Clean your inbox

Update:  This is a “best of” article I posted originally in 2008. To this day, I still follow these recommendations and email is no longer a thorn in my digital side (I reach Zero Inbox at least twice per week and strive to never have more than 5 emails in my Inbox). Give it a try!

Email truly revolutionized communication. The ability to retrieve a message from anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds is mind boggling. However, judging by the size of your inboxes (a poll I posted recently showed that 60% of email users had more than 100 messages in their inbox), you could benefit from some tips on how to keep your inbox clean.

I used to keep as many as many as 50 or so email stacked up in my inbox, but I always felt that I was behind in my work and consequently much of the email went unread and unanswered. A little more than a year ago, it all changed after I read an article that struck a chord with me called Email Zen. I immediately started practicing the techniques and suggestions in the article and found myself with a cleaner inbox and a better overall outlook (no pun intended) about email and my email communication. I continue to strive for the empty inbox and find that if I get more than 10, I start to get a little jumpy.

From reading that article and my own experience over the past 8 years, here are my suggestions for reaching harmony with email:

  1. Employ a good spam filter. All email services make them available. Use it, but please don’t identify newsletters or circulars you signed up for either willingly or inadvertently as Spam.
  2. Use Gmail instead of Outlook or any other email system. The tools available in Gmail make handling email a breeze, and the built-in spam filter with Gmail is phenomenal negating step 1.
  3. Learn to use filters to sort and manage your email.
  4. Learn to use built-in search tools in your email program to extract information from saved email.
  5. Unsubscribe from any online newsletters, forums, or email groups that you don’t actively read and never will. Remember NOT to unsubscribe from spam, that only brings more spam.
  6. Ask your email buddies who forward messages and jokes to you that you would like to be removed from their list…again, if you don’t actively read them.
  7. Respond to your incoming email as quickly as possible…preferably directly after you read it so that it is handled only one time.
  8. If you have a phone that is capable of checking your email, use it while in the bathroom, standing in line for lunch, waiting for an appointment, etc. Responding to an email on your phone will make your response brief and to the point and save you that time later when you return to your computer.

Another good article for learning how to handle email in an efficient manner is Inbox Zero over at If you have some other techniques that you find work well for keeping email under control, leave a comment and share it! If you are one of the 60% plus who have 50 or more email in their inbox, give these techniques a try and let me know what you think.

Photo by PatrickO’Shaughnessey

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  1. Bev Kingsley May 19, 2012 Reply

    I do try to keep the in box fairly clean. I do need to set up more filters for those I do not read. Would like to know how to set up second monitor–more mail?

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