5 Tips for Managing Your Out of Control Inbox


How many emails are currently in your inbox? If the answer is “more than 1,000,” you’re not alone. According to Success Strategist Marsha Egan, author of “Inbox Detox and the Habit of Email Excellence,” the average worker receives 100 to 200 emails a day, so it’s understandable how all those emails can quickly pile up.

Luckily, no matter how many unread or unanswered emails you are facing, there are steps you can take to get organized and take back control of your inbox.

  1. Get Motivated to Get Organized

The first step to managing your inbox is to understand why it’s so important to keep it organized in the first place. Cluttered email inboxes are not just annoying, they can actually impede your productivity at work.

A 2012 study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute found that the average worker spends more than one-quarter of their day answering and reading emails, and that email is the second-most time-consuming activity that workers engage in. If you’re receiving over 100 emails a day, leaving old, unread emails in your inbox is sure to lead to you wasting even more of your time combing through them. So for the sake of your job (and your sanity), it’s important to properly manage your inbox.

  1. Don’t Be a Hoarder

The simplest action you can take to clear your email inbox is to delete all the old emails you no longer need. How can you be sure you no longer need an email? Ask yourself these questions.

  • Have I read and responded to the email?
  • Does the email contain any information I’ll need later that I can’t copy into another document?
  • Does the email need to be shown to or forwarded to someone else?

Once you answer these questions, you’ll know whether an email can be deleted. Chances are, it can.

  1. Set a Time to Be Productive

Answering each email the second it comes in can be tough, and can lead to you spending all day monitoring your inbox. Instead, you should set aside two or three periods of time throughout the day that are dedicated to reading and answering emails. During that time, prioritize your emails into three categories – those that need to be answered right away, those that can be answered the next time you check your inbox, and those that can be deleted.

Marsha Egan recommends checking first thing in the morning, once after lunch, and then again toward the end of the day. If you’re worried about seeming rude for not answering right away, Tim Ferriss offers a solution in his book, the “The 4-Hour Work Week.” He recommends creating an automatic-reply email that sounds something like this:

“Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12:00pm ET [or your time zone] and 4:00pm ET.

If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12:00pm or 4:00pm, please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.”

  1. Clean Up Your Inbox From Spam

According to SpamLaws.com, spam accounts for 14.5 billion messages globally per day and costs companies $20.5 billion annually in decreased productivity. Thankfully, there are a number of easy ways you can clean up your inbox from spam and keep it from coming back including:

  • Unsubscribe: Whether the spam you’re getting is from stores you’ve shopped at, dating sites, or a company newsletter that you subscribed to but no longer read, chances are they all have “unsubscribe” buttons hidden somewhere at the bottom. Look for that link, click it, and follow the steps to be free from a large amount of unwanted spam.
  • Report it: Email servers like Gmail encourage you to report spam when you get it. It may take one or two minutes out of your day, but it goes a long way toward keeping spam out of your inbox.
  • Create filters: If you’re plagued by a large amount of spam, you can create filters that send important emails from specific addresses to your inbox and everything else to your spam folder. Of course, this could lead to you missing important emails from new senders, so if you use this method you should still check your spam folder occasionally. You can also filter out certain words such as the names of companies or products and have emails that contain these words immediately sent into your spam folder.
  • Don’t open it, don’t respond to it: If you recognize that an email is spam, don’t open it, just delete it immediately. If you open an email only to discover that it’s spam, delete it quickly (or unsubscribe, if you can) and never respond to it.
  • Block senders: If you get lots of spam from specific senders, block their email addresses so they can no longer contact you.
  1. Shorten your replies

It’s possible that one of the reasons you’ve let your emails pile up is because you’re avoiding the frustrating task of composing long responses. The truth is, no one enjoys reading long emails, especially at work, so practice keeping your replies short and sweet. Ideally, you should be spending no more than five minutes on an email response.

If possible, you should also consider keeping a document filled with ready-to-go short email responses that you can copy and paste into emails to save time.

Work can be stressful, there’s no reason your email inbox has to be. Make a commitment to checking in once a week to make sure your email inbox is clean and organized and you’ll have one less thing you need to worry about. You’ll be shocked what a relief it is to see that 0 next to “unread emails.”