Top 10 tips for keeping your e-mail inbox clean

Updated: 12/29/2017 by Computer Hope

These days, the majority of our most personal and important digital correspondence happens through e-mail, so it's important to keep it organized. Here are some tips for cleaning up your inbox.

Setup rules, filters, or labels

Today, all e-mail programs and online e-mail services have rules, filters, or a labeling system that allows you to move and otherwise organize incoming e-mail. Use these features to organize your e-mail and get to what is most important first. Below are some suggestions for rules we suggest trying first.

  • Move important and unimportant e-mails to a folder of their own.
  • Highlight or set priority to certain addresses. For example, a rule could be created to highlight any user in your address book.
  • Filter out common spam words that get into your inbox (e.g., Viagra).
  • In programs that support rules, mark messages that are not important to keep your inbox clean and prevent you from getting overwhelmed when you first open e-mail.
  • If you are getting lots of spam filter your e-mail through Gmail.

Do not be afraid to delete

After reading e-mail, always take action on that e-mail. Do not save it for later or move it into a folder to deal with later. If you cannot take action on the e-mail, delegate it to someone else, or postpone it for later that day delete it. Every e-mail does not need a response and there is no reason to save e-mail that is going to be deleted later.

Automatic replies, FAQs, and canned responses

If you find yourself using the same reply over and over again, consider creating a list of your frequent replies that you can copy and paste. Or, try using a tool such as one of the ones listed below to help make replying to these e-mails even faster.

Thunderbird Quicktext - A fantastic Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail add-on.
Lifehacker Texter - Easy to use script tool that can be used in anywhere in Windows including e-mail.
AutoHotkey - Another great tool although much more advanced. However, this tool can automate anything on the computer.

Keep it simple

Many times people over complicate their e-mail by creating different folders to help organize their e-mails. Keep it simple, don't use too many folders to organize your e-mail.

If there is no way getting around your need for folders in e-mail, use the rules to filter your messages into the folders. Folders can save hundreds of hours you may be spending thinking about and organizing each of the e-mails you receive.

Always do quick short replies

When replying to your e-mails, try to keep the reply as quickly as possible and not spend too much time on an individual e-mail. We suggest spending no more than five minutes on a single e-mail and avoid anything longer than three paragraphs.

You are e-mail is not a calendar or to-do list

Many times a person's inbox is full because they treat it like a calendar or to-do list. Do not use your e-mail for this. Have a separate program or document for things you need to do or that keeps track of your calendar of events.

Unsubscribe from newsletters and disable notifies

Although you may have had good intentions when subscribing to a newsletter or another e-mail list, these are often distracting and often clutter your e-mail. Unsubscribe from any newsletter you have not been reading.

The same is true for notifications from social network sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter you may be receiving. Disable all notifications about posts made on your wall, new friends, or followers, which clutter your inbox and distract you.

Do not reply to spam

If spam sneaks past your protection or rules never reply to it; delete the message.

Keep at it but not too much

Try to read your e-mails at least once daily or every hour, depending on how much e-mail you receive.

However, do not live in your e-mail. Create a schedule of when to check your e-mail in regular intervals and then ignore it all other times. If you have any notification about new incoming e-mails disable these or close your e-mail program or e-mail web page.

Delete some more

Finally, if after following all the above steps you still have e-mails that are weeks old delete them. If you have a hard time deleting e-mails create a folder and move all old e-mails into that folder. After a few weeks have passed the e-mail becomes too old for a reply.

Additional information