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How to Tame Your Out of Control Email Inbox

Dec 3, 2016 | Productivity

Does your inbox hold thousands of read and unread emails? Is the sheer volume of messages driving you crazy? How would you like to get your inbox in control and get rid of all the unnecessary emails?

In life, there are two types of people. One type keeps on top of their emails, and while they may not achieve Inbox Zero every day, there are usually only a handful of email left to work through.

The other type have thousands of emails – some read, some unread – loitering in their inbox. It’s not unusual for the little red circle on the email app on their phone to have a number in the hundreds, thousands, or sometimes even tens of thousands.  I have to admit, this sends shivers down my spine and causes me to break out in a cold sweat.

I can’t handle having too many unread emails. To my brain, every email in my inbox represents a task unfinished, a problem unsolved, a potential crack for important requests to slip through. I don’t get to Inbox Zero every day but I try to achieve it at least once a week.

When I recently posted an Instagram photo of my Inbox Zero achievement, a few friends wondered how it was even possible. They would love to empty their inbox but didn’t know where to start.

Aah Inbox Zero! Such a calm and satisfying (if fleeting) feeling.

A photo posted by Kym OGorman Marketing Brisbane (@kogmarketing) on

So below I’ve shared two options for emptying your inbox and getting control over your email.


Email bankruptcy refers to deleting all emails older than a particular date. That’s right, just select, delete and the weight of your inbox is lessened.

The more conservative might go back one year and hit delete. The braver might go back one week. The theory behind email bankruptcy is that any important will find it’s way back to you, and if it’s languishing in a swamp of other emails, it’s unlikely you’re seeing it anyway.

If you’re not game to delete them, move them to another folder so your Inbox can breathe easy. Just remember, eventually you’ll probably have to sort them out.


Hands up anyone who used to watch M*A*S*H? Remember when the doctors were called to triage, and they would assess the patients and work out which cases were the most urgent and should be given immediate attention, and which could wait or moved to another area?

It’s time to make like Hawkeye and triage your emails. Here are the steps to help you do it:

Step 1: Filter Your Emails by Sender

If your emails are filtered by date received you’ll be assessing them one by one. The first step I take when triaging is to filter by Sender in ascending alphabetical order. This makes it so easy to delete all of the newsletters, shopping emails, special offers and promotional emails that can clog up your inbox.

Step 2: Work Through Each Sender and Delete All Non-Urgent Emails

So, you have 18 emails from Amazon tempting you with products they think you might like. Select them all. Delete!

Don’t read them. Don’t be distracted. Just get them out of your inbox.

Work through alphabetically removing any sales emails. Be brutal.

For extra points (and a step for which your future self will thank you), unsubscribe from the emails before you hit delete. This will slow down the number of emails making their way into your inbox in the first place.  Bonus Tip: I find if I’m cranky, tired and impatient, I’m even better at unsubscribing. It’s almost cathartic. Try it,  you’ll see.

Almost immediately you will have reduced the task by a significant amount. This will give you the boost to work through the rest of the emails.

Step 3: Go Through Emails From Other Senders

Work your way through the emails from other senders and action them as follows:

  • Emails that it would take a minute or less to reply or action, I do it straight away.
  • Emails that require more detailed action, I send to my to-do manager or file in a “Pending” file so I can quickly and easily find them to complete the action. If you are moving them to a Pending file, make a note on your to-do list so that it’s not a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. You’ll have captured the required task in a place where it won’t be forgotten, but you will have moved it out of your Inbox.
  • Emails that contain information about a specific meeting or event (time-related and that time will eventually pass) I move into an Upcoming Events file so I can easily grab the information when needed, and delete it when the date has passed.
  • Emails that you don’t want to delete but don’t need to action, file in whatever way removes them from your Inbox but you can access them easily via search.

This step will no doubt take a while, but the relief and sense of control you feel will be worth it.

Then once you have your Inbox to a comfortable level, you have an opportunity to set up better habits. In my next blog I share my tips to stay at or near Inbox Zero and avoid another email overwhelm situation in the future.

So where do you sit on the Inbox scale? Are you largely in control, or do you have thousands of emails lurking in your inbox?

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