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The best way to organize your emails: Just archive them



Email inbox on a laptop
a photo / Shutterstock.com

We recommend that you use OHIO (Only Handle It Once) to test your emails. An important part of OHIO is archiving emails you need to keep ̵

1; take them out of your inbox! Here’s why archiving is crucial – and why you should not worry about folders.

Why you need to archive your emails

A quick summary from our OHIO article: your inbox is not an archive, a trash can, a filing cabinet or a dumping ground. It’s an inbox!

When you have hundreds or thousands of emails in your inbox, they are quickly buried. Without sight is out of mind. It’s much harder to find specific emails, it slows down your email client (even if you access your email through a browser like Gmail), and it can use your storage if you use Outlook or Apple Mail on your phone.

Conclusion: There is no point in keeping all your emails in your inbox and many good reasons not to do so.

With this in mind, you need to manage an email (reply to / forward it, make it a task, set up a meeting) and then either delete the email or archive it. Here’s how to do it.

RELATED: Forget Inbox Zero: Use OHIO to disconnect your emails instead

Where to archive your emails

Your emails should go to an archive folder. They should not go into one of several hundred carefully organized folders; they should go into an archive folder.

A single archive folder

It’s a pretty bold statement, so little motivation is needed.

First, it takes time to configure and maintain a hierarchy of folders, which would be better for managing your emails. Secondly, it can take a lot of effort to decide where an email should go – is an email from your colleague about why they might miss a project deadline in the folder for that project? The folder for that person? A learning catalog? – and decision-making is both time-consuming and draining. Finally, it can be insanely difficult to find emails at a later time when they may be in one of several folders, and each folder has hundreds of emails.

A single archive makes it easy to move your emails from your inbox because you do not have to use any thinking or decision-making resources. You just handle the record and move it to your archive. It couldn’t be easier, and when you’re trying to keep track of an endless flow of emails, you want your process to be as simple and straightforward as possible. Every difficulty or annoyance is magnified on a scale, so something that is a little annoying or time consuming for an email will be a huge annoyance and time consuming for hundreds of emails.

For some people, this will be a welcome relief from the torture of a folder structure, but some others will need to breathe in a paper bag with the thought of losing their carefully crafted, intricate, logical, comfortable folder structure. If it is you, it will unfortunately be difficult to swallow. We recognize your pain, although we are confident that the long-term benefits of a single archive more than compensate for the short-term pain of changing your system.

How to archive your emails in bulk

It probably seems clear that to archive your emails, you just need to move them to your archive folder, and you’re right. However, if you have hundreds or thousands of emails in your inbox, it will seem quite daunting to move them individually. Ideally, you need to find a way to move them in bulk.

If you use a client such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail, it is easy to choose email. Click on an email in your inbox, scroll down, press the SHIFT key on your keyboard, and select another email. All emails between the first and the second will be selected. You can drag and drop them into your archive folder or use the Archive button. Like the floppy disk icon used to represent Save, there is a standard archive icon that looks like a traditional cardboard archive. This is found in both Outlook and Apple Mail (both the client applications and the mobile apps) for the Archive button.

Archive button in Outlook Tape File button in Apple Mail

If you use the Outlook client, you can also create a quick step action that marks all selected emails as read and moves them to the archive folder with the click of a button (or keyboard shortcut).

If you have decided to start over, you can always select all emails in your inbox using the Ctrl + A keyboard shortcut (Command + A on a Mac) and archive them. We can not tell you if it is the right thing to do, but you will probably get an empty inbox very quickly.

In a web interface like Gmail, you can select one page at a time by clicking the checkbox at the top of the page.

Gmail selection check box

After selecting the emails, click File to move them.

Gmail archive button

There is no keyboard shortcut for selecting all emails in your Gmail inbox (although * + a marks all emails on the page) but once you have selected all emails on the page, a message bar will appear above the emails giving you ability to select all emails in your inbox.

The link to select all emails in your Gmail inbox

Click this link to select all emails in your inbox. The message field changes so that you can cancel the selection.

The link to clear the selection of all emails in your Gmail inbox

How many emails should you archive?

The number of emails you want to archive at once is really up to you. As we have said before, it is at best temporary and at worst almost impossible to have an empty inbox. You have no control over what comes into your inbox, because anyone with your address can send something to you. So even if you manage to empty your inbox, it will not remain empty. That said, it’s not a bad goal to aim for because having an empty inbox, even for a short time, definitely takes some pressure off your shoulders. But it will not remain empty, which is why managing your email is a process, not a goal. And of course, you do not need to archive an email if you do not need to keep it, you can delete it – it’s a great way to save space.

So instead of focusing all your efforts on archiving (or deleting) every single email in your inbox, focus on achievable goals that will reduce your email stress. Only you know what will reduce your email stress, but example goals are:

  • No high priority emails left at the end of the day
  • No record more than two business days old in your inbox
  • No email from your staff / manager / customers (delete if necessary) at the end of the week

Find out which email is giving you the most stress. Manage and archive (or delete) these emails as a priority.

RELATED: What is Inbox Zero, and how can you achieve it?




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