Get a clean inbox in 30 minutes

We’ve talked about how to keep your inbox empty on a daily basis, but many of us have so many emails backed up that the first order of business is getting the inbox to a manageable state. Here are some immediately actionable steps to reduce email clutter and automate your inbox to minimize future email pile-up.

1. Search for “unsubscribe” – 5 minutes

Do a search in your inbox for “unsubscribe,” and you should see most of your email lists. Go through and unsubscribe from the ones you’re no longer interested in. Be ruthless and ask yourself, “When was the last time this list added value to my life?”

If a list has too much traffic but is valuable, then see if you can switch to daily digests or get emails less frequently.

2. Set up filters and rules – 10 minutes

Next, set up filters for those mailing lists you want to keep. Have the emails skip your inbox and go straight into a folder or label. For example, you can collect all your daily deal emails into a filter like this in Gmail:

from:(“Groupon Now” OR ”Groupon” OR “Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards”)

Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label “$Deals”

Some ideas for filters you can set up:

  • Restaurants: If you’re on lots of restaurant mailing lists, collect them into a folder for easy reference. As one of our users said on Facebook, “I rarely go to the places, but when I do I know right where to look for coupons.”
  • Alumni groups: It’s nice to stay in touch with your alma mater, but don’t let it clog your inbox.
  • Newsletters: Filtering newsletters will allow you to batch your reading. Many newsletters will offer different emailing frequencies too.

Here are instructions for GmailYahoo! Mail, and Hotmail. Just be careful not to set up too many different folders, or you’ll end up forgetting to check them.


3. Nuke your inbox – 15 minutes

If you still have way too many emails, consider starting with a clean slate.

Skim through the last month’s worth of emails and mark or respond to the most urgent emails. You can also use Gmail’s priority inbox feature to help you identify those that require your attention.

Next, create a folder or label called “To process.” Select all the emails in your inbox and dump them in there. Don’t panic, the world won’t collapse if you don’t get to these emails right away. They’ve been sitting in your inbox anyway. Simply set up a daily reminder to process 10 to 15 emails.

After getting a clean slate, the key is to stay committed to keeping your inbox empty every day (see our post on how to keep your inbox empty). Consider asking someone to hold you accountable — I’m happy to be your accountability buddy, just shoot me an email at henry(at)astrid(dot)com.

Were you able to clear your inbox? Leave a comment and let us know how it went.