Blogmas Day 12: How I stay on top of my emails

If you know me personally, you probably know that I essentially live and die by my email. My eternal, elusive goal is Inbox Zero, but man is it hard to get there and stay there. In my post about how to be productive if you have a spare hour, I mentioned that I often use that time to answer emails. A reader reached out to me and said she’d be interested to hear how I keep my emails organized and stay on top of everything, so I figured #HBJblogmas was the perfect time to write a post about it!

 

Email can be one of the biggest sources of digital clutter. It's a challenge, but today I'm sharing how I stay on top of all 4 of my email accounts. | BLOGMAS DAY 12: HOW I STAY ON TOP OF MY EMAILS | HONEYBEE JOYOUS

 

Gmail app

I have an iPhone, but I don’t use the “Mail” app that comes pre-installed. Instead, I downloaded “Gmail” for free from the app store. Usually, I’m all about not downloading extra apps, but having the Gmail app on my phone instead of relying on Mail makes a world of difference. All of the email accounts I regularly use I manage through Gmail, so this app lets me easily switch back and forth between accounts and the little red notification bubble shows me the total unread emails across all four accounts. The interface is really user-friendly and looks very similar to how Gmail looks on my computer, but it’s optimized to be easy to use on mobile. Downloading this app and connecting all of my email accounts was the biggest game-changer when it came to getting my emails under control.

 

4 email accounts, 4 different systems

I currently have four email accounts that I regularly use. My blog account (emily@honeybeejoyous.com), my personal/school account, my Managing Editor account for my school’s newspaper, and one that I mostly use for online shopping and email lists. These four accounts all serve very different purposes, so although my overall system is the same, they’re each a little nuanced.

In my blog account, I have separate folders for invoices and receipts from different companies, different Google Alerts I have set up, copies of my own newsletter, perks from subscribing to other blogs’ newsletters, and more.

In my personal/school account, I have folders for different classes, one for job applications, and ones for my different years of being an RA.

My newspaper email is primarily used so that the News and Sports sections can send me drafts of articles for me to edit. I delete those emails as soon as I download the articles to reduce clutter, but I keep all the other important communications.

For my miscellaneous account, I heavily rely on the automatic “promotions” included in Gmail filter. That’s where email lists from companies go, which is lovely because I can check this folder if I want to look for coupons, but those emails don’t show up in my unread emails count. As for the main inbox in that account, I file PayPal receipts away into a folder, but leave order confirmations from websites in the main area. Once I get a shipping confirmation, I delete the order confirmation. Once I receive an item, I delete the shipping confirmation/tracking info email. It’s a helpful system any time, but it’s especially useful during the holiday season when I’m doing a lot of online shopping.

 

Unroll.me

A profoundly useful website I discovered in my first quest for email reorganization is Unroll.me. If you make a free account on this website, it will let you go through every email subscription list you’re subscribed to and decide whether you want to keep it in your inbox or “roll it up.” When you get emails from lists you’ve “rolled up,” Unroll.me opens them (so they don’t appear as unread in your notifications) and puts them into a folder in your Gmail. Then, at the end of the day, you receive one email from Unroll.me that has summaries of and links to all of the emails that have been rolled up throughout the day.

This is a lifesaver when you have tons of email newsletters you want to subscribe to, but don’t want to clutter your inbox. I read tons of other people’s blogs (leave me a comment if you want me to make a post of my favorite blogs) and the best way to keep up with all of them is to sign up for their newsletters, but that can definitely get overwhelming. Using Unroll.me has really helped me create balance in my inbox!

 

Using my unread emails as a to-do list

As you may have gathered by now in this post, the number of unread emails in that little red notification bubble is very important to me. Ideally it will be zero by the time I go to bed, but you know it’s been ridiculously hectic and I’m feeling really overwhelmed if I ever let it get above 20. (If you’re one of those people who has 5,367 unread emails, chances are I will get extremely stressed on your behalf.)

The way I’m able to realistically strive toward inbox zero is that I use my unread emails as a to do list. If I leave an email unread, it means that it needs to be addressed. Some emails I can delete without opening (I’m looking at you, career center emails I can’t unsubscribe from), others I can skim for important info and then delete, others just need a quick response or require me to jot down a date in my planner, but some involve a more lengthy or time-consuming response. Whatever needs to be done, I don’t mark an email “read” unless I’ve addressed whatever needs to be addressed.

Consistent application of this system keeps me sane and ensures that I never miss an important email.

Pro tip: You can set up your Gmail inbox so it displays your unread emails at the top, before any other emails. I have all of my inboxes set up this way and it’s so helpful, especially for those cases where an email will require a time-consuming response. If your unread emails don’t automatically go to the top, it’s easy for one to get lost while you wait until you have enough time to answer it.

 

Emailing myself

The last thing I do to stay on top of my emails really goes along with using my unread emails as a to-do list. I often will shoot a quick email to myself. It might be a date a need to write in my planner once I get back to my room, a reminder to call someone, or an article I want to read. Whatever it is, I treat it exactly the same way I treat all other emails — as something to be addressed. It creates more emails in the short term, but it makes for a very consistent system that has worked very well for me for the past several years.

 

{How organized are your email accounts? What kind of system do you use? Did this post give you any ideas for how to stay on top of your own emails? Leave me a comment below and tell me!}