Note: No matter what email service you use, it has the capability of organization by folders or labels or what have you. Since I'm a gmail user I'm going to refer to labels, but you can replace it with whatever method your email has.
Step 1: Unsubscribe.
You know how you signed up for a newsletter from that random company that one time so you could get a coupon? Or how you are still getting emails from that store you haven't stepped foot in in years? It's time to get that under control! Luckily there is an amazing, FREE service which makes this process incredibly easy: Unroll.Me. All you have to do is enter your email and Unroll.Me collects all of your subscriptions, making it easy to unsubscribe. Then, you'll get a daily email of your "Rollup" with all of the subscriptions you decide to keep. How awesome is it to get all of those out of control subscriptions down to ONE email a day!?!? This is really exciting and truly makes a world of difference.
Step 2: Categorize.
After you've tackled all of those pesky subscriptions, it's time to deal with the emails that really matter. I categorize the emails I get a couple of ways: Blogging, School, Professional, Health, and Organizations. I have both a school and personal email so I'll deal with my school email first.
I enjoy having labels and sub labels, so I first create a label for the year of school (i.e. Junior Year) and then under that includes financial, whichever sales competitions I'm going to that year, and any organization I'm involved in that year. Organizations which I've been in for multiple years gets their own main label. Each label is also color coded and the color coordinates with my calendar. For example, on my calendar all of my classes are purple so Junior Year is purple in my email, just as sales stuff is yellow in my calendar as well as my email.
For my personal/professional email I have a Blogging label with sub labels of Guest Posting, Interviews, Networks, and Partnerships. It's important to keep a record of your communication with companies in case you ever need to revisit expectations so this makes it easy for me to access that sort of information quickly. I also have a Professional label and then have sub labels for each company. Lastly, I have a Health label for anything related to doctors visits and the like. You may (and probably should) decide on different labels but the key is to make it specific enough that you know instantaneously where to file something but also keep it to a minimum so you don't have a full sidebar.
Step 3: Process.
Some people purposely don't open their email until after a certain time while others look at it before even getting out of bed. I fall into latter category because I want to know if there is anything I need to attend to first thing and it energizes me rather than drains me. When I check my email if there is something I can respond to or take care of in less than 5 minutes I do it right away. This is a good rule to utilize when you want to stay on top of things and keep your inbox at a minimal number.
I only label emails after I've read them and taken the necessary action, so I treat my inbox as a sort of to-do list. This may or may not work for you; just experiment to see what's most effective. When looking at it through a minimalist's eyes the most important factor is to feel able to tackle your inbox at anytime because you stay on top of it. Remember that minimalism is all about having processes in place which allow you to live your life with the most joy and ease you can.
How do you organize your inbox? Do you have any advice?
Check out other posts in the digital minimalism series here.