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Many adults lack strategies for managing their email inboxes, so you may be learning alongside your student here! Virtually everyone who has an email account finds themselves flooded with incoming messages. Important emails get lost in the clutter, and many students don’t notice these critical messages when they come in and can’t find them easily later.
To solve this dilemma, help your student create folders for his email. Just like when he organized his files, he’ll want one for the current school year with a folder for each subject within it. Within the folder for that school year, he should also create a folder for each school activity he gets emails about (Cross Country, Band, etc.). If he gets personal email through this account, he should create a Personal folder as well, and he may want one for extra-curricular activities, too (Ski Team, Community Theater, etc.). And he’ll want at least one folder for older emails; if it’s unlikely that he’ll need to look back through them, he may want just one called Archive. Otherwise, he can create one for each year.
Clear out the Inbox
Explain to your student that the goal is to have almost nothing in his inbox. (More on that later.) First, starting with the oldest files, your student should delete anything and everything that he will never need again. This includes all advertisements, every message from Google informing him that someone logged in to his account from a new device, etc. As with organizing his digital files, this could take a while. Encourage him to do a little each day. Because this kind of purging is a fairly mindless process, some kids can do it while watching TV, riding in the car, etc. (Others will need more focus; you know your child best.) To be frank, most of us never need to reference old emails again. However, you never know when something from the past will turn out to be useful, so err on the side of caution when it comes to deleting.
Now that all the junk is gone, your student should categorize older emails by making use of his folder system. Show him how to drag emails into the right places, starting with the oldest ones first. Again, this will likely take some time. He should keep going until he has only a handful of emails left in his inbox. Aim for ten (or fewer). Everything that’s left should be considered “active.” For example, the email from his math teacher reminding the class that they have a test in two days is still active (though in two days it won’t be). The email from his debate coach that he needs to write a reply to is still active. The packing list for the overnight field trip last month is not active and should be moved.
Believe it or not, there is a magic formula for ensuring that important emails never go unnoticed and that your student doesn’t read, then forget about, an email (and this formula may just help some adults you know, too…) He should never have more than about ten emails in his inbox at any time. Ideally, he should have fewer than that. His inbox can double as a to-do list if he manages it that way. Here’s how: Each time he reads a new email, he should do one of three things:
1) Delete it immediately – Spam should not languish in his inbox. This is the easiest action.
2) Take care of it and archive it – Write a response, download the attachment, add a date to his calendar, then move the email into the right folder. Anything he’s taken care of should not sit in his inbox.
3) Keep it in his inbox because further action is needed, but he’s not going to do it right now.
Old habits, as they say, die hard, and your student may need many weeks of supported, daily practice. He’ll need to be reminded to purge and categorize. He will likely need help determining what can wait and what should be taken care of now. But he’ll likely start to feel less anxiety about what’s overlooking, motivating him to want to maintain the order he’s created.
Coming up in our next and final post in this series, a grab-bag of topics: First, you’ve got great systems – how do you make sure they actually get used? We’ll also cover tips for minimizing internet distractions and staying on top of the many logins students are expected to manage.