We’ve all been there… hundreds, sometimes thousands of email messages. How can anyone even BEGIN to keep on top of the never-ending flood of newsletters, spam, forwards of cute cat pictures and chain letters?
You wouldn’t want to miss that super-important personal email from your long-lost cousin (who is apparently now the King of Nigeria).
With the same personal email address since 2000, I’ve seen all the spam that ever existed. About 2 years ago, I decided I had better things to do than wade through all the spam to find the “real” messages from actual people I know. To fix this situation, I got ruthless about making my email inbox useful and free from messages I don’t want – these 5 tips are the top methods that worked for me, and I want to share them with the world.
Note: These tips apply mainly to Gmail users. If you use another email provider, you could create folders or labels and adapt these tips to suit your needs.
TIP #1: Using Gmail? Switch to Inbox by Google.
Note: Inbox by Gmail is going away at the end of March 2019. Fortunately, many of the useful features I included below can already be found in Gmail (or will be included before the end-of-life for Inbox).
Inbox by Gmail is by far the best email experience I have ever found, and I’ve converted several friends, colleagues, and clients to this streamlined and elegant Gmail reader.
Pre-made bundles will start you out with Updates, Social, Trips, and Finances. From there, customizing your own bundles is quick and flexible. You can set up bundles to have certain messages skip the Inbox or automatically mark as “Done”. Examples of some bundle strategies: by project, by a person’s name, by a group such as work, home, kids, etc.
Hide a message until it you need it. Like magic, it will appear just when you told it to! Ticket confirmations, reminders you need later in the week/month/year, anything you can think of. You no longer need to keep these sort of reference message with your incoming email, cluttering things up and making it difficult to see what is new and important.
To my surprise, I use this feature all the time. You can add standalone reminders or attach a reminder to a specific email message. Send future-you a reminder, or let a short-term reminder hang out in your inbox as a to-do item.
TIP #2: Too many subscriptions? Use Unroll.me
I have since stopped using Unroll.me because I had no more junky subscriptions left. I call that a success!
At one point, I had subscriptions to over 50 different newsletters! Some of these I had actually signed up for, but mostly they just clogged up my inbox and I never read them.
Then I found Unroll.me, a FREE service that allows you to quickly unsubscribe and roll-up the subscriptions you do want into ONE daily email. How sweet is that?
TIP #3: Don’t delete – Archive & Search!
When Gmail came on the scene in 2004, I found one of the greatest features was the Archive. This means you don’t need to delete any messages, just archive them and if you need the information later, you can search, just like the Google search engine. This article from Lifehacker has great instructions on how to search effectively in Gmail and Inbox by Google.
TIP #4: Declare email bankruptcy and reset instantly.
This is the nuclear option, but it definitely works. If you simply have TOO much email to even begin to sort through, I recommend the following steps:
- Create a new folder within your email program. Name this folder whatever you like – Archive, History, Old Messages, anything that works for you.
- Move ALL of the messages out of your inbox and into this folder.
- Start fresh and process only the incoming messages using the tips above.
If this sounds appealing but you have reservations, one thing to know is that if there is a truly urgent important thing you need to know about, it is most likely that you will not hear about it by email.
Chances are, no one will notice! If something is truly important, they will call you. But if you still feel trepidation, then send out a message to your most important contacts to give them a heads-up of your inbox clearing:
I just cleared out all the email messages in my inbox and it feels great! If there is a recent message you sent to me which needs a reply, please re-send.
TIP #5: Strive to reach Inbox Zero
Zero messages in the inbox? Yes, this really is possible using the techniques above. I love this concept because it is really relaxing to know that I have read any important messages and set reminders for non-urgent messages to come back when the content is relevant. Plus there is a cute screen to reward you for reaching the elusive Inbox Zero.
After you declutter your email, what’s next?
Check out my 7 Secrets to getting off JUNK mail lists