The holiday season is coming and that means dozens of daily emails about sales, wholesale orders, and inquiries. Not to mention the mass email chains from your mom who copies everyone in your family to coordinate who’s bringing what to dinner.

And just like people start Christmas shopping well before the holiday rush, so too you must start organizing your email before the onslaught of mail arrives. Think of it as a preemptive strike on your inbox.

I’m not sure I can help you with your mom, but we can definitely take care of your email volume in advance of the rush. That email clutter won’t know what hit it.

Step 1: Destroy Clutter

Before we get started setting things up for the holiday rush, we need to clean house. You wouldn’t invite your family over for the holidays with stacks of paper on your dining room table. Treat your email inbox with the same level of respect.

It’s time to clean house.

In the Email Ninja Kit, I describe how you can search for and quickly clean up Newsletter subscriptions, Facebook Emails, Twitter Notifications, Etc.  One Email Ninja Kit participant reduced her inbox by 20% in a single day.

I’d highly recommend checking out this free resource and implementing some of the techniques before you get hit with Holiday overload. If you’d rather not check out the kit, just go through your inbox and do as much organization as you can- get things cleaned up so you can see what’s new and important.

Preemptive Strike

Any time you will be dealing with a larger volume of email than normal, you need to set up little systems to help deal with it.

The first step is to examine what it is you do the most of in email. Do you respond to Craigslist ads when your shopping for gifts? Do you get a ton of inquiries from your website contact form?

Determine a unique identifier about these types of emails. It could be who they come from, who they’re sent to, or a keyword of some kind.  Let’s take the Craigslist example. I posted an item wanted ad that has been getting a lot of emails.  Rather than have all these emails hitting my inbox, I’d like to create a structure so that they are organized before I ever touch them.

Step 2: Create Structure

I’ll do a search in gmail for the unique Craigslist email address for my ad.

Perfect, it’s found all the related messages I’ve received so far.  You can try this too- Start playing with the search bar in Gmail and see if you can get it to display just the messages you’re thinking of. Don’t forget that you can use reverse parameters like doesn’t have the words.

Step 3: Create Automation

I’m happy, so now I’m going to create a filter with this search and tell Gmail to move messages like this to the label “Craigslist” and skip the inbox. Don’t forget to apply this filter to the matching conversations as well.

Practice Inbox Zero

There’s a lot of debate whether Inbox Zero is really possible. And even if it is possible, is it a good thing? Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, applying the three steps I’ve described here to your inbox will help you get you closer to an empty inbox, because you’ll have less organizing to do. It will be set up for you.

I like the concept of practicing inbox zero. By deciding to practice inbox zero, it means you’re not going for perfection.  My inbox is rarely at zero. But by practicing and striving for zero, I create structures that help to achieve that goal.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is another tool in my arsenal. It’s based on the idea that humans can only focus on one thing at a time, and only for about 20 minutes at a time.  So, the Pomodoro Technique involves writing a list of what you need to get done, and then starting on the most important item for 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, you take a 5 minute break.  Rinse and repeat until your to-do list is done, or you need a longer break.

This post details how I use the Pomodoro Technique to handle my emails- it has been an invaluable tool to help me focus, and I think you should give it a try while you’re putting these techniques into practice.

Spring to Action

In order to have a happy and productive holiday season, it’s vital that you keep your email inbox functional. Take some time this week to get your email house in order so you can enjoy a better email experience through the end of the year.

The example I gave for Craigslist is just that: an example- you’ll need to adapt this basic recipe to whatever type of email you get the most of.

So I’m curious: What have you done in the past when you’re expecting a lot of emails? How well did it work and what would you change next time?