An overflowing inbox can easily become a source of stress. Waking up in the morning, checking your email, and seeing that you have 100 unread emails as well as 56,938 read ones just lurking there can immediately send you into chaos mode. Even more overwhelming is having more than one email–I currently have a school email, personal email, and junk email that I use for shopping and other accounts that request an email.–which multiplies this anxiety. A messy email that we constantly yearn to check distracts us from our work, our family, and our desired healthy habits such as exercising. When you have a clean inbox, as I do now, checking it each day becomes a menial task that takes significantly less time and energy.
Here are 5 simple steps to start decluttering your email today. As with physical clutter, remember that this is not a project that can sanely be completed in one day. I suggest batching many of these tasks and doing a chunk each day until finished.
- Choose an account. Start your email decluttering with the account that you check most often or is eroding your productivity the most. Most likely, this is your work or school email as you’re probably checking it when you should be accomplishing meaningful work or studying.
- Look at all of the emails you’ve received in the past 24 hours. For each item, decide if you still need to be on that email list. Chances are, you don’t need 90% of the emails that you’ve received today. Hit unsubscribe. Do this every day with the new emails you receive and watch your daily new emails decrease exponentially.
- Delete 100 read emails everyday. Look at the current total of emails in your inbox (read and unread combined) and delete 100 of them right now. Even though these read emails are not as distracting as the unread ones, once completed, you will have only the most important emails in your inbox, freeing up your mind for other more important information.
- File the important emails. When you really think about it, there are very few emails that deserve to stay; however, there are some important emails that you will need easy access to in due time. Many of these are only temporarily important–like flight itineraries and hotel confirmations–and can be deleted after the event occurs. Others you might need to hold onto for a while longer, or want to keep for sentimental reasons. Create a few folders and categorize these important emails so you know where to find them when you need to access them.
- Be overly conservative with new lists you subscribe to. After all of this decluttering work, you won’t want to fill your inbox again with junk. Only enter your email when absolutely necessary, and if even if you have to, unsubscribe after you receive that first welcome email, especially marketing emails from companies you’ve purchased from.
Repeat these steps for each of your accounts until you have the least number of emails in your inbox. For me, I generally have no more than 10 emails lurking when I open the gmail and outlook web browsers. I’ve noticed that a cleaner inbox helps me spend less useless time checking email, so it’s definitely worth the 15 minutes it takes every day for the next couple of weeks (depending on how overflowed your inbox currently is!) to make room for what really matters.