The most common reason I hear for why people leave email in their inbox is because they’re afraid they’ll lose track of it and won’t be able to find it again.
The best way to address this is to process the email when it comes in and turn it into what it is: a task, an appointment, reference material, or contact information. Then you don’t need to find the email again because you’ve placed the information where you’ll need it.
But foresight isn’t 20/20 like hindsight is. We may need to refer back to a specific email or an ongoing thread. Letting messages pile up in your inbox isn’t the solution—you’ll just end up with a disorganized pile of messages to rummage through every time you need something.
It’s not hard to find your way back to an email when you need it later. Here are 5 techniques to quickly get the information you need.
- Put the information where you need it. I’ll say it again: the fastest email to find is the one you don’t need to find. When the email comes in, put the information where you’ll need it! Email is a terrible place to store information. Instead of leaving what you need to know buried in an email, copy what you need into your paper or digital planner. One of my favorite tricks here is to forward plane, hotel, and car rental confirmations to TripIt.
- Link to it. The fastest way to get back to a specific email message is to copy a link to it. Put that link in the project support note in Evernote or the notes field of the task in OmniFocus or the event in Calendar. If you know where you’ll be when you want to find the message again, just link to it. Mail.app doesn’t have a built-in way to get a link to an email, but it’s possible (and not hard). AirMail and Spark both let you get a link to a message easily.
- Search for it. Most email clients will let you search through thousands of emails in a matter of seconds. A few key words is usually all it takes. If you can narrow it down by who it’s from or when you got it, even better. If you find yourself doing the same search over and over again, see if you can set up a smart folder, which is a saved search.
- Snooze it till you use it. Some email programs, including AirMail and Spark, will let you snooze an email until later. This removes the email from your inbox, then automatically returns it to your inbox when it will be relevant. If you use SaneBox (affiliate link), their SaneReminders feature lets you do this with any email provider.
- Ask for it. If all else fails, if you just know you have it somewhere but can’t find it, ask the person to send it again. They’re probably not going to be annoyed—they’ve lost emails, too!—and they’ll be happy to send it again if it means they get an answer. If someone forwards you a link to any message in the conversation, your email client will probably pull up the rest of the thread automatically.
Keep your inbox clean. You’ll have less stress, knowing that every email that’s come in has been dealt with. Nothing’s going to slip through the cracks.
When you need an email again, you’ll find it.