You can clear your email

You can clear your email

Maybe you have been out of the office for a week or you’re so swamped with work that you allowed messages to pile up. In any case you will feel—and be—more confident and in control when you can see the bottom of your email inbox on one screen.

Follow these steps:

  • Start with a clean slate. For extreme cases, when the number of messages exceeds 500, move every message older than this week to a new folder. Then deal with the recent messages and new messages as they come in. Commit time on your calendar to using the steps below so you will clear the message backlog that you moved. 
  • Develop a system. Decide which messages you must keep and which you can delete. Check your organization’s policies on record keeping for guidance. Create folders not only in your email program but also in your document files. Just because information originates as email doesn’t mean you must keep it that way. You can convert an email message to a task, an appointment or a document.
  • Sort and deal. Start by looking at your messages by date received. Go to the oldest and see what you can delete or move there. Next sort them by sender. Often the most recent message will eliminate the need for older messages. (Note: Learn how to use the Conversations feature, with the free Outlook 2010 Tip Sheet available at
  • Apply rules. Creating rules to automatically filter messages is a great tool, and you can apply a rule to the messages in your inbox as soon as you create it. So if you notice that you have a number of messages that meet the same criteria, such as e-letters that you can move to a “To Read” folder, set up that rule and apply it now.
  • Reply to minimize. As you work through the messages, analyze the patterns so you can head off email overload in the future. Ask people to remove you from distribution lists. Tell people when they don’t need to email you or should contact someone else. Train your staff to use common subject lines so that everyone can apply email rules to their messages.
  • Be ruthless. Often email builds up because we delay making a decision. Force yourself to act on email, and delete often. If you can’t shake the fear that you just might need a message, move it to a “Kill after hold” folder that you clean monthly.

Now savor the feeling of a clear inbox, and don’t allow bad habits to fill it again.

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