Detox your Inbox: 10 Tips for Getting Control of E-Mail

How many e-mails are currently in your inbox? You're embarrassed to say, right? E-mail is overwhelming us all and in order to get some control over this wild beast, you need to get tough and put some good systems in place.

Viewing, processing, filing and deleting e-mail is one of the top sources of time consumption in your office.

Let's say you send and receive 75 messages a day. That comes to almost 20,000 messages per year, not including weekends. But let's pretend you don't get any e-mails on the weekends.

Say it takes an average of two minutes to process each e-mail. That totals 666 hours or 83 workdays. Yikes! If you could streamline your e-mail processing systems by 20 percent, it would save you 17 workdays. That's more than three weeks you could spend on other things, like organizing all of your paperwork or cleaning out your paper files!

Here are some ways to detox that inbox:

1. Be subject-line savvy. Make sure your subject line lets the recipient know specifically what your e-mail is about. This will also help them when they are searching and sorting e-mail.

2. Don't reply all. Don't you hate it when you receive an e-mail that doesn't pertain to you, but the sender aimlessly replied all? Start by changing your ways, hopefully others will follow.

3. Set filters. Set mail rules to create filters for manage incoming mail. For example, if you receive weekly reference material, create a folder and have the mail sent directly to the folder rather than to your inbox.

4. Don't just delete junk mail, bounce it. If you're getting too much spam, start bouncing your mail so the sender will removes from their list.

5. Make use of file folders. Use the folders on the side to keep reference material. It's easier to find mail quickly when it's filed and organized rather than piled into your inbox -- just like paper.

6. Start your body with a clear point. Begin the body of the e-mail with your main message. If there is an important issue or question that requires a response, highlight or use another color so the recipient will notice it.

7. Turn off the incoming mail sound. Do you really want to be interrupted every time spam enters your inbox? Turn off the sound and set times throughout the day for checking mail.

8. Schedule time to process e-mail. Knowing that it takes so much time to manage e-mail, create time on your calendar to do so rather than only addressing it when you're on the go or transitioning between tasks. If you set an inbox max, set a daily time to get down to that number and do it consistently.

9. Don't engage in "emo" mail. If you receive an e-mail rant, don't rant back. If it's something that must be handled, change the task to a phone conversation.

10. Don't ask open-ended questions. Create suggestions. Don't ask if someone wants to meet you for lunch sometime. Suggest some times you have available. This will cut down on the back and forth e-mail, or use a site like if you're dealing with a group.

Keeping your inbox organized will help you feel in control of e-mail. Practicing e-mail etiquette by not always hitting "reply all" and sending clear concise messages can help change the e-mail world, one message at a time, it can start with you so be the change!

Monica Friel is president and founder of Chaos To Order -- the Chicago area's premiere organizing company since 1990. Friel manages and trains a staff of professional organizers who specialize in everything from household clutter to corporate chaos.

Contact Us