Email Management : Management
How should I organize the email that I need
People use email in many different ways and for many different
purposes, including as a communication tool, as a to-do list, and
as a storage mechanism for keeping their messages. There are three
main approaches to organizing your email messages that may help
you use your email for these multiple purposes:
1) No filing strategy:
This strategy consists of creating no folders within your email
software and keeping all emails in your inbox. People who choose
this strategy often periodically remove emails from their inbox
and save them offline in chronological folders in order to reduce
the amount of server space they are using.
The advantage of such a system is that it requires little effort.
The owner of the email is able to locate things because they may
personally know when specific emails were received or can use a
search engine to retrieve specific emails. Using the threaded messages
feature, if your software has this, can allow you to see all messages
relating to a particular topic.
The disadvantage is that over time, it may be more difficult to
recall when you received certain messages, and thus difficult to
retrieve them without subject related folders. It may also be difficult
for your successor, your colleagues, or an archivist to make sense
of your emails in the future. You may end up keeping more emails
than you need to because you are not reviewing the emails and assigning
them to topical folders.
2) Filing system:
The traditional way to organize records is to establish a simple
scheme based on topical areas in order to bring together all
documents on a particular topic. For some people, (such as those
who deal with large amounts of similar documents) establishing a
filing scheme is a successful way to manage your electronic records
as well as your paper documents. This filing structure can incorporate
your office's records
retention and disposition schedule, if your office has one.
One advantage of a filing system is that it provides a complete
view of all the emails on a particular topic, regardless of subject
line or sender. A topical folder provides a context for a set of
messages that you would not necessarily see if they were all in
your inbox mixed with emails of various topics. A filing system
can allow quick retrieval of emails if you know what folder you
put something in. It allows those who may access your email later
on (a successor, colleague or archivist) to find emails and follow
threads on subjects easily. Although you may not file every single
email message, a folder system can greatly reduce the feeling of
clutter in your inbox.
The major disadvantage of a filing system is that it takes time
and discipline to maintain. Over time you may find that you need
to review your folders and delete old emails, or modify the names
of folders that you have created.
For more information about setting up a filing scheme, see the
FAQ "How should I file my emails".
3) Combination of filing system and usage of inbox to store
Research has shown that filing all messages is not necessarily
an effective management tool for some people. If you receive a large
amount of email (over 100 per day), spend a lot of time away from
your computer, or just do not have the time to maintain an extensive
system, you may want to consider a strategy in which you file
some messages and leave others in your inbox.
If you choose this strategy, it is a good idea to first delete
the emails that you know that you do not need or should not keep.
If you delete these messages on a daily basis, you will be able
to easily identify the messages that you do need to keep without
having to weed through too many emails in your inbox.
File any emails that you know that you want to keep and that you
do not have to follow up on. These may be emails that you want to
keep as evidence of your activities or evidence of a business transaction.
Depending on the content, these may be emails that you want to keep
for a long time, or for a shorter period of time (such as class
assignments that you may only want to keep for the semester).
After deleting and filing, the emails left in your inbox should
be emails that you need to act upon or that you are waiting for
some sort of resolution on. Some people find that creating a folder
for messages that they need to follow up on works well. Others keep
all of these emails that need resolution in their inbox. In some
systems you can "flag" emails for follow up. For some
emails, you may want to delete the email after the task has been
completed, for others, you may want to file the email into your
You may find that one of these systems works for you, or you may
use a combination of strategies to find a method of organizing your
email that you are most comfortable with. These simple guidelines
are suggested for the individual email user. If email messages are
intended to be stored on a network server, organization schemes
and folder titles should be set up in consultation with system administrators
and others accessing the network.
What should I do with copies of messages that
I have sent?
Most email software packages automatically save a copy of sent
messages into a "Sent file". While you may not have the
time to go through your sent folder and file each message, if you
have storage limits you may want to store messages from this folder
offline. It is a good idea to remove messages with sensitive material
in them, (personnel, etc.), by deleting them, moving them to a specific
subject folder, or saving elsewhere offline.
A few email clients prompt you to decide if you want to save a
copy of a sent message at the time that you are sending the message.
If you use such a system, although you may not save every message,
you may want to at least choose to save important emails. Some people
choose to file sent messages in a specific subject related folder,
but many people find that filing them in a centralized sent folder
is the most useful record of what they have produced. This follows
traditional archival and filing practice.
How should I file emails? ?
A good email folder
structure is not just a way to keep the number of emails in
your inbox low, but it is a structure that helps you keep, find
and contextualize materials.
When choosing a folder title, it is important to use a name that
accurately describes the messages you will file there (example:
"travel requests and reimbursements FY 2003/2004"). Try
to use consistent spelling and vocabulary that others can interpret
if they need to. Avoid using obscure acronyms and abbreviations
when possible. Check that your categories do not overlap.
