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Best Practices on Organizing and Staying on Top of Your Email

Welcome, Bloggiesta-ers! I hope you’re clearing the cobwebs, catching up on writing posts, and generally blowing the dust of ye olde blogs. Keeping up a blog is a lot of work, so dedicating some time to keeping things tidy and doing things you wouldn’t normally make time for will benefit you in the long run.

Today I’m going to talk to you about email, specifically how to organize and stay on top of your email.

On average, I receive 20 to upwards of 75 emails a day, most of which require a response. If I’m not constantly responding to or taking care of email, it gets out of control. As I write this post, I have 43 emails in my inbox, and by this weekend, I hope to have that to less than 10. My constant goal is to keep my inbox at under 20 emails, but during the week it often gets to 40 or higher.

I know what I do to keep on top of my email, but I also found some great suggestions after doing a little digging. Here’s a list of things I’ve found useful, as well as suggestions I hadn’t thought of:

  1. Keep your inbox clean. You don’t have to keep it at empty, but you should be archiving any email you’ve already taken care of. How will you know what emails you need to respond to if you have 1,452 emails in your inbox?
  2. Unsubscribe from anything cluttering up your inbox. I know how easy it is to subscribe to this newsletter and that email alert, but unless you really are interested or use whatever coupons you get in your inbox, UNSUBSCRIBE. I receive only a few author newsletters and absolutely no vendor advertising.
  3. If you do want to receive adverts in your inbox, make use of your email’s filter. This way you can still receive notices and things but they’ll get sent directly to a special folder, keeping your inbox clean.
  4. If an email comes in that can be taken care of in less than a minute or two, do it. If you’re going to have your email open at all times, you might as well take care of all those small, pesky emails that can be responded to quickly, but when stacked one on top of each other become a burden.
  5. Decide who is a priority. I have a list in my head of people who, when they email me, get a response immediately. Other people can wait until I’m sitting down and specifically working on email. For example, potential/existing clients are the highest priority I have.
  6. Don’t use your inbox as a place to keep tasks or to-do items. I know from experience those things can get lost if you’re dealing with a high volume of email. Instead, make use of a task list, to-do list, sticky notes, or writing on your hand.
  7. Set aside time each day to clear out your inbox. While I have my email open most of the day, I send out most of my email in the evenings and on weekends.
  8. Turn off Facebook alerts. Those things will clog your inbox faster than you can click to turn off the alerts.
  9. Keep a message unread until you can respond to it. I’ve found this keeps me hyper aware of what’s in my inbox and nothing falls to the bottom of the pile.
  10. Keep a message in your inbox if you’re waiting on a reply. I won’t archive an email until an issue is resolved. This is slightly different than #6 in that this isn’t a to-do list or task list, but rather items that are waiting on someone else’s action.
  11. Don’t respond to email all day. This goes hand in hand with #5. When I’m working at home all day on the weekends, I have my email up the whole time. However, when I’m doing one task and an email comes in, I don’t immediately respond. I wait until I have some time to answer all emails that have come in in the last few hours and answer them at that time. Don’t break your work flow just to answer an email.

With all that said, I highly recommend that you use Gmail over any other email client. Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. Threaded emails. If I used Outlook or Yahoo, I’d have 3-5 times more email because each email would be separate. But with threaded emails, all emails with the same subject stay in the same email, so there’s no going back and hunting for an email with the same subject.
  2. Archiving. I don’t have to put an email in a particular folder, I just archive it. I still have it and I didn’t have to spend time wondering which folder it should go in to. Also, I can search all my email!
  3. The ability to flag particular emails. There’s a bunch of different flag options, from a yellow star to a blue start to a red exclamation point to a green checkmark to a purple question mark. Talk about making it easy to identify important emails!
  4. Spam rarely, if ever, leaks into my inbox.
  5. You can have any old email accounts forward to your new and shiny gmail account. My email account from this blog goes to my main gmail account, as do about 5 other email addresses I own.

Is there anything I didn’t cover? Feel free to tell us your tips/tricks in the comments section! If you have any questions, I’ll answer them in the comments.


