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How to become an email guru

Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint WaterKara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water
Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint WaterPhotograph by Asa Mathat

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you manage email overload? is written by Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water.

As a CEO, I’m no stranger to the anxiety that comes with email overload. With such an onslaught of correspondence coming in every day, it’s easy to overlook important messages, delete others accidentally, or spend far too long searching for a misplaced email. And now that we spend so much of our professional lives on our phones—with their small screens and even smaller buttons—the potential for email disasters has amplified. The only way to find a balance between email heaven and email hysteria is by staying organized. Here are three quick and easy tips for keeping the email overload not just manageable, but managed.

Clean sweep
Your spam folder is great, but it doesn’t always do the job. Every time I open my email, cleaning house is my first order of business. Because we’re required to provide our email addresses for almost everything these days, there will inevitably be emails that need to go straight into the trash. These can be anything from ads, to coupons, to invitations. Get the clutter out of the way so you can focus on what needs your attention most.

“Mark Unread”
Once I’ve dumped the trash, it’s time to turn my attention to the important stuff. Some emails I can answer right away; others I want to read in the moment, but won’t have time to respond until later. This is when I use the “Mark Unread” label. If you have a demanding schedule like I do, it may be a entire week before you have time to sit down and write a thoughtful response—and that’s just too much time for a message to potentially get lost in the shuffle. Using “Mark Unread” ensures that I see that email front and center every time I log in, until I have the time to send a response and file it away.

Create folders
I am a BIG fan of folders. So much critical information is passed via email that throwing important emails away—even once the conversation has come to an end—is risky business in my book. You just never know what you’re going to need to refer back to later. At the same time, you definitely don’t want those hundreds of emails just floating around your inbox without any kind of organization method in place. That’s why I make folders and sub-folders for just about every project I’ve worked on. All the collaborations, invoices, email-based brainstorm sessions—everything is carefully filed away in its appropriate folder. That way I don’t panic when it’s time to recover that information months (sometimes years!) later.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you manage email overload?

Email etiquette: 3 do’s and don’ts by Tonya Love, manager of business relations and marketing at Xerox Research Center Europe.

How to empty your inbox (and keep it empty) by Julie Larson-Green, CXO of applications and services group at Microsoft.

Hate email? Here’s 5 ways to deal by Sheri Hickok, chief engineer of Next Generation Full Size Trucks at General Motors.

How to manage your inbox (before it manages you) by Camille Preston, founder of AIM Leadership.

Ivanka Trump: 5 tips for managing email overload by Ivanka Trump, executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization.