Eliminating Email

Eliminating all email isn’t really an option for most of us, but if it feels like you are drowning in your inbox,  there are a few very simple ways to remove the excess today.


Eliminating Today’s Email

The first step is to control what’s coming in and where it goes. No matter what email system you use, whether it is through your company, Yahoo, Gmail, Verizon, Comcast, or some other email provider, you have these tools available to organize your email.

1. Unsubscribe from almost everything. The best, easiest, and quickest way to do this is clicking the “unsubscribe” button on the bottom of any newsletters or form letters you receive. These are legitimate automated unsubscribe functions, and you should use them liberally. (Do not click on any attachment with a .zip ending, or any attachment that you are not expecting to receive, since these are usually viruses!) Unsubscribe on a month’s worth of old emails all at one time, or do it on new emails you receive each day for the next month. (But stay subscribed to this one!)

2. Filter email into folders. Filters may work a little differently on each email service, but they are all roughly the same. You set up a “rule” that causes incoming email to automagically get sent to one of your email folders instead of your inbox. This is great for newsletters that you want to receive, but you can’t typically read during your regular day. They get batched together into a folder, and you can visit that folder when you have the time. Almost every email system has folders, rules, and filters. If you aren’t familiar with how to use them, click on your email’s help button and search for “how to use filters.” Gmail uses a combination of folders and labels, but it works exactly the same way. Click on one of the links below, or search, “How to use folders in (your email provider) email.”

How to use folders in Gmail

How to use folders in Verizon/AOL iMAP email

How to use folders in Comcast email

How to use folders in Outlook 365 or Outlook.com

How to use folders in Apple iCloud.com email


3. Ruthlessly delete email. Do you recognize this scenario? When you receive an incoming email that you aren’t sure if you need to keep, you just leave it in your inbox, just in case. But it’s just as easy to start defaulting to hit the delete button, and fish things out of the Trash folder if needed. Just be sure that your Trash folder doesn’t empty immediately. Set it to empty for somewhere between a day and a month, whatever you are comfortable with. You can usually change this setting by locating the “settings” or the gear icon on your email client. Note: sometimes you have to be on a computer, not a mobile device, to make changes to your settings.

If you do these three things, what’s left in your actual inbox of today’s emails will be much more manageable. Start today to reduce email overload. This is the first set of steps to take to eliminating unwanted email so you can focus on the email you do want.

Eliminating an Email Backlog

You might still have a bunch of junk in your inbox that is old and you want to delete it safely. Here are a couple of methods you might try:

Option 1. Move everything into a folder called “Emails prior to (insert current date)”. Expect that anything important would need to be pulled out and properly filed. Otherwise, plan on destroying/deleting this folder on some future date that you’ve decided on, and then mark that date in your calendar.

Option 2. Delete anything prior to a certain date. For instance, if you do not run a business, do not keep records for an organization, and generally keep important copies of documents like pictures on your hard drive, then you might be able to delete any emails older than a year or two. Note: don’t store photos in your email box or in your text messages. Save photos to your camera roll immediately, and organize them with your photos that you’ve taken. 

Option 3. Sort the inbox emails by sender, instead of by date. Then go through and delete large groups of emails that you might be harboring. Typical offenders are:

  • catalog or retail companies you buy from
  • news sources you subscribe to
  • clubs and groups you belong to
  • social media, such as twitter and Facebook (Are you getting notices from these sites and don’t want them? Do you know you can turn them off?)
  • senders starting with “The.” Seriously. Sort your emails by sender, and see if you don’t have a big chunk in the middle from companies starting with The.

In the end, always ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen if you accidentally delete an email? For most of us, the answer is: absolutely nothing.

The biggest problem most of us have is keeping emails in the inbox, acting as placeholders for to-do’s.

Your email inbox makes a lousy to-do list!

Instead, create a prioritized to-do list in an app that you really will use, and delete items from your inbox or move them to appropriate folders when received. It takes a bit more mental muscle, but it will allow you to better keep on top of commitments.

You may never get to a completely clear inbox (and that’s not really the goal), but following these steps will allow you to feel more in control of your data.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Marcia

    Thanks for this – so helpful! I just realized that I have thousands (!) of messages in my Sent folder! Any tips for dealing with that problem? Is there a tried and true system you use, either for dealing with old ones or for not accumulating them in the first place?

    1. Darla

      Hi, Marcia, there are plenty of ways to approach this, so you’ll have to find the right answer for you personally. If you have time in your work day, you can try to file them each day before you go home. I don’t personally have that kind of schedule, and I pretty much ignore that sent folder, except when I’m in the middle of a big project. Then I’ll take the time, on a project by project basis, to file received AND sent emails according to project. Every few years, I’ll delete the sent folder contents older than (x) date.

      People stress over email build up, but if you have unlimited space (and most people do, in reality), then why worry? Spend your limited time on other things! Hope this helps.

      1. Marcia

        Very helpful – thank you!

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