Career

How To Clear Out The Ridiculous Amount Of E-mails In Your Inbox – For Good

Know that an empty inbox isn’t a hopeless dream. There are ways to do it, and no, it doesn’t automatically start with addressing every e-mail as they arrive. But there’s a bit of work to be done before we get things hovering near zero.

Isn’t it funny how a simple image can sum up the inherent dualities in human existence so succinctly? Take this one for instance:

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Oof.

If you identify with the people on the left there, congratulations! You’re a real winner. But for those of us who skew more towards the depressing reality on the right, don’t worry. We got you.

Manrepeller recently spoke to two experts on clean inboxes, Verena von Pfetten, a contributing digital editor, and Julia Rubin, features editor at Racked. In their respective roles, Verena and Julia are consistently inundated by e-mails, both of the work and non-work variety (i.e. subscriptions, coupons, Uber receipts and the like), so they obviously have some real-life advice for us helpless suckers.

#1 Make the ‘unsubscribe’ button your best friend

This is all about making sure you’re receiving a manageable amount of e-mails for one person to handle. 

Receiving less mail, Julia says, is the key to keeping your inbox in order. “I know that sounds obvious,” she says, “but I have one word for you and that word is ‘unsubscribe.'”

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Unnecessary newsletters need to go. Spam from online shopping sites you bought something from three years ago also need to go. Spend a week going over how many of those promotional e-mails you’re actually opening, keep some, and mercilessly cull the rest. If that’s a little daunting, try a service like Unroll.me, which identifies all your subscriptions and helps you select which ones to keep and which ones to cull. It can even bundle up any particular subscription to send to you in a single weekly or monthly e-mail.

#2 Declare e-mail bankruptcy

If you’re pushing the thousands with your inbox, it might be time to make the call. Declaring e-mail bankruptcy effectively means archiving (not deleting) e-mails in your inbox that are more than a month old. It might sound drastic, but you’ve got to face facts: there’s just no way you’re going to be able to successfully read all of them, reply to them, and live to tell the tale.

And to be honest, it’s probably already too late for you to do anything with an old party invite or 2-for-1 shoe offer, so it’s time to say goodbye. Remember, “if it’s super important,” says Verena, “the person will follow up.”

#3 Be swift, be fast, and take no prisoners

Some of these e-mails that are clogging up your inbox can sometimes simply require a quick two-second response. For those, try and knock out a few as quickly and as swiftly as possible, and then introduce Gmail’s helpful ‘Send + Archive’ setting.

Though a little controversial, this setting sends your e-mail and immediately archives it into the abyss. It is accessible if you search for it, but it’s immediately gone from your inbox, clearing up some much needed clutter. “You’ll automatically feel more accomplished,” Verena says.

#4 Every e-mail has a lifespan

For some it’s a week, maybe a few days and for others, a matter of minutes before you absolutely have to reply. For those that you’re keeping around in the hopes of replying later, make sure you only wait (at a maximum) a week.

Not every e-mail can be replied to right away, says Julia, so it’s important to get to it within a few days, or just simply move on. Keeping an e-mail in your inbox in the hopes of returning to it later is almost like watching a not-so-good movie. If you start watching and soon realise it’s not really your thing, you often have to make the decision to return to it at a later date, or completely abandon it. Sometimes you know deep down you won’t be returning to it, so it’s often best to make a decision in that moment whether to go forward with it, or throw it away.

#5 Labels and filters

Joseph Stromberg from Vox recently revealed his tips for keeping his inbox empty, and for him, it all came down to labelling (or as Joseph put it, “the strategy that will rule your new e-mail life”).

While everyone will have their own labelling system that works for them, Joseph found that he only kept e-mails in his inbox if they needed a reply or action immediately. Some people often use a “to-do” label for this purpose, or even “star” things to follow up later (but remember that previous lifespan rule!)

Labels can vary from anything from travel related into a ‘Travel’ folder, all receipts kept neatly in a ‘Receipts’ folder, and all uni things in a ‘Uni’ folder. It’s as simple as it sounds, and it’s bound to keep you sane if you’ve got a lot on the go. Colour code them too, if you’re feeling fancy.

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Joseph also uses filters to automatically divert e-mails from his inbox to a specific folder. For example, if you get a bunch of Groupon e-mails but never have time to read or take advantage of them (but want to keep them just incase) you can set up all e-mails from Groupon to be automatically diverted to a specific folder. Here’s a handy how-to for Gmail filters.

#6 Keep calm and soldier on

So that should have cut a significant chunk out of that inbox madness – now your mission is to keep it that way. As long as you’re working and busy, there’ll always be e-mails coming in, so it’s important not to let it get ahead of you.

As Verena puts it, you’ve got to be an e-mail multitasker and work culling e-mails into your regular daily routine. Verena uses her subway commute to do it, but you can also do it first thing in the morning, or even on your way out of the office. Even a particularly cruisey spin class could work.

It might sound like a lot of effort, but you’ll be a whole lot happier and carefree in the long run. We promise.


Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer, editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker and celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.

h/t: Manrepeller