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Clean Up Your Inbox Now

I used to work as a corporate banker. My background is economics & psychology.


Clean Up Your Inbox

Using email saves many people a lot of time and money. Instead of the old-fashioned snail mail, most of us rely on email to get our messages across faster, cheaper, and more conveniently.
Email is a widely-used communication tool in and outside the workplace. But at the same time, there is a downside to using email to communicate.

Many people check their email frequently throughout the day, thereby hampering their productivity. Some have even become addicted to email and spend hours reading and replying.

So how do you handle your mailbox efficiently? I will answer this question below.

Tips to make email work for you.

For email, I only use Gmail. I have used several email clients over the years, but Gmail suffices for me. Like many of us, I receive a considerable amount of email every day. But that doesn't stop me from responding quickly. I do this because I'm not particularly eager to keep people waiting, and I'm not too fond of loose ends.

What others usually notice about my Gmail inbox is that it is almost always empty.

It makes me feel good to have an empty inbox. It gives me peace of mind. I highly recommend it to everyone. And it isn't that difficult to realize.

Unfortunately, the empty inbox I mentioned was not always there. I often had (too) many emails waiting to be processed in my inbox in the past. They often stayed there, unread. Sometimes waiting for action, and sometimes waiting to be archived. Still, others got stuck in my inbox because I kept putting it off to get started. Many people I know do or did the same.

But for several years now, I have been working towards having a clean inbox.

Here are the simple steps I take to keep my inbox as empty as possible.

1) Don't check email as the first thing you do in the morning.

Don't leave your email program open all day, either.
Checking email as the first action of the day often keeps you busy for much longer than you bargained for. But what is even worse, you then start the day in a reactive mode. Instead, start your day by doing your most important task for the day first.
Then check the email. Better still, first, do 2 or 3 things that matter.
Even if you check email throughout the day, or if you're alerted as soon as an email comes in, you're always distracted. Then it is more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. I only check a few times a day, but you may have other needs.

Check your email twice a day, maximum. Suitable times would be after you have taken care of urgent matters and at the end of your workday (to catch up with last-minute concerns). Often when I log into my mail account, I end up with more work on my plate. And because most of us are conditioned so, we start replying to them at the expense of the duties we were taking care of. Rather than sticking to your plan, email lures you to react to items as they arrive - regardless of their true priority. The more often you check email, the more often people will expect you to check it. Checking your inbox for incoming emails from time to time is not a good habit. This is especially true if you are about to finish something or are working towards accomplishing a goal. Keep the checking to a minimum and allow yourself to focus on your work.

2) If you check your email, archive or delete it immediately, one by one.

Decide what to do with each email. Don't let them gather dust.

2a) Is it junk or a forwarded email? Could you put it in the bin?

2b) Is it a long email that you only have to read because it contains some interesting information? Consider dragging it to a reading folder (or tag it "To Read" and archive it). You can always read it on the go (for example, while waiting in line).

2c) Do not use your email inbox as a place to manage your tasks, projects, and communication.
If the email requires action, make a note of the action on your to-do lists to do later. Then archive the email. You can easily find it later if you need to do that task. The search function within Gmail is excellent for this.

2d) If you can respond to it in a minute or two, do so immediately. Don't postpone it. If you wait, you'll fall behind in answering emails, and you may never get around to it again. I'll respond with a short message and send it right away. That way, I am seen as someone who is responsive and on top of things.
Write and reply briefly. Be clear and to the point. Don't overcomplicate an explanation.

2e) If you have to follow up on the email later or are waiting for a reply, write it down on a waiting list. Please don't leave it in your inbox as a reminder.

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3) I only have one folder: Archive.

If I respond to an email or finish reading it when it doesn't need a response, or if I write it down on my to-do list, I archive it. It's as simple as that. You can add a reading folder if you like. I'm not particularly eager to check extra folders. I have my to-do lists and my waiting list, and that's good enough. So it's as simple as pressing "Archive" on an email, and if I have to find it later, Gmail's search function is so good that it's easy to find. I've never had problems with this system before.

4) Get your email across.

