Today we receive more emails than ever before. The constant flow of incoming messages can be exhausting. I know from my own experience how quickly thousands of emails can pile up and demand attention. No wonder that dealing with all those emails becomes more stressful than it needs to be. But don’t worry, decluttering, organizing, and maintaining a clean email inbox can be done. But, it requires a change in method and mindset.
Declutter Your Email Inbox
It’s been over 20 years since email became mainstream. During this time, technology has changed, and new ways of electronic communication emerged. Nonetheless, email is still the primary point of contact for business purposes, job applications, or whenever you sign up for a service or buy something online. Hence, emails can accumulate very quickly and clog your inbox.
As with any decluttering project, you first need an overview. Which can be a challenge if you have a vast number of emails to go through. The best way – similar to decluttering digital files and paperwork – is to find emails that have something in common. And then handle them in batches. Here are some tips on how to sort and search your cluttered email inbox:
- Sort your emails by date. Archive all emails older than a year. Mark them as read before you move them to the archive folder.
- Sort by or search for sender addresses. Then, decide what can be deleted or archived.
- Search for a specific keyword. This is a good way to find emails that belong together. It also helps to identify messages related to an old, now obsolete topic or project.
- Search for the word ‘unsubscribe’. This is a little trick to dig out newsletters from your inbox as they need to include an unsubscribe link in their footer.
What If There Are Too Many Emails to Deal With?
When decluttering emails, you should check all messages in all folders, not only those in your inbox. However, this can be too much to handle at once. If you have accumulated emails from many years, it may be best to archive older emails and deal with the most current first. Depending on how many emails you receive, you could solely concentrate on the last three months or the current year.
Now that you’ve made a bit of room in your email inbox, it’s time to clean up further.
Unsubscribe From Unwanted Emails
Don’t only delete unwanted marketing emails and newsletters. They clog your inbox and make it harder for you to see the important messages. It’s worth the effort to unsubscribe as it gets you a step closer to a clean inbox.
Check the footer of the respective email. Usually in small text, a link should be included that says ‘unsubscribe’ or ‘change email preferences’. Follow the link and the instructions to unsubscribe. Some may instruct you to reply to the email with ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject line to request removal from their list.
Block Email Senders
There are still email senders that neither ask for your permission nor offer a straightforward, comfortable way to unsubscribe despite clear legal regulations. Mark their messages as spam. Additionally, depending on the email system you use, block the email sender or put them on a blacklist.
Use Bulk Unsubscribing Tools
There are apps available that help you unsubscribe from multiple emails instead of taking care of them one by one. This can save time, no question. However, always check which access rights to your email accounts they need, and what personal data they collect. Always read the privacy notices of such service providers!
Reduce Stress and Keep Your Email Inbox Tidy
To avoid feeling overwhelmed by your emails, create a routine that keeps your inbox organized and tidy. Otherwise, you have to declutter your emails over and over again.
But why is it so difficult to stay on top of your incoming messages? Often, it’s because we think we have to be always available and respond immediately. Or it’s because we believe that every email is important, more important than our own priorities.
Check Your Emails Less Frequently
Do you believe you have to be always available? I don’t think so. Well, ok, there are exceptions. Some professions demand constant availability. But honestly, this is not the case for the majority of us. Furthermore, alerts and other critical messages do rarely reach us via email, right?
Checking emails less often can have a considerable impact on our productivity and our level of stress. Research from the University of British Columbia suggests that reading emails less frequently is much better. The study participants – students, analysts, and other professionals – were asked to limit checking emails to three times daily for a week. Another group of participants continued with checking emails as often as they could. Then the groups switched the other week.
It turned out that the participants who checked their emails only during specific time slots spent 20% less time with their inbox. Although they received precisely the same amount of emails as the other group.
Moreover, they felt less stressed. The study also revealed that the participants had difficulties resisting the temptation of checking incoming messages immediately. Nevertheless, resisting the temptation and maintaining a disciplined routine notably reduced their stress.
To sum up, checking your email three times a day in chunks rather than responding instantly to any incoming message is more efficient and reduces stress.
The study, Checking Email Less Frequently Reduces Stress, is published online in Computers in Human Behavior.
Turn Off Desktop Notifications For Incoming Emails
Desktop notifications call for our immediate attention. It’s almost impossible to ignore them. However, getting notified for every incoming email is like waiting for someone else to tell you what your priorities are. But are the requests of others always more important than our own projects? Most likely not. So, turn off notifications and resist the urge to check emails as soon as they arrive.
Turn Off Email Notifications From Apps and Social Media
You can always check what’s new and engage directly on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and co. Email notifications aren’t really necessary. Instead, schedule time to check what’s new, and don’t let the endless stream of tweets and posts take over your day.
