5 Ways to Fight Back Against E-Mail Clutter

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One day not too long ago, I stared at my Inbox in my work e-mail account.  My shoulders tensed.  I cringed.  My pulse skittered up a few notches.  Why?  Over 200 e-mail messages littered it.  My writing account and personal accounts were even worse.  I needed to clear out the clutter.  Fast.

Maybe for you, a junked-up Inbox doesn’t bother you.  However, clutter builds unnecessary stress into our lives, especially when we need a message quickly but can’t find one.  You might say, “I’m stuck.  I’m overwhelmed.  I don’t know what to do.”  The first thing?

Empty your box.


Take a deep breath.  It’s not hopeless.  Then, take one of the following three approaches.

  • The nuclear option.  The quickest approach is to dump all of your messages.  Delete them.  Get rid of them.  Most don’t mean a thing, right?  Not so fast.  In choosing this option, you might lose something critical.
  • The hare option.  Sort your e-mails by sender.  Chances are really good that if your e-mail has gotten junked up, useless messages remain, like those generated from the last time you ordered a cute top or golf clubs online.  Delete those.  Also, check out messages from someone with whom you normally e-mail.  For example, my husband and I e-mail each other at work, mostly about innocuous day-to-day things.  Remove those .  Then take care of those you’ve already acted upon.
  • The tortoise option.  Use the ten-percent rule.  Each day, delete or file ten percent of the e-mails in your Inbox.  It may take some time, but gradually, you’ll cull the e-mail herd.

Okay.  So you’ve cleaned out your Inbox.  How do you keep it that way?  Here’s five ways:

  1. Unsubscribe.  All of us buy things online.  When we do, we have to enter our e-mail addresses for receipts and shipping confirmations.  What happens after that?  We get additional advertisements or, heaven forbid, advertisements from people who bought our addresses off a mailing list.  When you receive one of those, go to their website and unsubscribe.  It takes only a couple of clicks.
  2. Act.  If possible, deal with the e-mail when you receive it.  Maybe all you need to do is reply.  Do it.  Then delete or file it away.  Somehow, remove it from your Inbox.
  3. Triage.  Some e-mail systems like Microsoft Outlook contain ways to prioritize e-mails such as color coding.  Use that coding to prioritize how you’ll answer your e-mails.  Then do just that before filing or deleting.
  4. File.  Set up e-mail folders.  Then, if you need to hold on to an e-mail, file it under the appropriate folder.  I do that all of the time for work.  If a message I receive pertains to a particular project, I’ll file it when I finish with it.
  5. Delete.  You’ve dealt with the e-mail and have no need for it.  What to do next?  It’s easy.  Delete it.  Now.  Don’t wait.  Otherwise, it’s easy to fall back into the trap.

May these five easy steps lead to a clutter-free life–at least in your Inbox.

Question:  What ways have you developed to keep your e-mail clutter free?

This post does not mention any products. Therefore, I am not receiving any compensation for writing this post.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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