You've Got Mail: 7 Ways to Clean Your Inbox

It seems that email has become the scourge of the modern age. As is said about other things in life, "We can’t live with it, and we can’t live without it." That we all devote too much time to it is definitely a truism as well.

So what do we do? Sure, you know all about creating folders and flagging important emails for follow-up. So do I, in fact, I have 23 emails sitting in my inbox over the past six weeks flagged for follow up. Not really a great system, eh?

So again that begs the question – what do we do? I have been scouting around for an answer to this conundrum for the past few weeks as my own personal email issues have gotten out of control. Here are 7 good solutions that I have found:

1. Declare email bankruptcy: A radical solution to be sure, but one which solves the immediate problem pronto. On his blog, on April 23, 2007, VC Fred Wilson wrote the following:

I am so far behind on email that I am declaring bankruptcy. If you've sent me an email (and you aren't my wife, partner, or colleague), you might want to send it again.

I am starting over. Plenty of high profile people have done this, and you can too. Inelegant to be sure, but effective no doubt.

2. Unplug: The problem with email is that it comes in all day long, so that by the time you begin to make a dent on the backload, there are already new culprits in your inbox.

Solution: Log off the Internet and handle your inbox. Go to Starbucks for an hour. Personally, this is what I do for the first hour of any plane flight (GoGo Internet be damned!) I respond to emails, hit send, the emails go into my outbox, and when I get to my hotel and logon, off they go.

3. Create some canned responses: This solution and the next two are all about making the cleaning of the inbox go faster. Here, you create a few canned responses to common emails you receive and store them in a folder to be copied and pasted when needed.

4. Use an autoresponder: When you get an automatically generated response like, “I am out of the office until October 28 and will respond to you then,” that is an autoresponder. You can use an autoresponder to say to people something like, “If this is urgent, please respond with “Urgent” in the subject line, otherwise I will get back to you in a few days.” 5. Use some software: TextExpander allows you to type in a few keys and your pre-programmed response is filled in. Good for the Mac or smartphone, and similar products exist for the PC.

6. Outsource it: Tim Ferriss of 4-Hour Workweek fame says that the key to email is to train someone else to do the vast majority of it for you. They send you only the emails that are the most important.

7. Pick up the phone: As we all know, some interactions are just not meant for email. In that case, use the sweet delete button and pick up the phone.

Do you have tried-and-true methods for downsizing? Tell us in the comments below!  

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