Don’t Use Your Inbox as a To-do List
Don’t let emails sit in your inbox as a reminder. Use a proper to-do list and your calendar instead. I used to keep emails in my inbox to remind me of something I had to do, e.g., make a call, prepare a meeting, or follow-up with someone. However, these are all to-dos, and they need to be scheduled. It’s better to set a reminder in your calendar and remove those emails from your inbox. If you need to refer to their content, move them into a (temporary) folder. That way, you won’t forget anything, but keep your inbox tidy.
Don’t Rely on Sophisticated Filing
From my experience, it’s better to settle for a simple filing structure – probably less than ten folders and only one level of nested folders.
I created a vast number of folders, stretched over three levels, and more in the past. However, this only encouraged me to keep more emails longer than necessary. It didn’t provide a better overview, though.
Today, I stick to a straightforward filing system that currently consists of four folders and a few temporary subfolders (usually not more than five) for current topics or projects. I commit to delete or archive these temporary folders, including emails, once an issue is solved or a project is finished.
This is how my email filing system looks like, just as an example:
- 01 Pending
- Topic/Issue 1
- Topic/Issue 2
- Topic/Issue 3
- Project 1
- Project 2
- 02 Money
- 03 Tech
- 04 Archived
I’m happy with this simple, straightforward filing system, even though I use my account for both business and private emails.
How to Use The Inbox Zero Method To Stay Organized
Inbox zero is a productivity method developed by the writer and podcaster Merlin Mann. The catchy name is misleading, though. The primary goal is not to have an empty inbox but to tackle emails in a structured manner. This includes that we get away from the common behavior to check (read) emails but don’t deal with them directly, so our inbox continually expands.
The method wants us to deal with every single email and categorize it immediately. There are four categories to choose from: delete, delegate, defer, or do. The key is that we never keep read emails in our inbox.
Delete – Delete every incoming email you no longer need. If unsure, archive it. But do either of it immediately.
Delegate – You don’t need to do everything yourself. If possible, forward the message to the right person.
Defer – Postpone emails that demand a bit of time and effort. Mark, label, or put them temporarily in a folder. However, commit to deal with them as soon as you’ve gone through the rest of your emails.
Do – Deal with all emails that only demand a quick reply directly. Usually, these are replies that need less than two minutes and involve no extra effort, for instance, looking for and attaching files.
This method allows you to go through a large number of new emails in minutes. And, don’t worry if new messages pop up while you’re still busy sorting. It’s not so much about having no emails in your inbox. It’s more about processing incoming emails efficiently.
Remember that you still need to answer emails that fall into the category ‘do’ or ‘defer’. Don’t risk getting frustrated just because you try to squeeze this task in. Better be realistic and plan a sufficient amount of time for it daily.
Feel the Relief
Don’t let your overflowing inbox interfere with your productivity. I know the initial email decluttering can be tiresome. Besides, keeping up with the fast pace of today’s communication and stay organized is a real challenge. However, once you established new routines and gain the confidence not to jump on every incoming message, you’ll feel the relief. I promise. From my experience, if you manage your emails right, you’ll get a significant stress factor out of your way!
More Ways to Declutter, Simplify and De-Stress Life
Lately, I shared my 6 most effective ways to de-stress life. In this post, I also looked at ‘digital simplifiers’ and their impact on our stress levels.
Getting rid of clutter is an excellent way to reduce stress. Less stuff simply means having less to take care of. Here’s a collection of posts that can help:
- The KonMari Method: All You Need to Know + Printable Guide
- Wardrobe Decluttering a la Marie Kondo: Pros and Cons
- How to Declutter and Reduce Paperwork to a Minimum
Once you’ve got your inbox under control, look at these areas here, too:
- Declutter and Better Organize Digital Files in 5 Steps
- How to Declutter and Enrich Your Social Media Life
And if not only digital clutter is a problem for you, but a general tech-addiction, I can genuinely recommend a digital detox:
Getting rid of clutter is an excellent way to reduce stress. My latest post on how to live a decluttered life gives you a broader overview of the topic. This comprehensive guide explains 5 reasons why it’s worth it to declutter and shows 5 different ways to do so (KonMari plus 4 other decluttering methods). The article also dives deeper into decluttering specific areas like your personal belongings, home, and workplace. And I added tips on how to deal with mental clutter and which new habits can help maintain a decluttered life over the long run.
If you like the ‘less, but luxe’ idea, follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more tips and inspirations. And don’t forget to join my email list to receive weekly updates plus content that’s exclusively available to my readers.
How have you managed to declutter your email inbox? Do you also sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer flood of incoming messages? Have you tried the inbox zero method? How often do you check your emails a day? I’m curious to hear how you deal with all these challenges!