11 January 2012

How to Clear Your Inbox in 20 minutes!

Everyone likes to start afresh in the new year, so here are some tips on how to clear your inbox of all those mails that are just sitting there mocking you.

Why Should you Clear Your Inbox?
Its a matter of personal preference but I prefer to have a blank or at least organised inbox so I can quickly and easily see what’s new, what needs attention (Follow up), what I’m waiting on other people for (Hold) and old stuff I’m just keeping for reference (Archive). This is the ‘Trusted Trio that is much talked about online (e.g. http://lifehacker.com/182318/empty-your-inbox-with-the-trusted-trio). I find if a message makes it onto page two then it might as well be forgotten!

Part 1: Get  Gmail Account!
If you have a GMail or Google Apps account already, skip to Part 2
Seriously I’ve had all sorts of email accounts and this is by far the best:
    • Keep your old email address(es) and GMail will import messages periodically.
    • Send as if from other email accounts (once verified).
    • Excellent spam filters.
    • Search is second to none.
    • Ability to ‘Label’ (i.e. file) messages into multiple folders (called Labels).
    • Integrated contacts and calendars.
    • Exchange capability: all inbox, calendar and contacts sync across all devices.
    • Use your own domain: Apps for your domain
Once you’ve signed up then add your old account to it: mail.google.com, Settings (gear icon on the right above Inbox), Accounts, Add a POP3 mail account you own.
NB: If you are using an iPhone or iPad you’ll need to enable ‘Send Mail As’ at http://m.google.com/sync see here for more info.

Part 2: Sort out those messages
Once you have your shiny new Inbox it will quickly fill up with messages from your old box. I prefer to use Google’s Chrome Browser but in whichever you use log into http://mail.google.com and get busy:
  1. ‘Priority Inbox’: Settings, Inbox, Inbox Type. This sets messages flagged as important or unread first, then starred messages and then everything else.
  2. Use Labels: Gmail uses labels not folders to file messages. One message can be in more than one folder so its more sensible to call them something other than folders. Personally I use these as a filing system which makes searching more specific: I can search in one folder only.
  3. Filters: Open a message that you might like to flag or auto label e.g. from your accountant and click the arrow, then ‘Filter messages like these’, then ‘Create filter with this search’. You could star it, mark it as important or apply labels. Note if you apply labels it will still appear in your inbox (unless you ‘skip inbox’). When doing this you can choose to “Also apply filter to X matching conversations”.
  4. Unsubscribe: Unsubscribe from all those newsletters that you never wanted anyway. I have a rule that I don’t just leave them, I do a search (Ctrl F) for the word unsubscribe in the message and click the link. If I’m offline at the time I mark them with a Label “Unsubscribe”.
  5. Report Spam: If they are spam or there isn’t a link to unsubscribe then I report them as spam: I believe the Direct Marketing Code of Practice states that members:
    ”…must provide an unsubscribe mechanism, such as a return email address, to which unsubscribe requests can be sent.”The Google filters are good but some messages still get through. You need to teach it to improve it, for you and for others.
  6. Bulk sort: Use advanced search to find messages to deal with in bulk e.g.
    in:inbox before:2011/09/01 from:Peter
    NB: If more than one page of results if you Select All (top left check box) then there will be a message like: “Select all 600 conversations in Search results”
Part 3: How to KEEP your Inbox clear
Once you’ve been through and sorted out all the messages and you have at least just one page of current messages if you’ve completed some of the steps above like filters and unsubscribe you should at least have cut down the amount of mail you receive. Everyone’s system will be different but personally I use:
  • Stars to indicate messages that need me to follow up (Action).
  • Important for those that are (e.g. accountant).
  • Inbox (Everything else in Priority Inbox) for those I’m waiting on others (Hold).
  • File everything in folders/labels that I might need to refer to e.g. order confirmation invoice
  • Archive everything else.
Ad lastly I don’t check my mail all the time or have an email notification. I find if I do I just spend the whole time dealing with it and not doing anything else. I check it at least every hour and if it’s going to take more than a few minutes I star it and come back to it.
I hope these suggestions help you sort out your message backlog and if you have any of your own please feel free to post below.


  1. I've had a google mail account for years and I still manage two email accounts. I'm thinking I'm going to do exactly as you say o wise one!

    Should make faffing with my new phone easier too which is totally Google based (SGS2 Gingerbread build).

  2. Great. Hope it works out. Definitly worth doing before you get the new phone. Let me know if you have any problems!