How to win the battle against your email once and for all
You don’t need a New Year’s resolution to make your life run more smoothly. Give yourself the gift of order and mental clarity this season, and for heaven’s sake, clear out your inbox!
Repeat after us: You are smarter than your email inbox.
A cluttered inbox is just as bad as having piles of snail mail—if not worse—because you carry it with you everywhere you go on your smartphone. Win the battle against your inbox and streamline your life with these tips:
Organize by years and months. If you haven’t already read it, you’re just never going to. But you’re obviously afraid to just delete it all, or you would have long ago. Instead, set up folders.
Search (or do it manually) your emails to categorize them chronologically. If you’re dealing with a major clean-up, create folders by year (2012, 2013), or by month for the current year. Move all emails from those years into their respective folders. Then you can tackle them in small batches when you have a few minutes to spare.
Tip: In Gmail, you can use the phrase “Before:YYYY/MM/DD” or “older_than:years” to do a mass search.
Archive is your friend. If you use Gmail, get old emails out of your inbox by archiving them. They won’t vanish; you can recover them if you need them, and since you already labeled them, they’ll still be in their folders. But get them out from underneath your nose if you’re not immediately using them.
Tackle all that remains. What is left in your inbox after your mass relocation project is what needs to be manually sorted through. Depending on your personal needs, that might be emails from the past three months or only this week. Give yourself a specific amount of time to handle this project, such as three days. Set a deadline to keep you accountable, but be realistic.
Prepare for the future. Emails never stop coming. So, now you must create filters to automatically compartmentalize your new emails coming in. You might also want to enroll in Unroll.me. This free, awesome service creates a list of all of your current subscriptions (you’re never going to believe how many you’re somehow enrolled in!), then provides you a list where you can quickly check to unsubscribe or “roll” your subscriptions into one single daily or weekly email. That way, you can still get your favorite daily deals and news updates, but they’ll all come packaged in one neat little message. Another service, SaneBox ($6 a month), scans your inbox and categorizes what it determines as unimportant emails into a separate folder. Along those lines, make sure you use Gmail’s free inbox categorization system, where it separates important and starred emails to the top of your inbox—or create your own categories.
Consider using multiple email addresses for different purposes. Create a separate email for your coupon and newsletter enrollments, and keep it out of your business inbox.
Create a daily plan and stick to it. Every day, create a plan that works for you to keep your inbox clean. For example, first thing every morning, browse your inbox and delete everything you can. Sort the other emails you want to keep into appropriate folders. Only keep in your inbox the messages that require immediate action. And respond by 5 p.m. that day. Once a week, set aside 10 minutes to sort through anything left in your inbox and act upon it. Make sure you can always see the bottom of your inbox. Every day.