05/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Five Easy Steps To E-Mail Organization

Welcome to the second post in the "Simplify Your Online Life" series. For those of you who jumped on the bandwagon last week, congratulations. If you missed the first post on Decluttering Your Computer, feel free to check it out and participate.

This week, we move onto a topic near and dear to everyone's heart: e-mail organization. To establish an e-mail filing system that allows you to process and access past e-mails quickly and easily, use one or more of the following methods to archive and prioritize messages:

#1. File by client name. If your work is account based, with lots of different clients, it makes sense to set up a folder for each customer; for example: Client A, B, C and D. However, if you have several hundred clients to keep tabs on, create general folders that divide the clients into broader categories; for example: Engineering clients, retail clients, banking clients, healthcare clients etc.

#2. File by product or service. If your work has more to do with products and services than clients, make general folders for all the main product and service categories that you deal with. For example, the products folders might be labeled: Flab fighter, joyful gerbil, kitty crave, turtle polish and catnip sauce. Examples of service folders might be: Consulting, speaking, training, writing etc. Within these folders, place all related topics en masse, or with subfolders for each product or service category.

#3. File by project. Some people prefer a project-based filing system, in which folders are created for each of the major projects you are working on. For example: New web site, quarterly sales, annual picnic, family reunion etc.

Within each folder, subfolders can be created to store messages that relate to one area of the project; for example, under the project "new web site," you might have the following subfolders: Design, ideas, notes, input, management and webmaster.

#4. Take advantage of automated filing. Microsoft Outlook, Entourage and Apple Mail have features for automatically assigning e-mails -- from specific senders or about certain subjects -- to pre-assigned folders. E-mails then show up in your main inbox list, but are also filed under their specified topic.

#5.Finally, when new e-mails come in, don't let them linger in your mailbox, hoping they will read themselves. For every incoming message you have, take at least one of the following four actions:

•Reply immediately whenever possible
•Delete the message
•Forward when appropriate
•File the message in the appropriate folder

Warning! Don't fall into the trap of using "ignore" as an option for dealing with incoming messages. Anything you are trying to ignore becomes a loose end and a big energy drain.

If you're on a roll with this "Simplify Your Online Life" series of posts, don't stop now. Set aside 15 minutes each day this coming week (first thing in the morning works well) to work on organizing your e-mail. Please leave me a comment at the bottom of this article to let me know how it's going.


Karen Leland is author of the recently released books Email In An Instant: 60 Ways To Get Your Message Across With Style and Impact, Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper In the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change and Time Management In An Instant:60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. She is the co-creator of a new line of Productivity Pads from Time Tamer™ and the co-founder of Sterling Consulting Group. For questions, comments or to book Karen to speak at your next event, please e-mail