Braving the Inbox: Five Steps for Organizing Your Email

By Allison Dolan

If you’re like many people, your email resembles Pandora’s box: full of unknown content that you might be afraid of opening. The scary part isn’t so much each individual message, but the unending stream of new content filling your inbox faster than you can deal with.

While some productivity gurus preach the elusive concept of “inbox zero,” you actually have a few practical ways to better manage your inbox. Co-host of The Genealogy Guys podcast and author of Organize Your Genealogy Drew Smith shares a few quick steps for organizing your mess of an email inbox:

  1. Set up an email account just for your genealogical research. This minimizes losing important personal and financial messages amidst genealogical correspondence. If you’ve been doing genealogical research a while and are reluctant to start over with a new email address, reverse the situation and create a new email address just for your non-genealogy work.
  2. Check your spam folder on a regular basis. You don’t have to do it every day—just do it often enough so that you won’t lose something due to the automatic spam-deleting system or when you were expecting something but couldn’t find it in your regular inbox. If you’re worried about forgetting to check your spam folder, add that (and any other research tasks) to your calendar.
  3. Learn as much as you can about your email software’s filters. This will allow you to automatically move low-importance email out of your inbox and into another folder, to be read when you have more time. Email that fits into this category might include messages from mailing lists and society newsletters.
  4. Use email filtering to identify important email and move it to a high-priority folder. This might include email coming from specific correspondents, such as another genealogist you are working with on a research project.
  5. Scan through the remaining items. Use the subject line to see if you can delete the item without opening it. In some cases, you’ll want to read the contents, but you’ll still be able to delete it after reading. In a few other cases, you can forward the email to someone else who can do a better job of dealing with it. If the email is something that you yourself can deal with in just a few minutes, reply right away (or do whatever quick task the email is asking you to do).

What remains are items that you want to save for reference (get this content into a note-taking system, such as Evernote) and items that will take some time to deal with (move these into a folder to be dealt with when you’ve scheduled a block of time to work on them).

Learn more about organizing your correspondence and genealogy research by purchasing your copy of Drew’s Organize Your Genealogy today.