How do you go about organising your digital life?
I went paperless 5 years ago, and have learned a lot about how to stay organised online. Emails, photos and files accumulate quickly, and if you don’t have a system for how you organise and store them, it can be difficult to keep track – much less trying to find something again at a later date! As a self-employed entrepreneur who does all my business online, I have found some quick and easy ways that help me organise my digital life, which might also be of help to you. So I thought I would create a small series of blog posts called Organising Your Digital Life. Here is the first one, which shows you how you can get on top of your emails in 5 easy steps. I hope you will find it helpful!
How to stay on top of your emails in 5 easy steps
It is difficult to stay on top of emails when they keep pouring in! Some are work-related, some are personal, some are reminders, some are so full of info that you have to refer to them often – and some are vaguely amusing photos of cats sent to you by your great aunt Ada in Adelaide, Australia.*
First of all, let’s assume you use Gmail or another email service that allows you to label and flag your emails. I’d be totally adrift in my digital life if I couldn’t organise my emails using Gmail’s labels and stars!
Step 1: Establish some boundaries.
The first step in organising your digital life is to establish some boundaries. You need separate email addresses for your work and your private life, and never the twain shall meet! Life is stressful enough, so let work be work and keep your private life private. If a friend sends a private email to your work address, forward it to your private one and reply from there. Ask them politely to use the email address you are replying from in future. They will understand.
Step 2: Create categories using labels.
For your private email, you may want labels such as appointment, financial, travel, birthday etc. Choose a different colour for each label, and apply it as soon as you have read the email. That way, you will instantly see what’s what as soon as you open your inbox. You should also create a label called LOVE. LOVE is for emails that make you feel (you guessed it) loved. Use this label for compliments and heartwarming emails, and you’ll know how to cheer yourself up in an instant the next time you’re feeling down.
For your work email, the labels will look a little different, and they will vary depending on what you do for a living. I have categories such as quoted, confirmed, awaiting info, delivered, receipts, paid, not acknowledged yet, to be invoiced, accountant, taxes, solicitor, etc. I also have a super simple yet highly effective system for dealing with deadlines – labels ranging from Monday to Friday, and from 7 am to 4 pm (no one ever seems to set a deadline at 5 pm). EOB (by the end of business hours) is also a handy one, as is ‘next week’ – so I don’t get confused about which week the job is due! (I never seem to get jobs with longer deadlines than that…)
Organising Your Digital Life Top Tip:
If you work to deadlines, use the labels to set the deadline an hourly early. That way, if things go awry, you have an hour to sort it out, and you might not have to bother your client at all. If you have to involve the client, they will be grateful that you didn’t do it at the last minute. And if things go to plan, you will have delivered an hour early, and your client will notice and appreciate it. It’s a win-win!
Here’s another great tip: Add a label called PRAISE, where you archive all emails in which people sing your praises – it can be handy to refer to if you need references at a later date, and it will never fail to lift your spirit if you’re having a tough day at work.
Oh, and don’t forget the label ‘to be printed’, which obviously refers to the ‘print as PDF’ option – one is paperless, after all!
Organising Your Digital Life Top Tip:
Create a category called ‘reference’ for emails you will have to refer back to often. This is particularly helpful if you use the Mail app on your iPhone or iPad when you’re out and about! Remember to go through emails labelled reference about once a month, and archive the ones you no longer need. You want as few emails as possible in this category – that way you can find the information you need in seconds.
By now, your inboxes should look a lot more manageable and you’ve taken great strides towards organising your digital life!
Step 3: Create a flagging system.
Gmail doesn’t just flag emails, it features a variety of options. There are stars in 6 different colours, 2 exclamation marks and an arrow. There are also a ticked checkbox, an information symbol and a question mark.
For work, I use the orange star as a basic flag (my business logo is orange), and the red exclamation mark to denote that I need to take action with regards to an email, for instance if it is a bill I need to pay.
For my personal email, I use a yellow star as a basic flag. I flag any orders I am waiting for with a purple star. The green star represents financial matters (even though money isn’t green in the UK!). As at work, I use the red exclamation mark for emails that I must do something about. Sometimes when I order something for my business, the order confirmation winds up in my private inbox. (This tends to happen if I pay with PayPal). In that case, I use the orange star to make it clear that the order is work-related. Once the package arrives, I forward the receipt to my work account so I can deduct it on my taxes.
Step 4: Keep your inbox tidy.
Nearly there! Your inbox is looking a lot tidier, now all you have to do is keep it that way. Deal with emails as they come in, and delete or label + archive them right away if possible. Depending on how well you use the labels, you could archive everything and live with inbox zero. However, I prefer to keep emails that I must deal with in my inbox until I have done so.
Personally, I don’t use Gmail’s Social and Promotions tabs. This means I get an instant overview of my current situation as soon as I log in to my inboxes. In my private inbox I can immediately see orders I am waiting for, events to attend, bills to pay, etc. In my work inbox I can see deadlines to meet, clients to invoice and people to respond to. Once I have done that, I update any labels and/or flags on the emails and archive them.
Step 5: Unsubscribe from all irrelevant email.
Do you really need all the daily, weekly and monthly newsletters you have signed up for? Do you find yourself just deleting them as soon as they come in? Then unsubscribe from them. If you didn’t even sign up for them, Gmail has a very handy option called ‘unsubscribe and mark as spam’.
Perhaps you bought a product and agreed to receive product updates, but are getting annoying newsletters as well? However, you don’t want to unsubscribe because you want to keep current with new information about your product. Well, these days, many companies will let you edit your subscription if you just dare to click on ‘unsubscribe’. You should be able to limit the emails you receive to just those that are relevant to you.
Preventing unwanted email from reaching your inbox in the first place is the best way to prevent email overwhelm. Organising your digital life is much easier if you don’t have to contend with irrelevant emails on a daily basis! (For more tips like this, check out my article on Digital Detox.)
I hope these 5 steps and my top tips will be of benefit to you. Please let me know in the comments if this post has helped you stay on top of your emails!
Love, Neens xx
PS: Don’t forget to hit subscribe at the top of the sidebar! You don’t want to miss the next instalment of Organising Your Digital Life!
*Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. 😉