September 22, 2023

Tech Tips: Simple steps to organize your email

Is your inbox a disaster? It’s easy to get bogged down in a multitude of emails, but you can use a combination of rules, folders and other strategies to keep it under control.

You may have heard of the Inbox Zero method. If you like the idea of never having email in your inbox, feel free to use it, but you don’t necessarily have to. The idea here is to keep your inbox manageable in whatever way works best for you.

Let’s have your email app do some of the heavy lifting. Most email systems, including Gmail, Outlook and Apple Mail, offer the ability to filter your messages using rules.

If you’re starting off with a packed inbox, this can help you narrow things down. Before you start filtering, it’s worth deleting messages you’re sure you won’t need. Fewer messages to filter means less to sort through later.

Next, you’ll want somewhere for those filtered messages to go. This is where additional mailboxes, also called folders, come in. Some people like lots of folders, while others prefer only a few.

Your email app probably already has some set up for you. Start by brainstorming a few mailbox ideas. Perhaps you’d like one for this year’s receipts (“Receipts 2020”), one for bank statements (“Bank statements 2020”), and one for messages from your sweet grandma (“Grandma mail”).

Next, set up rules according to the instructions found on your email system’s help site. There are many options for filtering, such as the address from which the email is sent, the subject or the date.

You also can set up multiple rules. For example, what if you want bank statements to go to “Bank statements 2020” but other bank-related email to go to “Bank messages 2020”? You could filter by sender, date and subject. Once you set up your rules, you can apply them to sort your messages automatically.

Folders also are a great place to archive old mail. Do you really need receipts from 2019 clogging up your inbox? Perhaps not, but you might like to keep them for your records. You can create a folder called “Receipts 2019” and store those messages there. Unless you receive lots of large attachments, you probably don’t have to worry too much about the amount of space you’re using on your email server.

You even can filter your own sent messages. Create folders called “Sent 2019,” “Sent 2018” and so on.

Then you can either create rules to move your sent messages or simply sort your sent mailbox by date, then drag and drop into the appropriate folder.

Some email systems such as Gmail offer labels you can use to tag your messages. Labels typically are only viewable by you, not by your recipients. Many apps also have artificial intelligence features that help them learn your email preferences over time.

How can you stay on top of your inbox in the future? Try the one-minute rule. If you can answer the email in less than a minute, do so, then archive it. With a little practice, you’ll soon have your email under control.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business-writing services. For computer help, visit her Tech Tips blog at