An inbox crammed with emails is incredibly stressful.
Each email is like a monkey on your back, albeit a small one. After a while, it can build up, and before you know it, you’re overloaded.
Use these tips to streamline your process for dealing with emails and clean up your inbox.
Note: these tips are for the most part demonstrated using Gmail and Apple’s Mail app, but can applied to just about any modern email service or client (like Apple’s Mail, Mozilla’s Thunderbird, or Microsoft’s Outlook).
Try this Labs feature if you use one email address for many things.
For example, once you activate 'multiple inboxes' in Gmail's Labs page under Settings, a new tab will show up in your Gmail settings. Click the tab, and try entering in a variety of 'operators' to create divisions within your inbox. Experiment with the minus sign (-) and different combinations of operators.
For example, we set up Gmail so anything that comes from an @businessinsider.com email address gets automatically labelled 'Business Insider.' So under the 'multiple inboxes' tab, we entered 'label:inbox label:business-insider' in Pane 0 (so emails we've archived don't come in), and then for Pane 1, we enter 'label:inbox -label:business-insider. Once you do this, everything stays separate, but still in your inbox!
In many email clients such as Apple Mail, 'Smart Mailboxes' (or something similar) are available to accomplish this same task as Gmail's Multiple Inboxes. Use these to create smart mailboxes for 'unread emails' and more by clicking the (+) sign to add more fields.
Most email services are IMAP these days, but check your email settings (on your client or on your online email service) to make sure you're not using POP3.
IMAP will enable you to create folders that live on servers, so you can access them from anywhere. What's the use of a folder full of work emails if you can only access them 'On My Mac.'? Once you set up an IMAP email account, you'll be able to click the drop down (pictured) and choose the email account.
Think about it---just like anything in life that you must do, it's either now or later.
Train yourself to power through emails that only demand a brief response, even if you have to think seriously for a couple minutes. You'll be glad you did it, and you'll get better at it over time.
Set up folders or labels to organise and tag incoming emails automatically. This will make it easier to distinguish urgent messages from family reunion invitations. Many email clients and services offer features to accomplish this.
Gmail does this best, but most mail clients (and even iOS devices, now) have this ability.
This will limit the number of 'emails' in your inbox, and will instead create strings of emails that keep related messages tied together under a single subject heading.
Create a 'read later' folder for emails from friends such as joke chain letters, funny cat videos, and links you want to visit. Immediately move these emails to your new folder when they come in. Review the items in this folder only once you get home at the end of the day.
Create a folder and accompanying filters for receipts and for notifications. Or just turn off notifications entirely from services like Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In (which is particularly annoying). These emails clutter your inbox and make it hard to scan through emails--and with Facebook, you'll get the notifications when you log in anyway.
This is another thing Gmail's great at. One reason to do this is to gain the peace of mind of seeing a cleaner inbox without the fear of ever losing a message you need.
If your account really full, all you need to do is use an IMAP email client like Apple Mail or Thunderbird to pull in all your emails. Then, go to the deleted messages or 'All Mail' folder and click the column called 'size' to re-organise all your old emails by how big they are. Delete the biggest and least important emails.
Go one by one and address each email, whether you are putting it in your 'Follow Up' folder, your 'Hold' folder (if you're waiting for somebody else to do something), deleting it, or responding to it.
Try and set a goal such as 'every day when I leave the office, I want to have less than 30 emails in my inbox (folders not included).' Having a clean inbox will allow you to respond to emails promptly--people love prompt email responders.
Scan your spam box for two minutes once a day to make sure nothing important got marked as spam. If there's nothing important, delete it all. Also, be sure to mark emails that come in as spam (if they aren't already). Your client will learn which emails are spam and which aren't.