inbox_emailEvery email program has these folders:  the Inbox and Sent Items.  Interestingly, I find that my clients often use these two folders in ways that can be inefficient and increase record-keeping risk.

In this post, I’d like to re-introduce you to your Inbox and Sent Items and offer best practices in organizing and maintaining them.


The Inbox


  • It is and always will be the first place that incoming, unread mail lands (barring any Rules you have set)
  • It buries older emails underneath newer ones
  • It is searchable and sortable, but can quickly get filled with so many emails that it is difficult to retrieve what you need


Best Practices in Inbox Maintenance:

  • Drag emails you need to keep for records management purposes into an organized system of folders (or labels for Gmail). Avoid storing emails in your Inbox.
  • Emails requiring action beyond a simple response should be removed from the Inbox, saved in an “Action Required” subfolder AND the action added to your To-Do list. Alternatively, email action items can be dragged to Outlook Tasks.
  • Delete duplicates – if you replied to or forwarded an email, you will have an email in your Sent Items that duplicates what is in your inbox.
  • Strive for “Inbox Zero.”


Sent Items


  • It is the default location for all email you send to others: new messages, replies, and forwards
  • Each time you send or reply to a calendar invitation, your response is automatically filed in Sent Items
  • When ignored, it can become a repository for a HUGE volume of email that really should be filed into Outlook Folders.


Best Practices in Sent Items Maintenance:

  • Schedule time on your calendar to go into your sent emails. Sort, delete, and file emails until your Sent Items folder is empty.
  • Consider using a tool like SimplyFile to prompt you to file or delete emails immediately upon sending. It is always fastest to make the keep/delete decision immediately after sending.
  • In Outlook, you can go into your Sent Items and sort by icon (the little button that looks like a dog-eared piece of paper). That will gather all your calendar items together for mass deleting.


All in all, the smaller the Inbox and Sent Items folders are the better.  Emails you need to retain are best kept organized into folders/labels.  Emails you don’t need to retain are best deleted.

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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.