Sometimes your email could mistakenly be regarded as spam, which would waste your time composing that message. To prevent such occurrences, be careful with your choice of words. Avoid words or phrases that trigger spam filters. Some words to avoid: free, money, unique, sex, amazing, limited offer, naked, opportunity, debt, loans, lottery, retire, urgent.

5. Pick up the phone.

Several minutes spent in replying to email can be shortened by calling the person. You'll get faster responses, and you'll end up saving a lot of time. And of course, the personal touch is priceless.


It's so simple:

  • Check email at regular intervals.
  • Take immediate action on each email (or write it down on a list to do it later).
  • Archive.

Maybe you think so. It's easy for you to talk with your empty inbox. Mine is jam-packed. Where do I start? If that's the case, here are a few simple tips that you can carry out right away.

  • Sort email by sender At the top of your inbox, you can see the sender or from. Click this, and everything will be sorted automatically. Now you can see at a glance which emails come from certain people or companies.
  • Sort your email by subject. At the top of your screen, you will see 'subject'. This way, you have all your emails to and from each other. You know them: someone emails you, you reply, that person responds again, and before you know it, you have 12 messages with the same subject. Keep only the most recent ones. The whole correspondence is usually in here.
  • Stop spam. Spam messages are very prevalent nowadays. Not only can they waste a lot of your time, but they can be very annoying as well. To prevent spam, don't spread your email address around. If you can, make your email address more intricate. For example, use instead of If you're inserting your email address into websites and messages, you may replace @ with "AT." For instance, write down instead of HYPERLINK ""
  • Check your email regularly for email lists you've signed up for in the past. These can result from online purchases or requests for information when the sender or subject is no longer of interest to you.
  • Start tidying up at the bottom.
    Start cleaning up by starting with the oldest mail (and don't be alarmed if it's from 2017: there's hope!). The chances are that you will be able to delete a whole row immediately. This way, the number of emails will decrease enormously.

So let's do it. Let's go for that empty inbox!

Clean Up Your Inbox Now


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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Raymond Philippe


Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

I'm happy you found some tips and suggestions userful.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

Great to read you are on top of it.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

I do hope you will find some useful advice to manage your email.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

Hello Devika. I'm happy you found this article useful.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

I'm glad you made progess. Keep up the good work. ;-)

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

Success with handling your email. Inbox zero is only a few actions away.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your email handling with us.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

Thank you Pamela.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

I like your approach. Clear it out and be free!

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on November 15, 2020:

Thanks Ann. Good luck with handling your emails.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on November 11, 2020:

Good informative article with useful tips and suggestions. I also like to keep my inbox clean. I prefer to respond quickly to my emails, but do keep on clearing the spam and the bin.

Thank you for sharing this useful article. Many will be benefited by this.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 10, 2020:

Your tips are good ones regarding clearing our our emails. I think that I will try starting at the bottom the next time I sign in to read them. I consider it a success to keep them under a certain number.

Ankita B on November 10, 2020:

Some very useful tips. I will definitely try these.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 10, 2020:

Hi Raymond this is informative and came to me at a perfect time. I have had emails deleted, starred and emptied from trash. I learned a lot from your hub.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2020:

It was interesting to see that you had written this article because cleaning up my inbox is what I've been doing lately. I realized that it needed some major attention. Thanks for sharing your suggestions. You've included some good advice in the article.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 09, 2020:

This is an extremely useful article. I intend to make use of some of your tipd to sort my email.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on November 09, 2020:

This is a task I see some work colleagues fail at. You really do have to stay on top of it. Personally I either delete it once it is handled or file it in a folder depending on its importance. I use the same approach with my personal one.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 09, 2020:

It is good to keep your emails organized. Your article gives so many ways to do just that, Raymond. This article is so well-written and very well organized.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 09, 2020:

The world is filled with electronic hoarders who have a hard tim letting go of communications. It’s definitely not me. Clear it out and be free!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 09, 2020:

This is really helpful, thank you.

Ann Carr from SW England on November 09, 2020:

Great advice, Raymond. My emails back up and I start at the bottom, as you suggest, but it doesn't seem to get the number of emails down very well! I'll take your advice and let you know how I get on. I don't like loose ends either!


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