How Do You Keep Your Inbox So Clean?

By Ana Rosa Ramírez Toft-Nielsen

After writing my first entry, Coffee, and Red Lipstick, a few readers suggested I make it a series about juggling it all, multitasking, and creating a support system. So here it is – Part 2 – “How do you keep your inbox so clean?” Funny, I never gave it much thought, but I have had co-workers ask me this all the time. I never realized it was even a “thing.” My Type A personality just kicked in and figured out a system that works for my work style and how I think. 

Smartphone with screen that says Inbox
Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Here is it – I have an insane “to do” list with set deadlines and LOTS of folders with subfolders. This is my system when an email comes in:

  1. Respond right away if it is a quick response and file it. 
  2. If I don’t have an answer, I let the sender know I am working on it.
  3. I let the email sit for a few hours to hopefully respond that day.
  4. If I am not getting a response, I categorize the email as a “red” (if your email system allows).
  5. I then file that in the various folders I have for projects, by a sender’s name, or office (use what makes sense for your workflow). 
  6. Next, I add it as a “to do” in my task section and give it a completion date. 

This system allows me to mentally take away the clutter. I can’t work with clutter. I need set tasks, deadlines, and answers. If I have too many emails sitting, my anxiety starts to kick in. I need the least amount of noise possible since my job is talking (aka teaching/training), scheduling and organizing. It helps keep some sort of control over the chaos that is my life and schedule.

I mentioned in my last blog that I set deadlines. By setting deadlines, it helps me not let things fall through the cracks. When you are organizing several programs and working on various projects, I must set deadlines. If not, I will 100% forget a detail. My brain is juggling too much noise to not have reminders. These deadlines can just be considered that – reminders. 

For step 4, I do not flag the email and connect it to my to do list. I like to manage the emails with the category function and create my own deadlines in my task section. For me, the flags take more work and I have less control on setting the follow up deadlines. I know the flags have different functions that can be set, but I like to keep it simple – make it the least complicated. Our lives are complicated enough. 

Again, this system works for me. Since I have had a lot of people ask, I thought sharing my system might help someone else control the noise. Our days are busy, demanding, and hectic. Every little skill can relieve just a little more stress! Tell me, which system has worked for you?


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.