67 Responses to “Best Practices on Organizing and Staying on Top of Your Email”

  1. Dee ()

    Hiya, I just signed up for my first bloggiesta, and thought I’d drop in to take a peek at the seasoned bloggers and their ideas!
    This weekend is super busy for me, but I promise to squeeze time in to visit you again and see what you’ve done on bloggiesta weekend! 🙂


  2. Cheryl "Mash" ()

    Trish: Thank you for the tips. I will be implementing a lot of them a little later today.


  3. Word Lily ()

    I agree with (as in, utilize) most of your list. I found this post on gmail Labs everyone should enable really intriguing. Some of them I should turn on, quite a few I’d not even heard of. Only one or two I’m skeptical about them being good for me.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your #10, but that seems to be what keeps my inbox tally higher than I’d prefer. I want to keep it under 25 or 30, but I start getting stressed when it gets over 50. When it’s full of #10s, though, that doesn’t mean I’m not managing my email, it just means there’s a lot going on! 😛


    Word Lily Reply:

    Um, oops, I forgot the link:


    Erin Reply:

    Great article, thank you for sharing!


    Word Lily Reply:

    You bet!


    heidenkind Reply:

    What a great article Word Lily! I have Google Labs but I didn’t know about most of these, and they seem really useful. Thanks for sharing!


    Word Lily Reply:

    Glad it was helpful!


  4. Bloggiesta to do list | Word Lily

    […] Email best practices mini-challenge at Hey […]

  5. Melissa ()

    I THOUGHT I was being good about this, but my word email was up to over 100, and the folders I already made were containing things like IEPS from 2008…some of these students are in the middle school by now!!! So I went in and cleaned things out, down to 5 emails, mostly I deleted, but sorted some more. I use my filters at gmail, so my personal email is usually between 20-40 emails, because I like to save random things, but I plan to go in and make more filters, because mostly it’s me deleting FB notes, which gets old quick. Thanks for the tips, I am going to try to stay on top of this more, I keep forgetting to add students to the AR reading program because the emails get lost in the giant pile of scary mail!!!


  6. nomadreader (Carrie) ()

    I’m a fan of gmail too, and I use it for many email addresses. I also use the multiple inboxes lab. I always have one for Bills, and the other rotate based on what’s important to me right now (i.e. for the last six months it was job ads I emailed myself). I also color-code a lot. Things show in my inbox already labeled and color-coded, which makes me so happy!


  7. Erin ()

    You’re inspiring me to tackle my inbox! I’ve let it fall way behind, and now I know it’ll take me hours to get on top of it again. I use Gmail, but I don’t think I’m using it to its full potential; I’m going to look into some of the tips you’ve listed (like…I had no idea there is anything but a yellow star!). I currently have three email addresses forwarding to one Gmail account, and I do use color coded labels to distinguish between them, which helps a lot. You can also view your different emails in separate panes, which can be helpful as well.


  8. My First Bloggiesta | Erin Reads

    […] Best Practices on Organizing and Staying on Top of Your Email @ Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? […]

  9. Pam ()

    I check my email every two hours at least and take care of anything I need to then file it.


  10. Teresa ()

    I am terrible about my inbox organization. You have some great tips here that I plan on implementing.

    Thank you!


  11. Crystal ()

    Great post – I just tweeted about this and Natasha sent me here – it’s one of the things I really hope to get done this weekend. I’m undecided about switching to gmail, but may try it. I always felt lost using it and seem to have better luck with outlook, but then again my inbox is full and I haven’t organized in awhile so maybe the simple approach is best.

    I’m off to start organizing!


  12. Sheila DeChantal ()

    Once I really became involved in blogging and receiving comment notifications, invites to do reviews, and all the other bookishness that goes with this hobby, I quickly opened up a new email account and direct all my bookish inquiries there.

    That way when I am at work I am not bombarded with the book emails that I want to peek at so desperately – and in the evenings when I do have time to go through my book emails – I can open them up and take care of them.

    I also agree with you on g mail. I can archive the book tours and book review requests I am waiting on the books. About once a month I go through it more detailed and delete everything I have dealt with.


  13. heidenkind ()

    Confession: I have a folder in my gmail called “Don’t Want to Deal With.” Guess how many times I’ve looked in there since I created it. Talk about your passive-aggressive ways to deal with email! 🙂

    I’m horribly guilty of keeping email as a to-do list, and it really does clog up your inbox and doesn’t effectively work as a to-do list, either. I should get on that.


