pop-up, which is where you tell Gmail what you want it to do with the email you have just identified. Tick Skip Inbox, tick Apply the label, select Choose Label. This gives you a drop-down menu in which you can make a new label. Select that.
6. Type in the name of the label, and select Create.
7. You will be returned to the Filter screen, where you will see your new label. You can also tick a box to make Gmail find previous emails and apply the filter to them. Click create filter, and your work is done! (The label will appear in a list on the left hand side of your Gmail screen.)
8. You can also, while in your email, make a filter on the fly. In your list of emails, tick the box to the left of the email. Click the three-dot icon at the top of the page. In the resulting drop-down menu, select Filter messages like these. You will then be taken to the filter creation process, with the relevant detail from the email already filled in.