You've had a month to get back into work mode after the holidays but, chances are, e-mails from '09 are still lurking in your inbox. Get a head start on spring cleaning by organizing your account.
1. Don't delete; archive
Farhad Manjoo hasn't deleted an e-mail since 2004. The San Francisco, Calif.-based magazine columnist receives about 200 messages a day and has accumulated 12 GB of exchanges over the years.
"I have this dream of having all of my correspondence available forever," he says. "It's no longer necessary to not have it."
With e-mail providers offering larger inboxes, there is no need to delete, he explains. Instead, create an archive folder (Gmail has one built into its system) and dump all non-pressing e-mails or messages that have been dealt with in there.
He says the decision to hold onto all his e-mail has come in handy countless times. Recently, when writing a story about U.S. President Barack Obama, he did a quick search of his archive folder and tracked down useful contact information from a year and a half ago.
2. Clear out anything that's more than two weeks old
When Erin Doland, editor-in-chief of the Unclutterer blog, left her home in the Washington, D.C. area for two weeks to iron out details of an adoption, she was cut off from her e-mail. She returned home to a staggering 1,600 messages. She thought she'd tackle 10 each day, but eventually liberated herself from the e-tyranny by archiving any message older than 14 days.
"Once I was at inbox zero, it was a lot easier to move forward," she says. "You can handle what goes on everyday."
If the contents of a message are actually pressing, the sender will follow up.
3. Turn off notifications
Obsessively checking e-mail as each message plants roots in your inbox is far less productive than setting a timer to check e-mail every 30 or so minutes, Ms. Doland says. She recommends turning off the alert system that pops up every time you have a new e-mail.
"It's so easy to leave the indicator on because all of us like to think that we're super important and somebody needs our attention right now and if we don't respond right now, we could lose our job."
She recommends setting a timer to go off every hour or half-hour and only check your e-mail then. You'll be more likely to read, sort and reply to e-mails by priority that way, which will keep your inbox tidier, she says.
There are some things a boss can't share with his employees. His salary - that would just depress them. His bed. I also can't tell them I'm going to be reading their e-mails. Michael Scott, regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin on NBC's The Office
4. Use message rules to keep your inbox clear
Create message rules to filter lower-priority e-mails before they clutter up your inbox, advises Georgina Forrest, a Calgary-based organizing expert and member of Professional Organizers in Canada. Start with a rule that diverts messages where your address shows up in the CC field to another folder (you can find this option through the Tools menu on Microsoft Outlook). Then, check them out when you have down time.
"We're already inundated with so much stuff … it's just to minimize the amount of stuff you want to deal with in your inbox."
She recommends using the same trick for messages from mailing lists.
*And don't do this
forward your personal e-mail to your corporate e-mail account: Inappropriate messages could get you in trouble with management and you'll only be adding to the clutter.