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How do I keep my e-mail inbox under control?

Answer: I have found that a systematic, structured approach to managing e-mail is the best way to maintain a clean inbox. Here are a few tips I would recommend for those who have trouble staying on top of their e-mail correspondence:

  1. Check your e-mail at least once a day.
    Nothing is worse than letting your e-mail slide for a few days, then trying to catch up. This is how the bottomless inbox starts to form (believe me, I know). For those whose work requires e-mail correspondence, checking your mail several times a day may be necessary.
  2. Prioritize the messages in your inbox. Make sure to reply to the most important messages right away, because they may soon get lost in the stack with the rest the mail. When your boss asks why you haven't gotten back to him regarding the e-mail he sent last week, the "It got lost in my inbox" excuse typically does not work so well.
  3. Set a time limit for the low priority messages.
    This is key to preventing inbox buildup. Those low priority messages can really pile up if left unattended for a long period of time. Try not to let any messages stay in your inbox for more than a week.
  4. Organize your messages using mail folders.
    Programs like Microsoft Outlook (Windows) and Mac OS X Mail (Mac) allow you to create folders to store your messages. You can create folders to store mail by category (personal, work, receipts, etc.) or you can use folders to save messages from certain people. This makes it easy to find messages later and also makes it easier to move messages out of your inbox. Just don't forget to reply to a message if needed before you move it to a folder.
  5. Use spam filters to reduce the amount of spam you receive.
    One thing all e-mail users share is a disdain for spam. Fortunately, most ISPs have spam filters that limit the amount of spam messages that reach your inbox. Most e-mail programs also include spam or junk mail filters that can further reduce the spam you actually see. The more you cut down on unwanted mail, the easier it will be to sort through the legitimate messages in your inbox.
While my inbox is not always sparkling clean, these guidelines help me keep my e-mail under control. Following these rules should help you maintain control of your inbox as well.

Published: October 23, 2006 — by Per Christensson

Answer from the PC Help Center