Our world is more digitized than ever, which means digital communications—and incoming emails—are at an all-time high. The more emails you get, the more your email storage space is taken up, and often by messages that aren't all that important for you to read in the first place.
If you've read this far, chances are that you're among the many busy professionals who have cluttered inboxes but don't know how to achieve "inbox zero." Luckily for you, there are unique and powerful software suites as well as several helpful strategies you can follow to clean up your inbox and prevent further overload. To that end, let's cover some of those strategies below and discuss how you can maintain a de-cluttered inbox for the long term.
Email cleaning best practices
Before we talk about how you can declutter your inbox and keep it from getting too messy, let's quickly cover why it's so important that you maintain an organized inbox.
The make-or-break factor between having a productive day and having one that makes you want to pull your hair out can be an inbox that's organized. Having to contend with a cluttered inbox makes it harder for you to quickly locate the messages that are important to you. To avoid this, make the best of your email threads. The longer you spend navigating a messy inbox, the more deadlines you're likely to miss.
If, however, you're working with an organized inbox, it becomes much easier to keep up with your workload and be more efficient and productive. All it takes to maintain an organized inbox is a few minutes of your time every day. After all, the last thing you want to run into is the dreaded "your storage is almost full" message just as you're about to send out your most important email of the day.
If your inbox looks anything like the inboxes of others, it's probably filled to the brim with unread messages that you never needed to read in the first place. It doesn't make sense to keep all of those old emails taking up your storage space, especially when there are probably emails in your inbox that you need to read.
This is where weekly reminders come in handy. Setting up email reminders can help you schedule time to delete old emails every week. You can also delete emails that are a few weeks (or even months) old, which can go a long way toward keeping your inbox free of unneeded messages. You'll also benefit from having more space in your account in case you need to hold onto more emails down the road.
It's pretty common for people to sign up for ads or newsletters that, while at one point may have seemed interesting, quickly become annoyances that lead to cluttered inboxes.
These days, ads and newsletters always provide readers with the opportunity to unsubscribe, an opportunity you should take advantage of if you find that the majority of clutter in your inbox is due to things you should've unsubscribed from long ago.
If you still receive newsletters that you enjoy skimming but want to stop taking up your email storage, it may be a good idea for you to set up a newsletter folder that you empty regularly.
Any email organization system that's worth its salt should define ways to label emails with tags. Using tags to label must-read emails is essential if you need to stay abreast of messages that require your immediate attention—it also makes it easier to see which emails can wait.
Using email labels may initially seem like a lot of work, but setting aside some time to establish an effective, streamlined system of email labeling will save you tons of time down the road.
If you're taking the time to define and propagate an email labeling system that can be used across your business, it may also be worth your time to make other areas of your day-to-day work life more efficient by setting up email filters.
Now that you're ankle-deep in your email-cleaning process, you've probably stumbled across a few spam emails that are still stuck in your inbox. You must resist the urge to delete them—mark them instead as spam mail and send them to your spam folder. Doing this is going to condition your spam filter to automatically send future messages from previous spammers to your spam folder. This way, you won't have to see them or manually drag them to your spam folder yourself. If you do spot multiple spam messages from a single sender, it's OK to block incoming messages from them.
Last, but certainly not least, do your best to organize your email inbox with folders. For many busy professionals, achieving the coveted "zero inbox" state is a far-off fantasy—lots of people can't even remember the last time they reached the end of their inbox with zero unread messages. If this sounds anything like you, then you probably need some folders in your life.
Thankfully, it's more than possible to create custom folders and subfolders to improve the way you classify your emails. You can set up custom folders that are root folders parallel to your email inbox, and you can even set up folders that are hierarchically organized.
After you've finished organizing your emails into different folders, you'll want to take a bit of time to get rid of messages that aren't relevant anymore. Once that's done, you'll be well on your way toward working with a cleaner, more organized inbox.
Cleaning out your email inbox can seem tedious and time-consuming; it can admittedly be both of these things if you don't have the proper motivation driving you.
Taking a little bit of time to set up weekly reminders, remembering to unsubscribe from newsletters you no longer read, using tags to label emails, and using folders more often can go a long way toward keeping your inbox regularly clean and organized. We hope that the above strategies have been helpful to you as you embark on your spring cleaning. Happy inbox zero!
About the author:
Gary Stevens is the CTO of Hosting Canada, a website that provides expert reviews on hosting services and helps readers build online businesses and blogs.