  14. The1stdaughter (Danielle) ()

    Love this challenge! My inbox has been in a bit of disarray since Christmas time. Granted, it doesn’t get over 50 if I can help it, but this was just what I needed to get things organized and back on track! Thanks so much for the info and also for the above comment from WordLily, very very helpful!


    Word Lily Reply:



  15. Alyssa @ Teens REad and Write ()

    I’ve been using gmail but did’t realize it could do some of the things you mentioned. I do love all the folders but I’ve realized now I should go through and clean some stuff out. Thanks for the tips!


  16. Kristen H. ()

    Great tips! I have a bunch of folders I use for Blog Tours, Review Requests and whatnot. I think that saves my inbox most days. That way I can keep track of that stuff without being in my immediate sight. I love Gmail and avoid my yahoo account sometimes because of all the junk I get in there.


  17. Iraklis ()

    How brilliant tips! Congrats for the post and for sharing it with others!
    I think that I have got the solution to the “mailbox” problem by using the labels that Gmail offers. It’s so easy to organize all of the e-mails. When I am trying to find a specific e-mail, all I have to do is to write a key-word to the “search” field right on the top of the page.
    As for junk or spam e-mails, I am using special filters of the Gmail. And that’s all!


  18. Heather Rosdol ()

    I don’t have a problem with emails. I read through them right away. Delete the ones I don’t want to respond to. Read the reviews I want to and reply to them. If its an author or publisher I’ll respond and put it in a folder. A contest whether I won or they won I put it in a contest folder and if I’m waiting for a reply it stays there until I hear from someone.

    Plus I don’t get that many emails and I check it frequently. But as a book blogger, I don’t really get emails. Just updates from sites I follow regularly.



  19. Ellie ()

    I go through my email every morning. The first thing I do is click the “delete all” tab. Then I go down the list and uncheck the mail I need to read/reply to. As I read them, I either reply or delete, and I have folders for the ones I need to file such as “Tour”, “Review”, “Keep”, “Recipes” etc.

    I usually recheck my inbox a few times during the day, depending on what else I’m doing.


  20. Bloggiesta: On Your Mark | Girls Gone Reading

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  21. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books ()

    First of all …. I’m wondering if I’m a priority person. I know I’m high maintenance (or, so I’ve been told!)

    This is a great list of email tips. I am guilty of having stacks of mail in my inbox. I consider it a good day when I’ve READ all the incoming mail, never mind responding to it.

    I opened a gmail account for work in September. The threaded mail is taking me a little getting used to, and I haven’t yet mastered those pretty flags you mention … but I see the power of it living “in the cloud.”


  22. Ashley ()

    Great post! I find that if I don’t immediately respond to my emails, they go unnoticed for a while, which is definitely a problem. *Bumping up email organization on the to-do list!


  23. Thinking Cat ()

    Awesome tips! I already use a lot of them from work, but you had some new ones too! I loooooove Gmail, I would never use anything else, and having a smart phone really helps too!


  24. Callista ()

    Great tips thanks. My email is always out of control but I’ve got it a lot better. I was getting facebook notifications because I would forget to check it but now I check it regularly and often before I got the notification. So i got rid of those and went through the thousands of emails that just never got deleted when I no longer needed them. I pruned my subcategories and even imported my email to gmail so I can try it out. I don’t think I’ll continue to use it regularly though but I’ll try it out for a while.


  25. Michelle ()

    I get more e-mail at work than at home, but I use a lot of the same techniques for my work e-mail. If something is unresolved, I definitely keep it in my in-box. If I can’t give my full attention to an e-mail, and its response, I will keep it as unread until I can do so. This lets me know immediately which ones still need my attention. I make liberal use of the archives and folders for those items I want to keep but have already been resolved. This is especially useful for long-term projects. My goal is to keep my in-box as empty as possible. A de-cluttered in-box makes for greater sanity!

    Great tips, Trish!


  26. MotherReader ()

    I love Gmail for the threaded emails. That is the only thing that’s keeping me sane dealing with my email there. All of my blog email goes there, but most of my other life email is in Yahoo.

