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How to Get Your Email Inbox to Zero

Today’s post is quick and dirty.

Why bother zeroing out your email inbox?

Your email inbox is a source of digital clutter, and one that you likely see more often than most other cluttered digital areas.

Minimizing digital clutter is valuable for the same reasons that minimizing physical clutter is a worthwhile use of your time. Sure, the search bar may make it easier to hunt down emails that you know you need to deal with but can’t seem to locate, but keeping your inbox manageable and regularly clearing it completely is a simple way to feel more in control of your life.

Life feels a bit more peaceful when your inbox is empty. You have one less thing on your mind, and whether you realize it or not, all of the clutter, digital and physical, makes it harder to focus on what matters.

Unsubscribing from all those marketing emails is also good for your mental health. Chances are, “buy more stuff,” isn’t on your list of priorities right now and removing that temptation from your inbox is one more way to feel in control of your spending. And if you are likely to buy from the places that are sending you coupons and don't want to miss out on deals, there are places to keep those emails aside from your inbox.

Plus, you’re less likely to miss important emails when you know what’s in your inbox.

Admittedly, digital clutter clearing is something I’ve neglected for far too long. I keep my desktop and inbox fairly clear, but at any given time, I have a dozen or more tabs open on my current browser window. Right now, there are 20. Digital decluttering is a process and definitely one that I’m only just beginning. We all have to start somewhere, right?

Step 1: Mass Delete

You can probably delete everything older than three months. In Gmail, searching “older_than:3m” will show you anything older than three months. Instead of ‘m’ you can also use ‘y’ to search by year.

When is the last time that you actually scrolled back more than a couple of weeks to find an email? Out with the old.

While we’re mass deleting, you can also search by specific brands and senders and delete anything from them as well. Not likely to make a purchase from Nike any time soon? Delete everything from Nike.

If you have quite a lot to delete, or aren’t comfortable mass deleting all of the old stuff, set up a time each day to spend a few minutes deleting emails. With just ten minutes a day, you could delete a few thousand emails in a week. Keep it up and your inbox will soon be much emptier.

Step 2: Unsubscribe

Avoiding unnecessary new emails is just as important as deleting the old ones. Personally, my strategy for unsubscribing is to consider whether or not I need each new email that comes into my inbox. If that subscription hasn’t provided me anything valuable recently, or if they send like two emails a day, I unsubscribe before deleting the email.

Like, why was my electric company emailing me anything other than my bill and account updates? Unsubscribed.

You could also unsubscribe as you mass delete, and deal with any that you missed as they come in.

At this point, I’m subscribed to very few email lists. Most of the things that show up in my inbox are emails that I value and my inbox is a much more useful place than it used to be.

Step 3: Organize

Once you’ve pared down and slowed the flow of inbound emails, it’s time to organize the rest.

Marketing Emails

I know that it’s tempting to stay subscribed to emails from companies that we may potentially purchase from because they often send coupons. Take time to consider whether you really need those emails. Are they for a product that you would buy even without the coupons and constant email reminders? Do you actually need it or do you just think you do because an email says you do? Could you buy it secondhand or from a local brick and mortar store?

Once you’ve figured out which emails you really want to keep getting, set up a filter that skips the inbox. The aim here is to be able to search those emails if you do decide to make a purchase, but to avoid making purchases solely because you saw the email.

In Gmail, you can do this by opening an email from a sender that you’d like to filter, and clicking the three vertical dots in the action bar above the email.

Those three dots give you the option to filter your messages.

From there, click “filter messages like these.” Then, skip the inbox!

Send it to the archives!

Now these emails go straight to your archive without you ever seeing them. They’re there if you need to look for a coupon (the archive is searchable) but you won’t be tempted to buy unnecessary things or have to deal with extra clutter in your inbox.

Speaking of the archive…

Archive It

That blue button is the beloved "send and archive" button. After you've replied to an email, get it out of your inbox!

The archive is my secret weapon for maintaining a clean(ish) inbox. I seem to end up with a lot of emails that don’t need any immediate action but might be important later. These go straight to the archive. Any time I reply to an email, it also heads to the archive. You can even add a “send and archive” button to your reply window in settings.

When it doubt, archive it.

Step 4: Maintenance

The most important part of maintaining your inbox is setting aside time to go through all of your emails regularly. Personally, I do this during my Sunday Reset each weekend. If you get a lot of emails, you could find a few minutes each day to do it. Just five minutes each day of deleting all the crap makes a big difference.

Your email inbox is one of those things that needs just a bit of attention almost every day to stay clutter-free. Luckily for us, that maintenance can happen in line at the grocery store, on the bus, or even while brushing your teeth. Figure out what works for you and stick with it.

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