Dreading to open your overflowing inbox and face the thousands of unread emails lurking in there? Having a nagging feeling that you’ve missed some important information or a deadline because your mailbox is out of control? Yet feeling paralysed at the idea of going through it? Here’s my approach to help you restore your overflowing inbox to a manageable size in the least possible time.
Set a limit so you won’t procrastinate at the idea of tackling your overflowing inbox
I understand you’d probably like to go through your entire inbox to feel reassured you haven’t missed an important message, but depending on the number of emails you’ve accumulated, it could take you several hours, or even several days, to go through all of them.
And even if you could face the thought of doing it, can you really afford to spend your time on this? Would it be a good use of your time anyway? And what’s the worst that would happen after all if you were to delete an important message? I’d love to give some general guidelines here, but the answers to these questions depend on the nature of the information you’re dealing with.
So try to weigh in time vs risk to decide how far back you want to scan your inbox. If you’re not able to make this decision upfront, start with the most recent month so you can get an idea of how much time you could potentially be spending on this and decide how many months of backlog you want to tackle. Don’t forget, in the meantime, new emails are going to come in, and it’s probably better to focus on the most recent information.
Alternatively give yourself a time limit to spend on this task. One hour? Half a day? Whatever you think you can realistically commit to. Work in a very focused manner during that time (see below for more details). When the time is up, delete whatever you haven’t been able to deal with. Let go of the guilt and start afresh! And bear in mind that if there was something really important in the emails you’re about to delete, you’d already have received one or even several reminders about it.
Establish a set of rules so you can mass delete your overflowing inbox
Come up with some rules as you go through your inbox about messages that are no longer relevant, and that you can safely discard. It will speed up the deletion process. Examples include:
- Newsletters you were added onto without your permission, have no longer an interest in, or have no time to read (you can always subscribe again when the time is right)
- Invitations to events that have already occurred
- Deliveries you have already received
- Promotions or product announcements
- Notifications from social media accounts
- Unwanted emails from specific senders etc.
Use the search function to identify common senders or subject lines. Then go into autopilot and delete, delete, delete!
Organise the emails you need to keep in broad categories
Avoid at all cost dealing with the emails that need to be actioned while going through the deletion process as it will break your momentum down. Remember the goal at this stage is to restore your overflowing inbox to a manageable size in the least possible time. If you start replying to some emails, then consider it game over!
What you can do though is to sort them into broad categories depending on the type of actions you need to take, for example:
- To-file (no action is needed but you need to keep the email for future reference)
- To read
- To block senders – so next time they end up in your SPAM folder
- To unsubscribe – if the email doesn’t provide an option to unsubscribe, flag it as spam so that it no longer goes into your inbox.
You can then tackle each of these categories by batch. I suggest you schedule the time for each of these tasks in your diary if you really want to get them done.
Your SPAM folder could be a quick win, but you need to be brave!
If you feel brave, select all the messages in your SPAM folder and delete them at one go. Yes, at one go! After all, there’s a reason why they ended up in there, right? Better focus your time and efforts where you’re more likely to find important messages i.e. your inbox, don’t you think?
Now, if that’s a bit too drastic for you, scan your SPAM folder and delete all the emails from senders you don’t recognise. The trick is to not open the email otherwise you’re going to get stuck in there for a while… Deal with the rest, hopefully a limited few. Add people to your safe senders list so that they don’t end up in your SPAM folder again.
Again, the goal of this exercise is to restore your overflowing inbox to a manageable size in the least possible time. But, going forward, unless you set up a process to deal with the never-ending flow of emails, the clutter will quickly return in your inbox. I’m here for you to prevent this from happening.
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