Emails are by far the biggest time-sucker for me when it comes to being a blogger/handmade business owner. Personal emails, guest post details, review/giveaway details, marketing, customer inquires, collaborations, etc – they all lead to hours upon hours being spent in my inbox, whether it’s while I’m working or even on the go.
I tried different apps to help save time, including attempting to wait for the what seems to be over-hyped Mailbox app but I’m still waiting for over 500,000+ people to get it before I do. Not to mention, it supposedly doesn’t include your current folders/tags which is a huge red flag for me. I’ve tried timed methods and opening my inbox at certain points of the day. If it was related to time management and emails, I’ve done it. And none of it worked on it’s own.
So I set out to make my own method. One that doesn’t have to change if I’m working on the iMac, laptop, iPhone or iPad. One that doesn’t take any knowledge to learn if you already know your email system. It’s easy to use, free to create, and takes less than 15 minutes to setup (possibly more if you’re as obsessed about having pretty colors like I was.)
There are eighteen labels above, all of which I consider to be “important.” All eighteen of them help me stay organized, prevent me from missing deadlines, ensure that I respond to people in a timely fashion, know how busy I’ll be the next day and/or week, and sort my tasks/emails by their importance. I have many more labels in my inbox, but they are more so meant for archiving things I’m done with. Basically any email that gets sorted into one of these folders has something I need to do for it. If not, it’s deleted or archived in a different label.
These labels were set up with a couple of different things in mind –
- Using a symbol (ie: the ►) bumps it up to the top of all of your labels so you don’t have to scroll through your labels to find them.
- Using the numbers keeps the days in order and pushes the labels that are farther away (ie: Next Week, Next Month, Someday) to the bottom of the list.
- Using the headers (Response Needed and To Do) separated the types of emails I get: ones that need a response and ones that need action outside of an email response.
- Using all days of the week allows me to plan for every day that I usually work and then combining the weekend as I try to work less then. I tried using a system of “Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, Next Month, and Someday” and found myself less organized and more frustrated with how much I had to do.
Instructions below for setting up labels are for Gmail only. Gmail is all that I use so unfortunately if you use something like Yahoo, these instructions will not work. However, if you do have a label/folder function in your email, you can still set up your labels and use the ideas presented in the next section.
If you don’t know how to set the labels up, it’s incredibly simple:
- Click on the gear box on the far right side of your Gmail inbox
- Select Settings.
- Select Labels.
- Scroll down until you see a button that says “Create New Label” and click it.
- Type in your label name. If it’s a header, leave the “Nest Label Under” blank. If it’s a sub-label under a header, check the “Nest Label Under” box and select the header to which the sub-label belongs to.
- Repeat until you have all of your labels setup.
If you’d like to add colors to your labels (which is a HUGE part of what helps me stay organized), follow the directions below:
- Hover over the label you want to add a color to on the far left side
- A small arrow (like this: ▼) should appear. Click that.
- Select the color you would like for the label or add a custom color.
- Repeat until you have added a color to all of the labels.
Setting up the labels was the hardest part. Once they’re created and as long as you use them, the rest is easy! Once an email comes in or whenever you check your email, every email has one of four destinations if it’s not going to be taken care of immediately:
- Trash: Spam, unimportant email, or simply email that doesn’t require you to do anything.
- Archived: Email that you want to keep, but don’t have to do anything with. (This is one of those many other labels I mentioned above.)
- To Do: Email that has an action that needs to be done because of it. Maybe you need to write a guest post, or create something for a customer, or take photographs. Apply the “To Do” label to it along with the label for the day you plan to do it. (See below for why I apply two labels to To Do and Response Needed items)
- Response Needed: Email that needs your response AND the response is going to take longer than the time you have available at the moment. Apply the “Response Needed” label to it along with the label for the day you plan to do it. (See below for why I apply two labels to To Do and Response Needed items)
Why I apply two labels: This is for a couple of reasons, mostly dealing with the header labels.
- I can get a quick overview of everything I need to respond to/do.
- At a quick glance, I can see what days will be busier than others.
- I don’t miss deadlines if I’m continually looking at what I need to be doing.
Then whenever you’re working on your to-do list, working ahead, or need to see what you have going on today, tomorrow, or even the next day – it’s already sorted and ready to be done.
That’s it! As long as you stay on top of your email and don’t spend too much time hitting the refresh button, this can easily cut your time spent in your inbox in half. It has for me and it’s allowed me to spend more time doing things for the Gnarly Whale or even squeeze in a bit more me time.
Do you have any email productivity tips?