How Do You Organize Your Email, Aliza Sherman?

Organize email? I must confess I use the term “organize” loosely. As I examine my own system for sorting and filing emails in Gmail, I cringe.

For many years, I used Eudora as my email client. I loved it. I could back my emails up easily, and I could create folders, and folders within those folders, and could further nest folders as deep as I wanted them. So for example, I could have a “Clients” folder and, within that, have a folder for each client, then within each client folder, have one for each project I was working on, and then also have an “Archival” folder to dump past project folders. I felt so organized.

gmailinboxmay2009I recently saw a presentation at Ignite Anchorage by photographer Oscar Avellaneda about email organization using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu principles. That presentation rocked my world while I watched it, but putting his incredible tips into actual practice feels like climbing Mount Everest to me. It ain’t gonna happen in this lifetime, no matter how much I dream about it.

Since adopting Gmail several years ago, I’ve found that its drawbacks are almost equal to its benefits but am now too entrenched in the habit of using it to change (see my post about trying to adopt Postbox, a nifty email client that I probably really should be using). For me, the biggest drawback with Gmail is the label/folder system. I know there is some funky way of nesting folders, but I just can’t seem to be able to figure it out.

So I now have all the labels sitting on one level, instead of being nested, which makes for a terrifyingly long list of folders in which to file my emails. I put asterisks in front of the folders that I want to rise to the top of my label list for easier access. I also move archival folders — about a dozen of them — to the bottom of the list by putting a “Z” in front of them.

Another big struggle for me is importing emails from some of my other accounts into my main account. If I import them using POP3, they automatically get put into one of the folders instead of my inbox, and I sometimes end up missing them.

My scariest folder is labeled “Read This!” That’s where I have my favorite email newsletters and RSS feed subscriptions go. Right now there are 2,097 unread emails in there. I shudder to think of it and do occasionally delete a few pages of the oldest ones in a fit of panic over the huge amounts of information I’m just unable to consume.

For clients, I struggle with adding more individual client folders because of the unwieldy length of my folder list, so many client emails are relegated to “Client Misc,” for no other reason than I’m trying not to create any more new labels right now.

I’m open to any ideas, suggestions, and mind melds to shake myself free of these bad email organizational habits. And I have to confess, I’m so glad this isn’t a series called “What’s In Your Inbox?” With 9,743 unread emails in my Inbox, I’m paralyzed with fear. 9,744. 9,745…

How do you organize your email?

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