Organizing Email - Manage Your Email

Make sure that you have first gone through the task of Sorting Incoming Email before you move on to this step which is managing what is in those to-do folders!

You might be amazed when you first make the effort to sort out your inbox, clear it to zero, and look at how many messages are in your various to-do buckets. You might have thought that 90% of your email was in baby newsletters, and instead you find looking at your folders that 90% of it is Amazon news releases. Now it is time to start getting this process under control.

Create Storage Folders
Now that you have a series of to-do folders to organize incoming mail, create a number of storage folders to store messages when they are done. I highly recommend NOT deleting messages you are done with. There have been numerous times that it has been QUITE helpful to go back and refer to a message from several months ago, to keep track of a project or task. So just as you have to-do folders for your various projects, create storage folders for those projects. When you finish working on a given message, move that message from its to-do folder into its storage folder.

So for example I have a wine site I run. In my to-do main folder I have a sub-folder called "wine". When I work on my wine messages, I move them from the "wine" folder in my to-do area over to my "wine" storage folder once I'm done with each one. That way if I ever need to go find them again, I know where to find them.

Note that you don't keep those storage folders online eternally. That would fill up your mail files with ancient messages. Instead you use the "archive" feature once every six months or 1 year to archive out all old messages. I do it every quarter because my mail file gets so large so quickly. So every quarter - say on January first - I archive out all mail from the quarter before last. So on January first I archive out mail from July - September of the previous year. That way I still have "recent" mail (Oct-Dec) in my mail system for quick reference. Anything before that is now in an archive file which is in my CD set. I can get to it if I need it, but it's no longer clogging up my main mail file. You want to keep that main mail file as small as you can, so it can run quickly.

Handle Email in Sections
Now that you have your email in nice, organized folders, choose a specific folder and work on the messages in that area. So in my setup I have a folder for "low carb" because I run the low carb site at BellaOnline. Every few days I go to that folder and plow through all the messages that have accumulated in there. I open up a link to my low carb forum. I open up a browser to my low carb admin area. I take the messages one by one, handle their suggestions, give them links to the articles that would help them, update pages that are not clear enough, and so on. I am able to go through the list of messages fairly quickly. Each suggestion helps me enhance my site that much more. As I respond to each message, I then move that message from the low carb to-do folder over into the low carb storage folder. When I am done, the low carb to-do folder is empty and that task is complete.

Set a Schedule
Once you do this for a few days, you will start to get a sense of which areas take a while to process and which are easier. Work out a schedule to take that into account. If your low carb area is usually quick and easy, and it's fun messages, you might work on that a little each day to give you a fun break from other tasks. If your Members area involves complex questions with cookies and lost passwords, then set aside longer blocks of time for that, at a period in your day when you can give it serious attention and will not be interrupted.

The key is to not let things get neglected for too long. If you let the email messages stack up, then people get annoyed because they think you are deliberately ignoring them and they become hostile. By the time you do respond to them they are huffy and have gone elsewhere and told people that you are not professional :) It is much better to respond quickly even with a "I am not sure, let me research that for you." That makes people feel cared for and paid attention to. A lot of email correspondence is simply about responding. People cannot see facial gestures or hear tone. They can only react to response or non-response - and if they get a non-response, they can often jump to the worst conclusions about why. They take it personally!

Once you have all your email managed in folders, it's time to
Prune your Incoming Email Stream

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