July 13, 2024

Managing Email: 7 Tips to Tame your Inbox

Got email?

Of course you do, and probably more than you’d like.  How many emails do you currently have in your inbox?  Are you a minimalist with fewer than ten, or a high roller with thousands?

Once upon a more naive time, while looking over a friend’s shoulder, I gasped to see that she had over two thousand emails in her Hotmail account.  I didn’t even know that was possible (insert chuckle.)  As a regular deleter, it never occurred to me to keep that many messages. 

I now know that a thousands-full inbox is pretty common.  Is that bad?  Not necessarily.  If you’re comfortable with–or even comforted by–several years’ worth of emails, then carry on.  You may be forced to delete when you max out your storage, but if you’re able to stay on top of your messages, and the tasks they represent, then you don’t have to confront the number “just because you should.”      

However, if you’re stressed by that backlog, as well as the daily onslaught of new emails, it may be time to take action.  For many, especially those of us who are visual, a cluttered inbox represents just one more source of overwhelm.  “How can I possibly weed through three thousand emails?”, you may whimper.   As with any decluttering project, you must first decide to make a change, make a plan, and then get going.     

Ready to streamline your  inbox?  Here are some tips:

1)  First, make a plan for new and yet-to-be-received  emails.  While you’re working through the backlog, new messages won”t stop coming, of course.  Once you start dealing with new messages more effectively, you can work on the old ones according to your schedule.  This will help you avoid that frustrating, “I’ll-never-get-caught-up” feeling that can stop you in your tracks.

 2)  As new emails come in, act immediately.  Obvious junk? Delete.  No action required? Read and delete.  High priority, or action required? Flag and schedule the task on your calendar.  Store coupon you plan to use? Print and put it in your wallet.  Client email you should save? File in the proper email folder.  You get the idea: make immediate decisions as often as you can. 

3)  Set up email folders.  Client names, projects, upcoming events, photos, receipts, research, recipes–these are all possible folder ideas.  Folders are ideal for emails that you want to archive, or will need in the near future, but don’t need to keep in your inbox.  The trick is to file emails as quickly as possible.  As with paper files, remember to clean out your email folders every once in awhile.

4)  Set up email filters.  You can flag incoming emails by the sender or a key word (in many cases) so that messages automatically go into designated folders.  Filters are great for newsletters, blog subscriptions, and list servs.  You can check out content at your own pace.  Not sure how to set up filters?  Your email provider should have a help or tutorial section.

5)  Unsubscribe.  Virtually every time you make an online purchase, your email address gets added to a list.  You continue to receive messages from the company, even if you have no plans to buy again.  You may also be subscribed to a number of newletter and groups that are no longer relevant to you.  Set aside some time and unsubscribe from these lists.  The result? A less cluttered inbox with content you actually want to receive.

6)  As for dealing with the backlog, I propose that you purge messages that go way back.  Don’t read, just delete.  Extreme? Maybe, but chances are that you won’t ever need them.  If you want to hedge your bets, search for senders or topics that you want to keep, and file those emails in folders.

7)  Delete regularly.  I’ll say it again.

Here’s to a leaner inbox!