You’ve Got Mail

Andrew Rowland | 25 Mar 2022 | 0 comments

“Ker-pling!” A melodious chime alerts you to an incoming email, and your heartbeat quickens. Someone has thought about you. Someone has a message for you. You interrupt what you’re doing to check your inbox, and all too often, it’s just an advert, a Facebook notification, or worse, a scam. Meanwhile, an important reminder stays unnoticed, buried under a mountain of dross. Yet, despite other forms of messaging coming to the fore such as texts, WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, email remains an important form of communication, especially for longer content. So let’s take a moment to tame the Inbox.

A proper program?

Thunderbird icon eM Client icon

Firstly, how do you access your email – using webmail in an Internet browser, or using a dedicated email program? If you start it from an icon on your desktop or taskbar, it’s probably the latter. It isn’t important, but my preference is for a proper program like eM Client or Thunderbird. They let you access all your email addresses in one place and are devoid of adverts. And if you right-click in a browser, does the menu relate to emails or is it from the browser itself? Confusing! On the other hand, Gmail probably works best in the environment it was designed for, the web.

A good address

What is the point of having more than one address? Well, these days it’s hard not to! You probably have an email address your ISP¹ gave you – one ending in, or whatever – and if you have an Apple phone or tablet, you’ve probably got an address. I recommend not using the ISP address. If you want to change broadband companies to save money, it will be harder if you have to tell everyone your new address, including all those websites you signed up for, so I just ignore that address and use a free email address that I can keep instead. You can sign up for Gmail, Yahoo! or – my favourite – ( They all have webmail, mobile apps and let you use an email client, but Outlook’s does not have ads and looks great on the web too.

Many email programs let you combine all the addresses into a combined Inbox for convenience. In Thunderbird, create a search folder that shows everything in all your inboxes from the past couple of days so you always see the latest ones.

Tame that Inbox

Now let’s get organised! The secret to an uncluttered inbox is folders. You already know about your Inbox, Sent Items and Spam or Junk folders, but you can add your own. Just right-click the Inbox folder over at the left and choose New Folder or similar (all these will vary slightly depending on service or email program). Create a folder for each category that makes sense to you. You might have Family, Work and Bills. If you’re organising a holiday or moving house, have a folder for those projects too, to keep all the messages on one subject together so you can see them at a glance. You can have folders within folders too (e.g. a subfolder for each family member). Once you’ve read a message, move it into a folder and you’ll soon be nailing that inbox. Moving is just a matter of dragging and dropping the message onto the folder at the left, but right-clicking the message in the list and pointing to Move To… might be easier.

TIP: Why not create a signature with your name and contact details? It will be automatically added to every email you send, saving you time.

Gmail is slightly different, in that instead of folders, it has labels. You assign labels to messages to categorise them and can view just the emails in one (or more) category. Right-click a message in the list and point to Label As… The advantage is that emails can have multiple labels and thus appear in more than one ‘place’ – both Bills and Holiday, for example – and you can combine the labels at will. So you can see all your Family messages or just those from three of them. That gives flexibility that folders can’t match. The downside is that Google is all about delivering adverts, but if you use an email program to escape them, the labels are represented as folders anyway.

Rules rule

If all that sounds like a lot of faff, don’t forget that computers are all about automation. All good email programs (so not Windows Mail, then) and most webmail services let you define rules to determine what happens to incoming messages. They may be called filters or actions, but they’re all the same. Unwanted messages can be deleted, important ones flagged and messages from certain addresses moved to the relevant folder. That’s great for all those advertising circulars. You might want to hear about the latest special offers, but move them into a folder called Advertising so they don’t flood your Inbox and make you miss something urgent. Do the same for those Facebook notifications too.

Keep in contact

Finally, often overlooked are your Contacts or Address Book. If you use an online service like Google (if you use Android) or iCloud (Apple), together with a good email program, you can share all your contacts between addresses and make any updates just once. If you’ve ever been faced with five addresses for one person, not knowing which is the current one, you’ll realise that is worth its weight in gold!

1. ISP - Internet Service Provider. Probably your phone company.

© Andrew Rowland 2022

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