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I’m enjoying the declutter series I’ve been writing on the blog. When I wrote the post on how to declutter your virtual desktop, one of my readers asked me a question, ‘Do you have a post on how to clean up your email inbox? I have one that is always cluttered and overflowing and it’s driving me insane!’

Well, that gave me the idea for this post and to be honest, the tips are SO simple, you’d be wondering why you hadn’t thought of them yourself.

Desktop with a keyboard, a phone, a book and a pen laid out with tips on how to clean up your email inbox in simple steps

Before we begin, there are a few things to remember about e-mail decluttering:

A) Use the tips below as a long-term guide. Don’t attempt to do all of them at once, because you’ll give up before you get started.

B) There is no such thing as a completely empty mailbox

C) No matter what you do, there will always be email that continues to fill your inbox (which can be either comforting or frightening depending on how you look at it) 😉


Use Gmail as your Personal Organizer

I personally love Gmail simply because it is completely optimised for search. That, my friends, is the first trick to decluttering your inbox.

Most of us sit down to elaborately declutter the inbox and get overwhelmed.

Instead, the first thing I ask people to do is archive all their emails. That way, you’re not deleting them forever, but deciding if they can be found later using ‘search’. We will explore what to do with the mail in point 2 below.

Next, set a reminder for three time slots through the day when you can log in for 10 minutes to process email. Doing this will ensure you get to the inbox rather than check it all through the day.

Use the Gmail app on your phone, but turn off all notifications. Unless you are the CEO of a multi-national corporation(and even if you are!) , you don’t need to reply to mails the instant that they are received.


Use Filters; not Categories

Gmail came up with a very interesting concept of a categorised inbox a while ago. That meant mails that fall under ‘Promotions’, ‘Updates’ and ‘Social’ would skip the primary inbox automatically and go into that category inbox.

This was apparently a good move, until it turned out that relevant mails were getting caught in the categorisation.

Instead, what I did was to revert to the single primary inbox feature.

What this does is keep all mails in a single inbox for me to review at a glance.

Next, I set up filters. Follow the steps below to assign filters to your mail. This is a one-time setup. Afterwards, you can sit back and watch the mails neatly filter themselves into the respective slots.


Add Reminders to Google Tasks

Ever scramble through your email, frantically looking for a task that you know has to be done?

Well, just like the ‘Create filter’ option explained in point # 2, I love the ‘Add to Tasks’ feature.

This sets up a direct link to Google Tasks from within your email.

For instance, if I get an email notification about an upcoming sale and I know I need to create graphics for the same, here’s what I do.

Easy, right? 🙂

Click on ‘add to tasks’ and review the tasks tab once a day to see if there are important reminders.


Decide on your action when you see the mail (AAT)

What is the biggest time crunch when it comes to email? The fact that we have to wade through all of it, right?

Now, if we have a single inbox and log in JUST 3 times a day, this vastly simplifies things. Follow the AAT approach that I recommend below:

  • Next time you open your inbox, glance at all the mails that have arrived.
  • Decide if the mail needs to be ‘answered’, ‘archived‘ or ‘trashed’. (AAT approach)
  • If ‘Answered‘, decide if it can be done in under 2 minutes. If yes, do it right away. If not, star it and keep it in the inbox for your second email slot of the day.
  • Use ‘archived‘ if you believe that it has important information that you’d need to refer to later. Maybe an invoice from a client or bank account information.
  • Use ‘Trashed’ if it is in a long line of promotional messages that are filling up your inbox.

Pro Tip: If the ‘archive’ mail has a useful link in it, bookmark the link to Pocket and discard the mail. Simple 🙂


Unsubscribe from Mailing Lists

As someone who sends a regular newsletter you may be wondering why I am actually recommending this. 😉

Don’t worry. I have good reason to do so. Now, when you look through your archives and see a newsletter from someone, assess it based on the following:

  • Think back to why you signed up for the newsletter in the first place. Was it out of a need for information or were you helping out a friend?
  • Is the information that you’re getting outdated, irrelevant or repetitive?
  • Does the newsletter provide value to your life or your business? If not, unsubscribe from the list.

Do this activity once a week so you don’t get overwhelmed by it all. Again, put it on the calendar in writing so you actually get to it.

Pro Tip: Find a useful newsletter that you love which has tons of useful information? Copy the content into a Word document and discard the mail. Finding it on your desktop is super easy if you follow my tips in this post.


Handling large mails

Another concern that most people have is the problem of large files and attachments in emails that take up valuable space.

Now, this is a valid concern because you don’t want to be using up your inbox quota unnecessarily.

Here’s a simple way to clean those up.

In the search box at the top of gmail, enter the following

larger:10mb

This will immediately show you the mails that have the largest attachments.

Review those and choose to keep or discard them if they don’t have any more use.

Pro Tip: You can use the larger:1mb or larger:5mb to successively sort mails by size. I also send super-large mails with attachments that I want to keep to a dedicated email address, purely for archival purposes.


Trash spam mails in bulk

Gmail by itself has a relatively strong spam filter.

Occasionally, though, it helps if you can manually mark some mails that slip through the cracks.

You can do this in one of two ways (see image below)

  • Hit the ‘unsubscribe’ tab next to the email address of the sender
  • Select the ‘Mark as spam’ tab on the row above the email

Use a separate inbox for work

As much as I love Gmail, I don’t use it for my work email.

Because, I need an inbox that will show me all relevant and useful information at a glance when I sit down to work.

Get a custom email address from your workplace or hosting provider. For instance, mine is shailaja@shailajav.com

Hook it up to an email client like MS Outlook so you can receive all work-related mails there.

Pro Tip: You can apply all the steps I have outlined above for your work email too.


Don’t access work email on your phone

When you only access your work mail on your laptop, there is a higher chance of a few things happening:

  1. You actually read all important mails when you have time to respond to them
  2. You aren’t distracted by a million other notifications
  3. You get through your decluttering sessions at a much faster rate.

Don’t miss my post on How to Declutter your Social Media

Pro Tip: I’m actually hoping to remove Gmail from my phone too at some point. Will let you know if I do.


Don’t aim to delete it all

‘Inbox zero’ is fairly impossible to achieve for many of us, especially if you think about the inbox as including all the mail you ever receive.

However, using the tips I have shared above you can aim to keep the actual inbox clutter free.

Over time you will realise that deleting everything in your inbox is not the answer.

In a world where search functionality reigns supreme, use it to your advantage.


Sunflowers next to a laptop with the caption: How to clean out your email inbox in ten simple steps