    I get in trouble with email because I don’t know what I want to do with it. Do I want this author’s book? Do I want to participate in this blog event? Should I keep this promotional email for when I do read the book?

    Of course, if I ignore it long enough then it really doesn’t matter anymore, does it? So maybe I’ll clean out those things that are too late to deal with now anyway.


  27. kai charles ()

    Thanks I really need to get on top of my email, I finally made a seerate one for my blog.


  28. Lexie C. ()

    Threading and Archiving are the two reasons I love Gmail above any others. I try to keep my inbox to 30 messages and all messages have to be under a month old. If I have a message from a month ago and I still haven’t looked at it/taken care of it I obviously don’t need it that badly right?

    For Author Emails, since I do enjoy getting those, but yeah getting some that are daily and some that are weekly as often as all that? No thank you. I filter them straight into the Author Folder so that when I have a spare hour or so I can jsut read them and catch up on my leisure (and honestly I only read them for the excerpts since not all authors post those to their blogs/websites.)

    Thanks so much!



  29. Charlotte

    Thanks for the tips! I love the archive feature of gmail! Another thing I like is that one can make seperate lists of contacts–I have a seperate list of publisher contacts that is very helpful.


  30. Yvann ()

    Thanks for this list and for hosting this mini-challenge! I already do most of what you suggest, although I have to admit that I use Outlook because I’ve got a good system of folders and categories going in my work email and it was easy to sort the same out for my home email. So what I do in my inbox is to have unsorted, red – urgent, orange – potentially useful offers/discounts, blue – waiting for a reply, and further colours are for other categories of email that I can’t archive yet (I had a purple section for my wedding last year).

    I’m not getting much book blog related email yet, but I’ll keep your tips in mind when it starts to pile up!


  31. Laura Fabiani ()

    This is a great post! I think I have my email organized quite well but I still benefited from your tips, and I wasn’t aware I could transfer all my email accounts to gmail. Having folders for the different emails I get that automatically get sent there helps me to prioritize and not clutter my inbox. Thanks for these tips.


  32. Amused ()

    I agree with you on the threaded emails for gmail – they are so handy! I love having a gmail account for my blog!


  33. Esme

    These are all awesome ideas-especially not opening up an email until you can respond. I like the idea of threaded emails but I have three email accounts all for different purposes and I am not sure if I want another account.


  34. Helen ()

    I am all about “touch it once” in my life, whether it’s snail mail, email or whatever. It really helps! I am pleased to see that I do pretty much all your tips and I feel like my email is under control. I am really working on that unsubscribe button to clear out the inbox


  35. Suzanne (Chick with Books) ()

    Thanks Trish! Great tips on keeping those emails in control. And I just found out about the archive feature of gmail, and thought that was pretty cool.

    This weekend I’ve learned so much about Google! And gmail is just one more thing I never really took advantage of. Thanks for pointing out the advantages. I’ll be working on my email “stuff” this weekend and trying to get better organized thanks to you!


  36. Julie @ Knitting and Sundries ()

    I absolutely love Gmail; being able to label and star and create folders and filters is absolutely so easy. I don’t use my blog email box for anything other than blog correspondence … period. No subscriptions there or anything (well, other than Library Thing, Shelfari, and Goodreads notices because they’re tied to the book reviews on the blog). I have a totally separate email account that I use for newsletter subscriptions and any RSS subscriptions I do through Google Reader to keep my email box clean.


  37. Debbie's World of Books ()

    Patting myself on the back right now. I got my inbox down from 277 unread emails to 3!! woo hoo! Hopefully now I can keep on top of them. I got so behind when my baby was born.


  38. elizabeth ()

    These are some awesome tips! I am going to use them right now and go through my inbox 🙂 Thanks!


  39. Daisy Chain ()

    This is a really nice Challenge. I juse google mail mostly for my blog atm but unfortunately don’t really get a lot emails except some alerts (yet). But I checked out the labels (which I really like) and the archiving and cleared out my inbox so I am ready for the first “real” emails :). I am also thinking about forwarding my private e-mail adress to a google mail adress (using yahoo for that atm) but not sure yet if I should.

    Some stuff I do myself: I used an email adress I never use for my Facebook account so I won’t be botheres with all these facebook messages.

