7 Ways To Spring Clean Your Email Inbox

I think I speak for all of us when I say that, though technology by and large makes our lives easier, email — you know, that endless pit of anxiety on your work desktop and your laptop and your tablet and your smartphone that you never seem to escape? — can be overwhelming. As we roll through to the end of March, now is the perfect time to spring clean your email and get your inbox back on track.

Unfortunately, you can’t put a lid on your inbox. The messages are going to keep coming, so you have to learn to manage it, instead of letting it manage you. (HELP! Cheesy maxims are about to take over.) It’s true, though: you’ve got to take back the night (or the fluorescent-lit day) and become the master of your cyber domain.

Listen, we can all relate to our friend, Mr. Squirrel, below. 3502 is a lot of unread emails. Kinda makes me want to stop chewing on my favorite nut and run away to hide, too. But there’s nothing to be scared of, because creating a happy, healthy, mostly empty email inbox isn’t as hard as it seems. In fact, these seven simple steps will get you off to a completely painless start. Good luck, squirrels!

1. Clear out your inbox

Mary Mallard over at Grasshopper advocates deleting any emails over 30 days old that A) you haven't touched, and B) don't contain any critically important information. I, on the other hand, have never yet run out of Gmail space, and I'd rather be safe than sorry, so I recommend tweaking Mary's rule to archiving instead of deleting — with the exception of anything trivial, like the never-ending trickle of mail that ends up in your promotions tab.

2. Get the app

For a permanent solution to getting rid of all those newsletters, deal offers, and subscription emails causing the traffic jam that is your inbox, is the perfect answer. This free app scans your Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook account to find every mailing list you're subscribed to — and allows you to keep the ones you want and block the ones you don't with one simple click, saving you loads of manual deletion man-hours in the long run. And does you one better with the option to organize your favorite subscriptions into an easy, convenient daily digest email called the Rollup, and you even choose what time you want to receive it. Oh technology, you saucy minx!

3. No more folders, only search

Maybe when everyone worked off a PC in the calm, casual '90s, everyone had time to dedicate to parsing their correspondence into carefully defined folders, but news flash: it's 2015, and ain't nobody got time for that today. Plus, our technology is like a gajillion times better. So let the search bar do what it was born to do: find old emails at a minute's notice with merely a key word or phrase. Archive everything in your existing folders before axing them completely in favor of a much neater process, not to mention aesthetic. Now there will only be one question when cleaning out your inbox: Is it in or is it out?

4. Send & Archive

This ultimate time-saver, now and forevermore, is as easy as turning on "Show 'Send & Archive' button in reply" on the Gmail Settings page. Now when you reply to an email, you can choose to "Send & Archive," which removes the additional step of filing, or you can choose to just hit plain old-fashioned "Send" for when you need to keep an important email in your inbox. I just turned on Send & Archive in my Gmail, and I've been using it for almost half of my responses, already freeing up precious minutes of my daily life for other things... like living.

5. Color-code what's left

Even after you unclog your inbox, there are going to be a few stragglers hanging out in there. That's just the nature of the email beast. But it doesn't have to be stressful. The same way a stoplight helps coordinate the flow of traffic, you can coordinate the flow of your inbox by enacting a color-coding and/or flagging system. Deciding which color means "high priority" and which means "waiting for additional information" will allow you to hack through what remains of your inbox with relative ease. If only the rest of life could be so straightforward and easy to categorize!

6. Only send emails for the short stuff

I know we all hate it, but making a few quick phone calls WILL help you pare down your emails. No doubt short, simple messages are quick and convenient to send over email, but a lot of us try to send emails for longer, more complicated communication, too, when really we should just pick up the phone and swiftly bring both parties up to speed. Makeup artist extraordinaire/CEO/resident bad bitch Bobbi Brown agrees,

Email works for quick day-to-day correspondence, but when I have something important to discuss or decisions to be made, I pick up the phone. It is always better to hear the person on the other end — the inflection in their voice. Emails can often be misunderstood.

7. Use the Yesterbox technique

Use CEO Tony Hsieh's email management technique he's dubbed Yesterbox to avoid potential overgrowth of your inbox moving forward. Hsieh's technique includes 10 different rules, but the basic premise is that yesterday's emails become today's to-do list, and therefore there's a built-in sense of progress and completion since it's a finite task. Ironically, Hsieh says,

Even though my responses to most emails are not the same day, I actually end up being MORE responsive than I have been in the past, because most people will get a response the day after (as opposed to a week after, a month after, or several months after which used to happen all the time because I would always procrastinate on the hard emails).

So there you have it, folks — seven hacks to help you clear out your inbox just in time for spring. Happy emailing!

Images: Fotolia; Giphy