Creating Email Inbox Clarity

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t for years.

Instead, for the entire year, I focus on a word. Last year, my word was “brave,” and, as I look back, I was true to my word. I joined a networking group because I don’t like networking, I became a member of the Board of Directors of the New England Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), and we moved after selling the house we lived in for 27 years!

If you’d asked me a few years ago if I would’ve done any of those things, I would’ve replied with a resounding “No Thank You!”

Word Of The Year

But over the past few years, this simple process of selecting a single word has really worked for me. This year, I selected the word “clarity.” In addition to posting a reminder above my desk, I have decided to implement a new way of focusing on my word as well. I’ve challenged myself to do something each month that brings clarity to my business or personal life.

This month, my clarity goal was to clean out and organize my out-of-control email inbox.

On average, I receive about 200 emails a day. It sounds like a lot, but the good news is, I don’t touch all of them. Just yesterday, 56 emails went directly into my junk folder without me even seeing them. And there were others that I deleted without even opening because I quickly viewed the content in my pre-view pane and decided I didn’t keep them (which is an email marketer’s nightmare!).

At the start of the year, my email inbox had more messages in it than I care to admit. As hard as I try to manage my messages as I take action related to them, it doesn’t always happen. So, I often set aside some time to concentrate on cleaning out unwanted messages or filing the ones I need to keep for future reference.

The process I use is pretty simple.

  • Initially, I sort my inbox by sender.
  • At the first pass, I identify and delete groups of messages from senders with whom I either don’t do business any longer or from automatic daily/weekly updates that I no longer need, such as my weekly Fitbit stats from the last few months. This step alone usually reduces my inbox by a third.
  • Next, I go back to the top and add date to my sorting criteria, and I quickly scroll through messages by sender and date. Typically, I delete anything older than one year – but if I think I need to keep emails older than a year, I move them to a specific folder related to the topic or project or person – whatever makes the most sense. It’s even quicker if you are sure you don’t need to save any emails prior to a certain date, if that is the case, just sort your entire inbox by date and delete anything older. Bam!
  • I also reviewed all of the “rules” I have set up to automatically sort my inbox and tweaked them a bit. I added a few too. For example, I have a rule to automatically delete emails from certain people who don’t seem to EVER take me off their list. I have a rule to change the color of emails that come from specific URLs as a visual indicator that I can’t miss. And I have a few more…

There are many popular approaches to managing email inboxes, such as “Inbox Zero,” which offer some great ideas. Keeping your inbox free of clutter can be a challenge and creating a process that works best for you typically evolves over time.

I believe everyone has a personal connection with what works and doesn’t work best for managing their email. I’d love to hear how you keep your email well ordered. Add your ideas and suggestions below.

Ta-Da Tip of the Month

I often hear people complain about how many emails they receive on a daily basis, and how overwhelming it becomes to keep them under control. Here are just a few tips for proactively managing your email inbox, so it doesn’t get the best of you.

  • Set up rules. All email client applications give you the opportunity to create customized “rules” so that you can manage incoming mail before reaching your inbox. If you find yourself deleting a message from the same person/address every day, set up a rule to delete it for you. Or, if there are emails that you’d like to read at a later time, automatically move them to a folder you can access when you have a few free minutes.
  • Think twice. After you read an email, ask yourself “Do I need to keep this email?” If the answer is no, hit delete immediately. Or, “Should I file this email for future reference?” If the answer is yes, file it right away.
  • Set aside a few minutes each week. I usually recommend to clients that they set aside 30 minutes a week to clear out inbox clutter. Block time on your calendar and you’ll be more inclined to do
  • To Junk or unsubscribe? That is the question. If you decide you no longer want to receive messages from a certain person or company to which you know you intentionally subscribed,use the option to unsubscribe safely from their list. But if you receive emails from someone/company you don’t recognize at all, I usually recommend just marking the email as “junk” rather than unsubscribe. The reason is, if you unsubscribe from some of these less-reputable entities, they’ll know that your email address is valid, and will start sending you more email from different addresses. Clearly, these people have way too much time on their hands!

Obviously, there are many ways to customize how to stay ahead of the daily infusion of email that we all experience. Giving some thought to what works best for keeping your inbox well ordered can pay off with many time saving dividends. TaDa!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>