There are 7 types of names that you can give your file folders:
||Reasons to Use
|Geographic area or location
||Travel Reports > England
||Good for subfolders
|Numbers or symbols
||Can be brief, specific, indexable. May not immediately
be apparent what they represent.
||Allows quick deletion of documents that can be
deleted after a certain period of time. Can quickly sort messages
by date and move into a folder.
|Subject Topics (names, organizations, companies,
projects, publications, etc.)
||Budgets, Courses / Elem Chinese
||Brings together all documents on a particular
topic, regardless of subject line. Allows you flexibility in
overcoming erroneous subject lines.
|Combo - Subject/Date
||Evaluations Spring 2002
||Can take a large subject file and break it down
into smaller time-based files.
||Can use to view all communications with a particular
person, regardless of their email address.
||Makes retention and deletion of documents identified
in records schedules easy.
If your email software allows you to create subfolders, you might
find this to be an easy way to organize emails on a particular subject
that occur on a periodical basis. For example: your main folder
may be Course Evaluations, with subfolders of Course Evaluations
Fall 2002, Course Evaluations Spring 2003, etc.
If email messages are intended to be stored on a network
server, organization schemes and folder titles should be set up
in consultation with system administrators and others accessing
What should I include in the subject line of
an email message?
You should include enough information to help the receiver(s) assess
the message's value and importance and be able to find the message
at a later time. In some cases, the receiver does not need to read
beyond the subject line. It can be useful, particularly when working
on group projects, to add within the subject line a designated word
or abbreviation, which signifies that the message is pertaining
to that project. For example: Website Committee: latest redesign.
Here are some other examples:
||Question about project deadline
||Strategic plan for your review
||July 1 budget meeting confirmed
I've exceeded my space quota, what should I
You may be assigned a limit as to how much server
space you are allowed to use for your emails. At UNC, you can
check your space usage at http://onyen.unc.edu.
When you exceed your quota, you should consider either deleting
some emails or moving emails off of the server to other storage.
Here are some tips for reducing the amount of emails that you are
storing on the server:
any emails in your "trash" folder.
- Look through your inbox and delete any emails that you don't
need. Check your records
retention schedule, if your office has one, for guidelines
on what you may be allowed to delete.
- If your email software automatically saves a copy of all of
your sent messages, you may want to look at the "sent folder"
and determine if there are emails that you can delete or save
- Review other folders and check for emails that you may no longer
need to keep. If the emails are no longer necessary, it is frequently
easy to delete folders that are organized by date or by sorting
your emails by date. While you might be tempted to sort your emails
by size and delete the largest ones, you should be careful not
to delete important attachments.
- Consider storing folders of old emails that you do not use on
a regular basis, but still would like to keep, offline (either
on another computer drive or on disc).
Should I use this "archiving" feature
that my email software has? How does that work?
Some email packages offer an archiving
feature. Before using this feature, you should check your email
software documentation or check with your IT staff to determine
how this feature works for your specific software. Some email clients
archive older messages (you can determine what is considered "older"),
by removing the messages from a centralized server
and placing them on a local drive, usually in a proprietary file
format. The user is able to retrieve these messages through the
email client by looking in the "archive" folder. Most
email clients will replicate the folder
structure from your online filing scheme into this "archive"
folder, thus one can maintain a standardized filing structure over
time with little effort while removing older messages from your
server space. A drawback to this approach to storing older messages
is that subsequent email software may not be able to read your older
files. If you archive messages you should check with your IT staff
and make sure that your messages are going to a storage space that
is consistently backed
I seem to accumulate a lot of email in my inbox.
Do you have any suggestions for managing my inbox?
If you receive a lot of emails per day, it is easy for your inbox
to become overwhelming. Some tips that help people manage a lot
of emails in their inbox include:
some email messages immediately (spam, advertisements, informational
- Rather then letting a large number of email accumulate, as you
read each email make a decision about what to do with it. If you
are overwhelmed by a large inbox, a filing
strategy is probably a good idea for you. Many people find
that if they file emails that they do not have to act upon and
only keep those emails that require action or some sort of response
in their inbox, they can more easily identify what tasks they
need to accomplish.
- If a message documents or provides evidence
that you need to keep, file it in an appropriate folder. (For
example: correspondence with students over a semester)
- Be aware of when a message no longer has value and delete
accordingly. There are some messages that you may only want
to keep for a short period of time, such as meeting notices,
or other messages of short-term value.
- If you need to act upon an email message, you may want to
either "flag" the message in your inbox, or store
it in a "To-do" folder.
- Once you have acted upon a message, you should either delete
the message or file it.
- Some people find reviewing their inbox or to-do folders at a
specified time each week is useful.