    One other thing I thought of was about no. 10. You also could label it with “waiting for” or something like that or if you use something else than googlemail you can put it in a folder named “waiting for” and check that once in a while.

    But other than that I really liked all your tips and will defo use some of them in the future.


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  41. Sas (Tea Mouse) ()

    They are some great ideas! I never archive, so maybe I’ll try that out to keep my inbox a bit cleaner. I also want to try and reply to emails when I read them, otherwise they get forgotten about!

    I’m also going to stop leaving notes in my inbox (as you suggested) since you’re right, they do get lost!


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  44. Better is Possible

    Great information. I’m a bit of an email addict, not to mention organization junkie, so I really enjoyed reading your tips. I don’t have a gmail account, but may consider it.


  45. Tif ()

    I agree that gmail is the best email account you can have with all its possibilities! One thing that I would add if using gmail is that you can use labels as folders, can archive in multiple labels/folders, and can color coordinate labels if you need to!

    For example, I have a some folders that require action on my part (i.e., Print, Blog Post Ideas, Newsletter submissions for a newsletter that I write). They are not usually high priority, but things that I can refer back to in time of need. I label them with a special color (i.e., red, green, orange, purple) and check them periodically for reference or when I have a spare moment.

    Email can be the bane of my existence, but once I got it organized, it is one of my biggest assets!


  46. Heather ()

    This is something I try to do on a monthly/bi-monthly basis. It helps so much. And, since I’m new to all of this, I don’t have anyone to respond to, as of now.

    Thanks so much!


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  48. Jessica Lawlor ()

    Oh yes! I absolutely love Gmail. It keeps me sane!

    I use many of the same methods as you, but my major email tip is that my inbox is for emails that I still need to respond to/am waiting on a response for.

    I LOVE the archive feature in Gmail, so my inbox is usually full of only things that need my attention, either immediately or in the long run. I’m usually motivated to clear out my inbox and tackle those emails because I want to keep the number below 20 at all times. Otherwise, I start feeling a bit overwhelmed.


  49. Cindy(Cindy's Love Of Books) ()

    Trish this is great. I spent alot of time doing this and I already can see the difference in my emails and your tips were helpful. This is one of the steps in book reviewing that I can find overwhelming but I think I can keep this up Thanks


  50. Kathy Bloomfield ()

    Thanks for this incredible information. I do not think I will ever use Outlook again. I will be spending the entire next week getting very close with my gmail account. I never knew i was so versatile. What an amazing weekend.


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  52. Adrienne ()

    Thanks for the great post, I too get many emails a day, upward of 150. I dedicate times every day to answer or clean out my inbox. 7am, Noon, 3 before the kids get home and 8pm when they go to bed.

    If it’s an email that requires alot of time I mark it as unread so I can see I still have to deal with that particular one. I do use my folders for storage, I have a smart box where all my coupon/flyer emails are put and I can sift through them at leisure, not taking time away from important emails.
    I can already see me using some of your tips too, the more the better to tackle the email build-up!


  53. Amber Stults ()

    Thanks, Trish!

    After using Gmail for several years I’ve now learned I can give my folders different colors.

    Can I do different flags on emails? I’ve only figured out how to star them.


    trish Reply:

    Yup! Just go into Labs and enable “Superstars”. You get 10 or so didfferent stars, in addition to the yellow one.


  54. Trish ()

    Great tips, Trish. I’m terrible with email. I have 230 emails in my gmail account (part of it is because I’m ditching Google Reader partially and responding more via comments, so I keep comments until I have time to comment…which is never). My work email is just as unruly, mostly because I do keep my “to-do” list in email format. Once the project is complete, all emails get archived. I had a great week this week–ended on Friday with 200 less emails than I did on Monday (it’s not uncommon for me to get 50-100 emails a day at work so this is a huge feat). Now, if I can just conquer the other 550 emails before April, right? 😉


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  57. jenn aka the picky girl ()

    Trish – these are fantastic tips. I do a lot of them and recently made an Accepted Book Reviews folder, which has saved my life. I didn’t used to get many ARCs, but I’m getting some steadily these days, so it helps me keep track of all the details, especially when it comes to book tours.

    There were definitely some new tricks here, so now I need to head on over to my gmail account and take a look. Thanks!


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