taming the inbox



Over the past few weeks I’ve given my inbox a makeunder that has been going really well.

To be honest, I thought I had a pretty good system all along. But when Jen started helping me as Commander in Chief, I knew that I had to step up my game and make it seriously easy for us both to manage together.

Fortunately, the updates I made work with or without an assistant. So today I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve changed that might be helpful for your inbox as well.



1. I changed the way that I view my inbox.


The first thing that I needed to do was shift my inbox perspective. Instead of just looking at it as a catch-all for mail, I viewed it as an extension of my desk.

In the past I tolerated a bit of clutter in my inbox. But once I realized that this was the virtual desk that I needed to share with Jen, I stopped letting the clutter accumulate. Simple organization leads to less confusion or missed opportunities.

And because I happen to be someone who likes a clean physical desk, I now wanted a clean virtual one as well.



2. I cleaned up my labels.


Up until I hired Jen, I made email labels as often as I pleased on the most random and/or specific topics.

But I knew that when sharing this inbox I was going to have to explain my crazy methods. By having 73 labels, many of which were from Jess LC marketing campaigns years ago, I was making things way more complicated and bloated than necessary.

So I went through and considered each label like a real physical folder that would live on “our desk.” Having 73 real folders would have been ridiculous. I needed to cut it down to about 5-10 folders altogether.

Plus, I generally just Google search my Gmail inbox for specific client emails or flight numbers. So labels, generally speaking, are not even used to locate the emails I actually need in the first place.

They simply created an added layer of organization I “thought” I needed… but really didn’t.

Once I cut the fat, I was left with these eight simple labels for my jess(at)jesslc.com inbox:



This new, leaner label system still does all the general organizing that the old labels provided… with less confusion.

I also have a few subcategories for Business With Intention, for example, which separate PayPal payments from tax emails.

But I didn’t need separate travel folders for business and personal trips. I didn’t need to separate recipe emails from my other family related emails because I always search for the recipe, rather than visit the “recipe” folder itself.



3. I automated my email filters.


This step alone has been the biggest positive leap forward. Up until recently I had never used filters nor knew how to set them up in Gmail.

Now that I do understand them, I’m using them as much as possible.

Like Tim Ferriss suggests, you gotta reduce the redundant actions, even if you are hiring someone to help you manage your inbox.

I now have filtered all comments to skip the inbox and go directly to the Comment folder. All shopping emails go straight to the sale site folder for me to check when I feel like it – not when it lands in the inbox.

All PayPal payments go straight to the Jess Mail folder for me automatically.

For those who use Gmail and haven’t figured out how to do these automations, here’s how:

Check the box on the left of the email type you’d like to create a filter for. It will turn yellow once selected.




Then, select the More button (highlighted in coral above).

In the drop down menu, select “Filter messages like these.”




Immediately, this pop-up will appear.

Select the “Create filter with this search” link.



Now you can select the filter options you prefer. My favorite two are “Skip the Inbox” and “Apply Filter.” By selecting these two I’m requesting that emails from Asana skip my inbox and go directly into the Jess Mail folder.

Ideally, I’d like as many filters as possible to auto-sort the mail so that we don’t need to waste our time doing this manually. And because we have a simple label system, we can easily see the new, pre-sorted emails.



4. I created canned responses.


When the book club registration was open we had a flood of donations to process and people to reach out to. At first, I was sending batch emails a few times a day. To do this I saved a general email in my drafts and then pulled each participant’s email address from the donations one-by-one into a new email as BCC’s.

It was time consuming and repetitive.

But after Erin talked about Gmail’s Canned Response option at Alt, I changed my ways.

Instead of sending out the same email over and over again to 100+ people, Jen and I could simply send the same email to each participant via the Canned Response option (we also could have created an auto-filter to do this as well).

Here’s a quick rundown of how to set up Canned Response via The New York Times:

“To set up Canned Responses, log into your Gmail account. Click on the gear icon in the upper right corner of the window and select Mail Settings from the menu. Click on the Labs tab, scroll down the list of available options to Canned Responses and click the Enable button. Click the Save Changes button.

After you have composed a reply that you want to reuse, click on the Canned Responses menu, choose “New canned response,” give the reply a name and click OK. Later, when you get a message that deserves your canned response, click the Reply button and select the appropriate saved message from the Canned Responses menu.”

The other great thing about Canned Response is that you can always edit the email once you’ve added the canned text. So if you want to customize the beginning or ending, you can do so easily before sending.


In addition to these four changes, I also made a few other inbox modifications specifically tailored to having an assistant. I’ll be sharing these tips in this week’s Wish I Knew Wednesday.

I hope some of these ideas prove to be effective for you as well!


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  1. Valerie Waters

    Thanks for sharing! Lots of good tips here. I didn’t realize that you could even do half that stuff with Gmail!

  2. Great tips, Jess! As a gmail user some of these will definitely come in handy. Can’t wait for the newsletter! 🙂

    1. Jess Lively

      Awesome! I think we have a lot in common. : )

    1. Jess Lively

      Thank you, thank you, my dear! : )

  3. I had no idea you could use filters! I mean, I guess it makes sense, but I just didn’t think about it. I’ve now added sub-labels to a few categories and filters for all of my regular emails, which will hopefully make keeping track of the craziness in my inbox much easier!

    1. Jess Lively

      Very nice! I’m glad it’s helping you.

  4. Lauren Maxwell

    Jess, you have an uncanny ability to discuss organization in a readable, relatable way. I love it! Though I don’t have my own business, I feel that I might one day. Or, I’ll be in a leadership position through which I can utilize many of these skills. Thank you for the tips – I’m filing them away!

    1. Jess Lively

      Aw, thank you! I’m glad they may prove helpful for you. : )

  5. Jess this is so helpful! I have a question though. How do you get your domain name emails to not only be forwarded to gmail but also being able to reply with that email address instead of a gmail one? I want to streamline my emails better as well (although my labels and folders are a MESS!) but I’d really like to get my email from my website set up to work completely with gmail before I try to reorganize my entire gmail account. Thanks!

    1. Jess Lively

      Hi Ashlee, great question! I honestly have had my “resident programmer,” Mr. Lively, do that for me each time. So I can’t help you myself! I believe that finding someone tech-savvy might help or googling around for that info?

        1. Figured it out Jess! (And I didn’t even have to ask Ethan! lol) All you have to do is go under “settings” and then “emails/forwarding” and add an external email. Then they send you an email with a verification code, type it in and viola! All set! 🙂

          1. Jess Lively

            Awesome! I’m glad it’s that easy!

  6. Jess! I cannot tell you how in love I am with this blog post.

    I FINALLY tackled The BlackHole that is my inbox, haha 😉

    Having my inbox automatically sort with filters- allows me to focus more on the tasks at hand and not get distract by newsletters, etc. during the day. I love it!

    Do you currently use any apps with Gmail like Yesware, Boomerang or Wisestamp? Would love to hear more email tips 🙂

  7. Jess Lively

    I’m glad you spotted the post and that it’s helping you with your inbox. Wonderful!

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