Not all floods are the result of water. Consider the one that happens every morning when you open your email’s inbox. Your eyes can go buggy trying to sort through the dozens or even hundreds of messages that pop across your screen: urgent notices from work, promotional newsletters, notes from Aunt Agnes, scams about lottery winnings and on and on. To sort through all this muck, you may need a rake and a shovel. Fortunately, there are easier ways to get organized however.
Dealing with spam
Without a doubt, the worst – or at least the most irritating – messages clogging your inbox are spam: unsolicited emails trying to sell a product or service (often of the “adult” persuasion) or just trying to scam you outright into giving up money or personal information. The best thing to do with spam is to get rid of it before it reaches your inbox. If that is not possible, at least you can dispense with it quickly.
Blocking spam with software
If you’re getting more than your fair share of spam or scam emails (no, you did not really win the British lottery five times), you could surely benefit from installing or updating your spam-blocking software. This is important to do for two reasons. The spam makes for unsightly inbox clutter, as you well know, plus some of these messages contain attachments that could harm your computer.
Most Web-based email providers already provide these filters. If this is the case, you may just need to update your settings. In Outlook, go to “junk email” under the “actions” dropdown. In Yahoo, go to “options” on the far right and then “mail options.”
In Gmail, you cannot change these settings. And if the email program you’re using is a personal or business domain, you may not have the option either. But there are several third party programs that you can install, such as iHateSpam by Sunbelt or Norton AntiSpam.
If you open a message and it turns out to spam, be sure to notify your spam software by clicking the “this is spam” button or something similar. This helps to train the software to block messages similar to this one in the future.
*Simply unsubscribing from spam almost universally doesn’t work. Either the sender will be overjoyed because you have proved that yours is a live email address and will send you more spam or you will be removed from one mailing list and then added to another.
Filtering it out
Look through your spam or bulk folder and see if any of the messages have things in common, such as being from the same sender of having the same subject (i.e. Viagra). You can tell your email to filter the email to send any messages with these characteristics to the trash, or if you’re lucky, to delete them immediately. Follow the directions in step three below for more information on how to set up filters.
*You may occasionally end up with a legitimate email sent to your spam folder. If this happens, add the address to your “safe” list and check the option which notifies the software that the message is not spam.
Organizing legitimate emails
Now that the spam messages are out of the way, it’s time to deal with the stuff that you should actually read. A good way to tackle this pile is to sort it by priority. Think about the email messages you commonly get and divide those messages into categories. For example, work, personal, bills, receipts and miscellaneous.
If you’re using Outlook or Yahoo Mail, before you can begin filtering your messages, you may wish to create folders for them to be sent to. This can be very easily done. In Outlook, go to personal folders on the left hand side of the screen. Click on “create new folder.” In Yahoo Mail, you will see the word “folders” right above the menu item for “inbox” on the left hand side. Then click on “add.” In Gmail, you can’t create folders, but you can apply labels to your email in order to sort them. Just follow the directions below.
Setting Up Rules
Now it is time for your computer to learn where to put your email messages before you even look at them. You can do this by identifying them by the sender, the subject or the word or words the title contains, or you can use a combination of all three. Here’s how to do it by email system.
Yahoo Mail: Click on “options” in the upper right corner of your window. Then click on “filters” to get started.
Outlook: Go to the “tools” dropdown and click on “rules and alerts”. You will be guided through a setup wizard.
Gmail: Click on “settings” in the upper right hand corner and then click on “filters.” A “create new filter” option will show up.
*Be prudent when setting up your filters, especially if using a free email service. Many have limits on the number that you can use.
Tagging Important Messages
Another way you can sort your mail is by alerting yourself to messages you need to read right away. Do this by marking them with a flag or a star. When you are in mailbox view, simply click on the flag or star icon, which will be next to the email’s subject in list view. In Outlook you can also color code your messages by clicking on the square icon instead of the flag.
Searching through your email
Once you’ve set up all of your filters and folders you may be a little confused as to how to find the email message you’re looking for. Don’t worry. Just use the search option. Enter a word that you know to be in that message in the search box and your email program will do the legwork for you.
In Gmail, the search box is located at the top of the screen right next to the Gmail logo. Make sure you click on “search mail” and not “search the Web” or you will get a lot more results than you bargained for. In Yahoo Mail, this box is on the upper right hand side. It is below the “Web search” box. For Outlook you will need to click on the folder you’d like to search and then a search box with a magnifying glass will appear near the top of the page.
If you get confused during any step of the process, simply go to the help section of your email program. Once you figure out the quirks of each system, you’ll wonder what you ever did without your new organization plan.