Getting Started Professional Development

How to Clean Out Your Inbox in 5 Easy Steps

Written by Peter Jones

We all start with the best of intentions: an empty inbox (except for our most current unread or action-required emails), and an array of carefully labeled file folders containing all the rest.

But one busy week or month, and we spiral far beyond our own control—until we’re one of those people with 12,429 unread emails, or with page after page after page of unfiled, undeleted stuff and no time to sit down and fix it.

But clearing clutter is as important in your inbox as it is in your working space. So take an hour, turn off all distractions—maybe even the Internet!—and get the monster that is your email back in working order.

Determine Who’s Who

Start by sorting your inbox by sender. This helps you get rid of page after page of newsletters and promotions you no longer need, plus it helps you weed out the unimportant and deletable emails from more important senders.

Go Incognito

For the purposes of this exercise, you’re not “checking your email.” No matter how quickly you can do it, resist the temptation to start replying to time-sensitive messages. There’ll be plenty of time for that. Flag the ones that require replies and move on.

Find Your System

No one else’s organization system will work better for you than your own. Find a filing and labeling system that works best for you—and makes your job easier, not harder. If the idea of applying such a system retroactively is too daunting for you, you could always put everything not current into a folder labeled “BEFORE” and rely on search to call up older emails and start fresh.

Be Ruthless

Pretend each email is a piece of physical mail, slowly piling up on top of your desk, and repeat: I don’t have to keep everything. Keeping a paper trail with important stuff is crucial, but just because you can keep and store a billion emails doesn’t mean you should. Free up disk and head space and hit delete whenever you can.

Know Your Tricks

Using your keyboard shortcuts (arrow keys, “shift,” “delete,” etc.) can make this process go much faster. Try finding a way to make the process go like lightning, rather than using your mouse to click on every email.

About the author

Peter Jones