8 practical tips to help you declutter your inbox

Take back control of your emails

Not to name any names, but someone I know has an inbox of 4000+ emails. It’s enough to make me want to cry! Even if you have a fraction of that amount, you can’t possibly be productive and answer every email in a timely manner. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of emails in your inbox, it is going to take time to sort through them all but if you do it in manageable chunks; it’s honestly time well spent. And, in the long run, time saved beyond measure.

8 practical tips to a manageable inbox

Step 1 – Give yourself an inbox limit and then stick to it

Before you start to declutter, decide on what is a manageable amount of emails for you to have in your inbox at any one time. It’s different for everyone – I prefer no more than 20, but for you, it could be 10 or 50. Any more than 50 and it tends to get unwieldy, so try and keep it to a minimum.

This number is now both your goal for your initial declutter, and the number to stick to going forward.

Step 2 – The initial purge – delete, delete, delete

Start your purge by searching your inbox for the following and merrily deleting (as appropriate):

  • Meeting invites, acceptances, reminders (remember to accept or reject if necessary)
  • Outdated personal emails
  • Social media friend requests (they’ll be on your social media account)
  • Social media notifications and updates (they’ll be on your social media account)
  • Social media job updates
  • Spam/Junk folder

Step 3 – Now come up with a structured plan

Have a quick glance through the emails that you’ve got left, with a pen and paper in hand (or a digital version if you prefer) and get a feel for the type of emails that you’ve got in your inbox. Depending on what email platform you use, you’ll have different functionality, but they all include an option to create folders, so do make use of this.  Start to write down appropriate categories, and sub-categories that those emails fall under. If you have physical or virtual folders, it’s often helpful to mirror these with your email structure.

For example, I’ve got folders for the following:

  • Clients
  • Events
  • Contacts
  • Legal and Finance
  • Marketing
  • Networking
  • Technical
  • Training

In nearly every case, I’ve got subfolders under each of these headings too, to further break them down and give me a clear structure. If you already have folders set-up, then check whether they’re still fit-for-purpose – can you add to them? Delete them? Repurpose them? Archive them?

Step 4 – Set up colour coding rules

I love colour coding. I find it an immensely helpful way of breaking down emails in a very visual way. If you have Outlook, then it’s easy to use a colour coding system in an impactful way on your inbox. Other email providers, such as Gmail also have colour options, but they are more basic, and you can’t run an inbox search on just one colour. Find a way that works for you within the parameters of what your email provider offers. I assign one colour for each of my main folders, so I can easily file the email once I’ve actioned it.

Step 5 – Use an unsubscribe tool

There are several tools that you can use, some free and some paid, which look at everything you have subscribed to using your email address, and they then sort these for you in various ways, such as:

  • filing them straight to a dedicated folder
  • giving you a regular ‘newsletter’ that bundles them together for you
  • providing you with a list that you can choose what you want to subscribe from, and it then sorts out all the un-subscriptions for you.

This can be of huge benefit and eradicate a lot of what clutters up your inbox. To find out more about some of the unsubscribe tools on offer, read my comparison of them here.

Step 6 – Physically go through your inbox

This can be a daunting thought but having completed the first 5 steps should mean that you have already seen a dramatic decrease in the number of emails in your inbox. Remember that your inbox is not your to-do list!

  • If you’ve already actioned an email, then file it away.
  • If you’ve read it and it’s sitting there taking up space, then delete it, file it, or action it.
  • If you’re saving an email for someone’s contact details, then put those details in your online contacts and delete the email.
  • Emails relating to meeting agendas – input the info straight into the notes section of the meeting, and then either file or delete the email.
  • Any emails that still need to be actioned – colour code as you go, and then you can come back to them after the initial sort out.
  • If any emails need an urgent response, then mark them up as urgent or priority (depending upon the parameters of your email provider).

Step 7 – Tackle what’s left

Once you’ve been through your inbox once, and actioned, colour-coded, deleted, archived, or filed the majority of your emails, then look at what you have left. Sort your emails by both urgent and colour coding, and then dedicate some time to actioning the priority emails. Keep sorting and actioning until you reach your desired inbox goal.

Step 8 – Maintain control

Once you’ve spent all this time and effort in getting your email count down to the desired number, I recommend scheduling time in your diary once or twice a week to maintain it. It’s so much easier to keep on top of than it is to do an initial sort out, and you don’t want to waste the precious time you’ve spent sorting it out either.

If you're really stuck, then let me help you!

If you don't know where or how to start I can help. It’s what I’m best at! I can work with you to set up a structure and clear out your emails, so you aren’t overwhelmed every time you open your inbox.


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