It’s wonderful to have an easy way of communicating with friends, family, and the rest of the world, but sometimes managing your email can feel like a full-time job. And if you have multiple email addresses? Fuhgeddaboudit! It can become such a time suck you feel like just throwing up your hands and giving up on it altogether. Here’s a scary statistic, according to McKinsey, the average worker spends 28% of their time on email or 2.6 hours per day. Frightening isn’t it?
If you’re like me, you use your inbox as a place to “file” information that you want to keep just in case, perhaps to reference later. But, as I’ve discovered, this is a surefire way of becoming an email hoarder. Are we really going to go back and check that email we kept from three years ago? Probably not. So here are some email decluttering tips that helped me get my inbox to the point where I didn’t dread checking email.
1. Add it to Your Schedule
If your goal is to get down to a manageable number of emails and you have ten thousand unread ones, this is going to take a while. Just like all the physical clutter in your life, it probably took years to accumulate all those emails, so you’re not going to clear everything out overnight. But if you chip away at it bit by bit, getting a handle on your inbox clutter is doable. Set a daily or weekly time goal for going through email. And this is in addition to the time you spend checking and replying to recent emails. Decluttering your inbox needs to be its own dedicated chunk of time.
But be careful not to spend too much time on decluttering email in one sitting. During my own inbox declutter, I tried to spend an hour a day clearing out old emails. Unfortunately, that was too long and I ended up getting distracted. I settled on thirty minutes a day and that seemed to work. If you start and get the urge to spend more time then go for it. But just keep in mind that it could lead to email declutter burn out and may have you avoiding email for days. I find that doing a little every day seems to work better in the long run.
2. Set Goals
This is another way to go about motivating yourself to clean up your inbox. During my clean up sessions, I like to aim for a specific number of emails that I’m going to delete for the day. For example, I may set a goal of deleting 100 emails daily. I know that if I keep up this pace by the end of the week, I’ll have 700 fewer emails. Also, keep an eye on that number of total emails or number of unread emails in the sidebar. Watching that number go down can be enough of a reward to keep you moving forward with your inbox declutter.
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3. Set Up Folders
Yeah, I know this is an obvious one, but there’s a reason for it. Setting up folders will help you categorize your emails and breaking your emails into smaller chunks to sift through can be helpful in combating the overwhelm. Think of it as a divide and conquer strategy for your inbox. It’s much easier to deal with one category of email at a time rather than dozens of pages of email in your main inbox.
If you use Gmail, I highly recommend enabling the inbox categories. This allows you to sort your emails into categories such as Social and Promotions (they also have Updates and Forums). I tend to attack my promotional emails first because they are easier to bulk delete without feeling the need to read through them. If there’s an unread promotional email from a year ago, the offer has probably expired so you can delete it straight away without even opening it.
I also create folders for myself such as Receipts, Work, etc. So if a receipt email comes in, I know I can immediately file it away in that folder and it won’t take up space in my inbox, allowing me to focus on the emails that actually need to be decluttered.
But don’t forget to occasionally go through your folders to see if you still need the emails stored in them. After doing a quick check of my folders, I was excited to find that I could delete a folder and all of the emails in it. I was also able to combine two folders to free up some more space on my sidebar.
4. Create Filters
Email filters are another great way to declutter your inbox and keep it organized. By setting up the right filters, you can easily separate emails into specific folders, making sure that only important emails make it to your primary inbox. Filters can automatically sort incoming emails into categories such as newsletters, work emails, or personal emails into folders for you. This will help you quickly identify what needs your attention and what can be discarded or ignored.
I use filters for specific newsletters I look forward to reading and promotional, and sales emails that I know are lower priority. But don’t forget to check and clear out the folders you are filtering your emails into or they’ll be out of sight and out of mind. Filtering into folders is great but you don’t want those folders to become another place for hoarded emails.
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5. Use Your Email Search Bar
This is where the search bar in your email client is really useful. If you search your inbox for a specific sender, you’ll get only those emails. This allows you to delete in bulk if it’s a type of promotional email, for example. This cuts down on the decision making when it comes to deleting email. If you’ve already decided that you’ll delete all emails from a particular sender, having them all grouped together makes this super easy. You can just select them all and hit that trash can icon. It can be so satisfying.
6. Don’t Sign Up for “Free” stuff
I know freebies can be tempting and this is probably unrealistic but hear me out. Someone offers you something you really want for free and all you have to do is enter your email. Seems like a fair exchange and sometimes it is. And if you like the freebie and don’t mind continuing to receive emails from the person who sent it to you, you’re all set. The problem is when we sign up for too many freebies and we don’t particularly want to get anymore emails from the provider of the freebie. Think long and hard about whether you really need that freebie. Because if you forget to keep track or unsubscribe, you will have an inbox overflowing with marketing emails you can’t keep up with. Do yourself a favor and just say no unless the freebie is just too good to pass up.
7. Unsubscribe Ruthlessly
Ok, so let’s say you ignored my advice in #6 and signed up for a freebie (I get it, sometimes they’re too good to pass up). If the sender is a frequent emailer, it’s probably best to unsubscribe. I know this one can be tough. Sometimes you want the emails because you don’t want to miss a sale or helpful information. Or maybe you’ve been on the person’s email list for so long you feel like you know them. But some email marketers just email way too often. In some cases they give you the option of email preferences and you can select how often you want to receive email. If that’s the case, great! But many email marketers are daily emailers and you don’t have a choice. In that case, just unsubscribe.
I personally feel that if someone is emailing you daily, they don’t respect your time. Ultimately, they are getting way more out of your “relationship” than you are. Even if you find some of their emails valuable it’s just not worth having to wade through that many emails to find the good stuff. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Let’s try something fun. Add the number of emails you started with in the comments and come back and add updates to your original post. We can cheer each other on and watch those email numbers go down. See you in the comments.