Inbox clutter is a problem. And not only for the email marketing companies like ours trying to help their clients stand out in these crowded inboxes. No, this clutter is a problem for everyone, even us as email users who want to be more productive and less distracted.
Spam is only part of the problem. There are plenty other types of emails that can clutter your inbox too, emails you do want to get, just not right now perhaps, or not every week or month.
Even the email you want to receive can be quite disruptive to your day and greatly hamper your productivity. I have heard that it takes 15 minutes to get back on task if interrupted. If only four emails interrupt my day, that adds up to an entire hour lost.
So how do we eliminate this clutter and distraction? One solution is checking email only at designated times, say 8:00 a.m., noon and 4:00 p.m. This is a great idea in theory, but realistically, it takes more self-discipline than most people have—especially with Outlook pop-ups or a smartphone dinging with each new email. (Of course, you can shut those off too.)
There are other ways to keep the clutter contained, beyond operating on a strict schedule. Here are some tried-and-true tips for keeping your inbox clean and your day productive:
- Have a set schedule for cleaning out your inbox. Schedule time on your calendar for cleaning out your inbox, and stick to it. Maybe it’s 9 to 10 every Friday morning, or whatever works for you. Spend that hour ruthlessly purging and filing emails, cleaning out your inbox for the week ahead. If something does require your attention, give it, even if it’s an unpleasant response you’ve been putting off writing. As Nike says, “just do it.”
- Use labels or folders to put emails “away” somewhere. This requires some organization, but I am a big believer in folders. That way I can get the emails out of my inbox without deleting them. I know they are stored away somewhere if I should need them in the future. That means I still have the emails, yet I also have an inbox I can manage.
- Unsubscribe from the emails you no longer want to get. Regrettably this is an ongoing process because it seems once you’re off one list, you’re added to another. However, keep up with the unsubscribes. The time you spend upfront saves you from having to repeatedly delete them later. Deleting might only take a few seconds, but it is clutter and clutter gets in the way of productivity and the emails that do require your attention. And those few seconds add up, plus you have the interruption effect to consider.
In addition to some self-discipline and organization, you might want to try built-in tools as well to keep your inbox clean. You can turn to inbox cleaners like Kukoo and Swizzle, although in our experience, third-party solutions like these aren’t necessary. Try setting up your own filters or having your own system for keeping your inbox under control rather than adding one more layer of complexity to your email.
The tools in Outlook, as well as Gmail and other ISPs, are growing more sophisticated in response to user needs for some control over their incoming emails. For example, you can set up filters in Gmail, customized exactly to your needs. This saves you from manually having to delete or organize your inbox, and can also keep emails with subjects or from known lower priority senders from showing up and disrupting your day. For example, I have a folder for all newsletters and blogs, so I can open them (or search them easily) when I have the time to enjoy them. For a great rundown of the possibilities and how to set them up, see the filters set up by one Gmail user and perfected over the years.
A clean mailbox makes your day more productive. It removes clutter and distraction. It keeps you focused. And it doesn’t require a third-party software to do. Try these tips and some of your own filters and see if you don’t take back part of your day.