In the spirit of the new year, let’s talk clean inboxes! I consider myself to be an organized person, and that includes staying up to date with my inbox (no notifications, please!). I’ve had my personal Gmail for over seven years, I think, and while I’ve never been one to let unread emails pile up, I didn’t implement a labeling or categorical system till entering the “real world” nearly six years ago. Even when I did I missed the mark by a) not deleting emails I didn’t need–like apartment building notifications, promotional emails, etc. and b) adding a Label to an email, but not archiving the message into that category–which meant everything continued to sit in my main inbox.
As you can imagine, this led to a major inbox catastrophe in the sense that there were thousands of emails sitting in my main inbox. Most of them had been categorized with a Label but it wasn’t until late last fall that I started getting really annoyed about the clutter in my actual inbox. I’ll note that I have my main personal email and then my “other” personal one that I typically use for online shopping and the like. The inbox I tackled this time around is my true personal one, so it gets everything from travel confirmations, job search-related correspondences, notes from friends + family, and messages from a select number retailers. I truly love having a clean inbox–both my blog and work ones have minimal to no messages in the main inbox, meaning everything is either deleted, archived, or filed into it’s appropriate folder/label! I’m not really sure how this main personal inbox got so neglected but it was high time to make some changes!
Note: I know most people will tell me to just have all my inboxes direct into one rather than have to keep multiple browsers open, but for now I prefer it this way! I usually only have my personal inbox open during the day and see anything else when I check my phone. Victoria passed along a really good way to consolidate accounts into one while still maintaining “separate” inboxes, but I haven’t set it up yet. All my personal emails come through into the same inbox on my phone and I use the Gmail app for my self-hosted account (email@example.com).
A quick step back to talk about Labels, if you don’t use them. I think they’re one of the most valuable inbox tools and do wonders for organization! Just don’t do what I did and label but not archive emails :) Once you drag a message into a label (or assign a label and hit “archive,” you’ve archived the email and can still find it by searching your entire inbox with the search bar at the top.
To create a label, go to “More” on the left sidebar of your Gmail inbox and click “Create new label.” Name your label and designate whether you want it to live under another label (if you do, have check off off the “Nest label under:” box and make your selection from the dropdown.) You can assign each label a color and to edit them all easily, go into Settings (the wheel at the top right) and click Settings –> Labels. (pictured below)
How I cleaned out 6k+ emails from my inbox
So onto the part where I actually went through all 6k+ emails in my inbox! Like I said, I started deleting and archiving emails more regularly in the fall. I got down to true “inbox zero” over “Christmas break” when I finally got through everything. Note that this doesn’t include my “Promotions” folder–I still need to go through that, but it’ll be much easier since those are all, well, promotional emails (the few that I still have coming to this address!)
Search by sender
This one was huge! When I knew I had a ton of emails from one sender (e.g. my former building’s manager), I just searched his name in my inbox and batch deleted from there. Same thing for random things I’d subscribed to with this email address–you can click “select all” and delete! You can also search by an exact email address–just put “in:inbox” (or whatever Label, if not your inbox) followed by a space and the email address, and add if you have a bunch of unread emails (which could be a good place to start if your inbox is super overwhelmed), add “is:unread” to pull up unread emails from a specific sender. [So, for example: in:inbox:firstname.lastname@example.org is:unread]
The most fun part of all this was discovering old email conversations with friends…J and I had had also exchanged so many messages from the early days of dating and it’s funny to relive some of the random memories and conversations!
When in doubt, star + archive
I can’t make it through this post without disclaiming that I’m in no way done with my “inbox organization” project. I’m going to eventually have all my accounts filter into one inbox (so one browser) and the main thing I need to go through is my starred emails. I’d been fairly liberal when it comes to what gets starred but am now only starring things that truly need further attention or are a reminder.
Maintaining my inbox
First, I’m deleting any emails that I read and don’t need to save. Second, I’m archiving (be it a simple archive, or an archive to a specific label–which you do by just dragging the email into the label on the left panel of your browser) anything that doesn’t warrant a “delete.” Anything that’s sitting in my inbox still needs to be referred to or is a reminder for something–about 85% are links J sent me that I haven’t gotten to yet (oops), and the rest are related to upcoming events or activities with friends, or are credit card payment reminders.
I still need to finish going through my starred emails and need to start on my promotions tab. I don’t opt into much with my main personal email but there are still nearly 7k emails in there (how?!) from the years. This should be much easier to go through since Gmail does a pretty good job filtering what falls into that tab (i.e. things that probably don’t need saving). This little project kind of blew my mind…I pride myself on organization and technically felt organized with the system I had in place, the mentality of feeling “freer” and “lighter” by removing unnecessary things from your life definitely holds true in the email world :)