Getting to Zero: Email Management

January 30, 2008

Today’s topic is email management – something I’m sure all of you struggle with.

The amount of emails we get in a day is mind-boggling, so the question is how do you make sure you respond to them all without losing your mind or spending all your time answering emails!

My goal is to get to zero before I go to bed every night so I start with a fresh slate the next day. Most of the time my Inbox looks like the picture below.

Before you say – IMPOSSIBLE let me explain how I get there:

The key to my system is that I remove from view anything I’ve already dealt with and immediately delete anything I never need to see again. For everything else I use that magic GMAIL button “Archive.” For those using Mac mail you can just drag an email into an archive folder that you create.

What archive means to me is I have done everything I need to with this email right now, but I may want to reference it in the future. Thus I’ll archive it and if I need to refer to it in the future I’ll simply search for it either by the sender, a word in the email, etc.

Many of you may have 2000 emails in your Inbox – how do you possibly know what you have to do? Instead each morning you mentally scroll through the list saying, “yes I’ve done that,” “no I need to still do that.” Or perhaps you mark emails as unread or flag them if you still need to address them. The problem with all of these is that you’re constantly spending time reprocessing irrelevant information. Why not remove everything from view that is no longer relevant?

Let’s look at the types of emails I get:

1) Daily Digests/Subscriptions, Etc.
2) Client Emails with Requests
3) Inquiries from Potential Clients
4) Personal Emails
5) Spam

Ok – so how do I deal with these?

1) I subscribe to the BARE minimum of daily emails. Usually you don’t have time to read them anyway, so why not seek them out online when you DO have time to read them and not feel like a bad person when they pile up in your Inbox and can’t read them? The other good option that I also employ is the “To Read” folder. Move emails into this folder that you want to read sometime but you don’t have time to read now.
2) Do it! If it’s an ongoing project or you are waiting on something from a client then put it in a waiting on folder and check it daily – seeing what you can accomplish and archive from there.
3) Respond! Call them. Email them information – whatever your normal course of action is take it and then archive the email. Some people wait to batch handle these – do that if you prefer but I think most people like a prompt answer. If you want to follow up with the person write a note in your calendar for a few days later and then archive.
4) Write back and then archive

If you squint on the left side you will see some folders that I keep for email I want to keep together. Here are my categories:
1) Email to Save – Password or account information that have continuing relevant importance.
2) HA/Up – A friend told me that she saved all the nice or funny emails she received in one place so when she was having a bad day she could go look at them and laugh 🙂 (I featured some here to keep you interested!!)
3) OC_Expenses – Once I record my expenses in Quickbooks all business receipts get filed here. I do this because I purchase from so many different vendors it would be impossible to remember all of them come tax time.
4) OC_Revenue – Similarly – once I record revenue in Quickbooks this gets filed so they are all in one place.
5) Photography Reference – Good articles I’ve read, sites I’ve come across, etc.
6) Raves – Another feel good folder -this one from clients
7) Stuff to Re-Visit/Pending – Things I might do in the future but don’t have time for now
8) Wedding – Come July 13th this folder will go bye bye 🙂 For now it’s a helpful place to store communication with our vendors, etc.

Some people only check their email twice a day and spend an hour or two responding to them. I think this is fabulous but I’m not yet that disciplined ☺ Instead I check email between tasks and quickly respond before I get on to my next project.

Ok – what now?

So if you are one of those people with 2000 emails in your Inbox (or maybe more!) just get going on it – set a timer and spend ½ hour each day cleaning them out and putting them in an archive folder. You’ll be surprised how quickly it goes and before you know it…you’re at zero.

Some of my clients find it easiest to do them by date, others find grouping them by sender helps them follow an ongoing “conversation” and more easily know if there are any outstanding requests that need to be taken care of.

As you are going through them keep your to-do list close at hand – no doubt there will be many things added to it ☺

Getting to zero is the hardest part – staying there is the key and is less overwhelming because at any given time you know exactly what you have to do.

Good luck – email me or post comments with any questions or troubles. I hope in a matter of days your Inboxes will be gloriously clean ☺

Next time: The to do list program that keeps me honest and makes me productive!

Grazier Photography

omg… okay, I have thousands in my email inbox too…

Orchard Cove Photography


The easiest thing to do is either set-up those old emails to automatically forward or set up GMAIL to retrieve them. The one thing I don’t know is if SPAM gets forwarded…that would be a pain!

Good for you for labeling – archiving works pretty well though and I label only the most important things knowing I can always search and find items.

You also asked in an email about Google Contacts – the one thing that Google does is automatically add anyone you email to the list. This is helpful in some cases and annoying in others (for example when you unsubscribe or email a site once for information). Periodically I go in and clean out these unnecessary email addresses but I wouldn’t worry too much.

One feature I like on GMAIL is that I can just start typing and have an address appear – that is a great feature.

Good luck!


Robin Dini Photography

Thanks! That’s what I meant. I have two personal and two business…2/4 being obsolete but I don’t have the heart to erase them completely, just in case something comes along into one of them, I don’t want to miss it. I think I’m getting past that fear now though.

I love this labeling tip. I’ve been purging my inbox all day and labeling everything. It makes my inbox less threatening 🙂

Orchard Cove Photography


I’m wondering what all the email addresses are for? First question to ask might be do you really need all of them or can you consolidate some.

I only have two – a personal address and a business addresses and both go into my GMAIL Inbox. Then when I am sending a business email I can just select the “From” address and go from there. I believe Google automatically adds a label for each address so each one is flagged and thus if you want to sort them this way it is easy.

If you get more specific I can provide more specific recommendations too.

Good luck!


Robin Dini Photography

avid google user. i didn’t know what the label feature was in the inbox. I’m so excited to know how to use it now. Any tips on shuffling several email addresses?

Orchard Cove Photography

I’m sitting down 🙂

What are they mostly? Old client emails? Are the vast majority things you’ve already dealt with? Don’t worry about sent mail – I never go into my sent mail because it’s a great record of correspondence with people that you never know when you’ll refer to. Did you never have a system for archiving things or are they there because you didn’t know what to do with them, if you should save them, etc. – that can trip a lot of people up.

It sounds like it will take a lot of hours but if it’s something you’re committed to then just dedicate 1/2 hour a day – you’ll be surprised how quickly it can go, but it won’t go unless you start 🙂

Good luck!

Jessica Del Vecchio

This post sooo speaks to me… Now don’t pass out or anything, but I have 5,193 messages in my inbox in one email account. I have (now seriously, you might want to sit down) 7,197 messages in my inbox in another email account. (Let’s not even mention the 3200+ messages in my sent mail).

I don’t think there are enough hours to get me to zero. But I am open to advice!

This is great information and I really appreciate you sharing it. Now I need to control my RSS Reader habit.

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