Email Organization That Works

Over the years, I have learned that the key to success in life is discipline & organization (yes, both. . . they often go together). While it is true that being smart is important and can really fuel where you go in life, if you don’t pair your knowledge with discipline, that knowledge gets underutilized.

I was always decent in school. I would make good grades and complete what was required of me, but early on in life it wasn’t easy. As I grew older, however, I started to add more structure to my life. Maybe I was maturing, or maybe it had something to do with the fact I played volleyball for a Navy officer’s wife. . . Regardless of what caused my change in behavior, as I became more disciplined with my school work (you know, color-coded binders for each class with the neatly labeled dividers) it became easier for me to receive those good grades.

Now, I am a firm believer in organizing. I might even go so far as to say I love organizing. Why? Because it works. It allows me to juggle everything thrown my way and event helps me to see when I need to say “no” to requests.

One of the most beneficial things I’ve done for my personal & work life has been organizing and creating a good system for my email inbox. Communication today is heavily rooted in email correspondence. This can make your inbox turn into a monster in a matter of seconds. There have been days I’ve walked away from my desk for 5 minutes and have come back to see upwards of 20 emails waiting for me. Really? 4 emails per minute? (I work at a church, so that means God is on the move & doing somethings great, right?)

Over the past few months, I’ve been tweaking how I organize my emails so that I can not run into panic mode every time I turn on my computer. Our office email is hosted through Gmail. It’s awesome. I love it. If you’re not using Gmail, you might have similar settings to allow you to mimic this system. Here’s the system that I came up with that works for me:


The foundation to my email account are the different labels I use. I have labels (with sub-labels) for all of the different types of emails that I get. These can be set up in your settings by going to the gear icon at the top right of the scree > click on “settings” in the drop down menu > go to the label tab > click on the “create new label” button. You can create color-coded labels and “nest” other labels in that main category. This comes in handy if you need to pull up emails from the past to retrieve information or exact correspondence from the past. I schedule various events and have a lot of emails about set up details, meetings, contracts, etc. I have set up a main label for “2013 Events” that house several different sub-labels for the different events I schedule for the year.

The key to using labels is to actually USE them. I spent time setting up my labels (and I add new ones on the fly as new things come up). Any time I receive an email about something, I will immediately label it where it belongs and move it from my inbox to the label once the correspondence is finished. This may take a little time to get into the habit of doing, but once it becomes part of your routine, it’s a breeze & VERY helpful!

Priority Inbox:

Here’s a look at my inbox. I currently use their priority inbox setting, which you can find by going to the gear icon at the top right of the screen > click on “settings” in the drop down menu > go to the inbox tab > select “priority inbox” on the inbox type option at the top. From here, you can customize the different tiers of your priority inbox. Below, I’ve shown an example of each inbox I have.

Email Organization

The first that appears inbox that appears are all of your most recent, unread emails. This is good to have at the top because you can filter through those emails and organize them by priority. I go ahead and label the emails as I read them so I can easily locate it when I’m viewing my email screen.

The next inbox shows the starred emails. I usually star conversations and emails that are not yet closed and still have items that require action from me or hold important information I would need for the day. Once the conversation is closed, I immediately move the email thread to the appropriate label.

The third inbox holds the emails I’ve marked with the “pending” label. I use this label for the events I am in the process of scheduling so I can keep it separate from other correspondence. Once I close the details from each email, I remove the pending label and move it to the appropriate event label.

The last inbox houses all of the other emails I have read, but aren’t starred or pending. This is normally what I filter through at the end of the day to either star, label as pending, or move to its appropriate label.

Remember, you can customize these labels, so there are many ways you can configure the emails that appear in this view and the flow you’d like your correspondence to go through. I have found this system beneficial to my follow-up and helps reduce the amount of things that fall through the cracks. If you find yourself overwhelmed by your emails on a consistent basis, schedule 30 minutes in your day to sit down and create a basic start to your email organization. Once you get the skeleton completed, you can add and alter things as you go.

Happy Organizing!

Justice. Mercy. Humility.