Five steps to reclaim your inbox

Five steps to reclaim your inbox

As we are in week two of a new year, one of the best things you can do is clear the clutter from your life. With all the voices that grab for our attention, we need to be able to focus on the important ones if we are to do anything worthwhile this year. One of the biggest forms of clutter most of us deal with are emails. Can it be fixed? I think so.

Whether spammy, or just unnecessary, our email inboxes can easily become overloaded to where we don’t read any of them at all. This is not a good solution.

Our goal should be to use our tools and resources properly, not throw them away because we’ve used them poorly.

Although it can seem daunting, reclaiming your email inbox is one of the most useful things you can do. But where to start?

My email has been through ups and downs. I’ve gone through phases where I wake up to a few hundred emails every day (mostly spam), and others where I wake up to only one or two emails. Here’s 4 things I do when my email becomes overwhelming:

Nuke and pave (archive EVERYTHING)

Yes, this can seem extreme, but it’s the only thing that guarantees you to not get overwhelmed with the situation. This step may only be for those who have thousands of unread emails, and the rest of us can scan through to make sure nothing is important is deleted. However, the reality is that you’re currently not getting to those “important” emails, so there’s no different whether they’re in your inbox or archive.

Unsubscribe from 3 email blasts a day

After your inbox is empty (which should be your daily/weekly goal), you can now breathe and choose your next action with a clear head. The first step is to begin a new habit: unsubscribing. One of the main reasons that emails become unmanageable is that we give out our email address liberally to gain coupons, free ebooks, etc, but we never unsubscribe. Take this time to decide what you truly want to receive, and what’s been the reason for the email pileup.

NOTE: Some people like to still have these emails available in case they want to shop online and search their email for a recent coupon. For those cases, you can just mark them as spam instead (which will get deleted by default after 30 days in most email management systems). The goal is to get them out of your inbox, and to never show up again.

Check your email twice a day

Some people suggest more, others less, but I think that twice a day for the average person is very easy (assuming you have it available on your phone). This would allow for you to get a clear picture in the morning who tried to get a hold of you the night before, and at the end of the day to help prioritize what’s happening the following morning.

Read, act, archive

The main reason we get overloaded with emails, besides spam, is that we read an email, mark it unread, and don’t touch it again. An inbox is a horrible place for tasks, or archival. Most email systems allow for you to archive and search you past emails long term so that they don’t take up visual space in your inbox. Further, for those emails you’re just delaying, don’t let them stay. As I’ve written before, if it’s something you need to respond to, you should respond to the email as you read it the first time. And if the email contains tasks you should accomplish, you should integrate that with your tasks list so that it doesn’t get mis-prioritized, or worse, forgotten. If you’re not sure where to start for a task list, you can check out my post on how I use Asana for my tasks.

Keep it clean

The purpose of starting over isn’t so can have a manageable inbox for a couple weeks, but so that you have a fresh start. Don’t let that go to waste! You now have the ability to keep up on a very manageable set of emails, so go enjoy the freedom of dealing with the emails that come in which truly matter rather than wading through a never-ending stack you’ve never touched.

I hope this helps you see the light of hope with you email! I’d love to hear any suggestions you have for tackling our email inboxes, or questions you have.

You can also checkout another post I've written titled "3 principles to maintain inbox zero", and another tip of mine where I've learned it's best to respond to email while reading it for the first time.

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