It’s easy to lose track of an email if your inbox is cluttered, or if you receive hundreds of emails a day, or if it’s been a long time since you originally received it. But regardless of how or why you lost the email, you need to find it—whether it’s to retrieve a PDF that was attached to it, or uncover some key detail in your conversation that’s suddenly relevant again.
Fortunately, there are some key strategies you can use to track it down.
Recall the Details
First, take a moment to recall as many details about the email as possible. Who sent it? When did they send it? Was there an attachment? Can you remember any words that were in the subject line, or words in the body of the message? As you’ll soon see, the more details you have, the better.
Next, you’ll need to begin your search. I’ll assume you’ve already done the work of scrolling through your most recent few days’ worth of email, to no avail, so we’ll kick it into higher gear.
If you use Gmail, you’ll have a distinct advantage here, since you can use a robust set of Gmail search operators to aid in your quest. These serve as modifications, or filters, that allow you to find only emails that meet certain criteria. For example, you can search for emails that were sent within a certain week, or emails sent by a specific person, or emails with attachments, or any of the above. Even seemingly inconsequential details, like a word or phrase in the body of the email, can help you here, thanks to Gmail’s robust search feature. You can also try one of the numerous Gmail tools available.
If you aren’t using Gmail, your options are more limited, but Outlook and other platforms usually have some kind of account-wide search feature to help you find what you’re looking for.
Establish New Organization Protocols
If you lost an email, you should take it as a sign that your current system of organization isn’t working very well. Take this time to set up new organization protocols for your inbox; for example, you could start making use of Gmail labels to ensure your important emails are assigned a category, or you could set up folders and subfolders in Outlook. Depending on your system, you may also be able to use stars, flags, or other markers to visually identify and organize your messages. That way, you’ll be far less likely to misplace or lose track of an email in the future.
Clean Up Your Inbox
While you’re at it, be proactive and start cleaning up your inbox. Review the messages in your inbox currently, sorting them into the proper folders or marking them as appropriate. Even if your inbox is bogged down with hundreds of emails, if you do just 10 emails a day, it shouldn’t be an overwhelming task.
With a handful of search operators, you should be able to find what you’re looking for, even if it takes you a little while to remember the details and browse through potential candidates in your results. But if you want to avoid losing emails in the future, the only way to do that is to be proactive, put a solid organizational system in place, and start using it.