The Art of Cleaning Your Digital Inbox

Recently a friend had read my first blog post Quantifying the Qualitative and asked me how I went about organizing and keeping my email inbox organized. I started to give her instructions and it leads me to think that the information might also be helpful for others.

The first step is tackling your out of control inbox. I will admit after 12 years of amassing important emails, junk emails, and coupons, coupons, coupons, my account was daunting. It took me about a week to go through everything but in the end, it was so worth it.

  1. Create a second email accfoldersount. I personally use Gmail. It’s free and has a good amount of storage plus so many sister services that work with it. This email address is to be used for store newsletters, coupons, or places where you shop online. Your original email is for personal communication or important communications.
  2. Create a system of folders. I have folders for communication from my bank, from my student loan program, from the local arts organization I’m a part of, and many more. Have folders for your bills, for individual trips, financial information, and taxes. You can never have too many folders. Also, take advantage of nesting those folders to keep like with like.
  3. Sort the inbox emails that you want to keep into the folders you created. Delete old emails that are no longer relevant (I only keep the most recent email newsletter from every store.), and keep actionable items in your inbox. Do you still need to pay that credit card bill? Keep the email notification in your inbox until you’ve paid it, then file it away for your records. As you go through your store emails, log in and change the email to your new “junk email” or unsubscribe if you don’t really want it anymore.
  4. In your “junk email” use a service like to keep your inbox less cluttered. With you can easily add all emails from that sender to a folder, unsubscribe from the emails or continue to receive the email in your inbox. I only shop at Best Buy once a year, but I am a frequent shopper at Barnes & Noble. gives me the option of automatically sending that Best Buy email to a folder and passing the Barnes & Noble email straight to my inbox. I went from getting 200+ emails in my inbox, to only receiving 85. I can always access the folder that contains all of the “rolled up” emails, say I decide to take a trip to Best Buy, and want to look for a coupon.unroll
  5. Don’t feel bad about unsubscribing from emails you really don’t want. Everyone’s been pressured to sign up for that email newsletter for the free coupons at check out but do you really want to get them…no…so opt out of the emails. I guarantee you that the company would rather not send you an email you’re deleting right away.

To maintain your inbox, there are four steps/rules that I live by:

  1. Check your email at least once a day. Let’s be honest, I check my email about 20 times an hour, but for those of you that don’t, emails can build up quickly in a couple of days. Checking in once a day will make your emails seem less daunting
  2. As soon as you get an email decide: Keep it, file it, or delete it.
    1. Delete it – Send it to your trash can.
    2. File it – Is it an important record, file it in one of your handy folders!
    3. Keep it – Things are allowed to sit in your inbox, but only if they are important and have actionable items.
  3. Unsubscribe from emails you really don’t want anymore.
  4. Clean out your roll up folder once a month.

I hope these tips help. They have certainly helped me.

Does anyone else follow these steps? Any other suggestions?

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