Email overload? Clear your inbox with this unknown secret

by

close up of employee filtering through emails on computer

In 2018 alone, 235.6 billion emails were sent each day. Does it ever feel like all those emails are in your inbox right now?

If you’re like most people who use email for work, chances are your inbox is packed. It’s not uncommon for inboxes to pile up with thousands, even tens of thousands, of emails. Often people’s inboxes get stacked up with resolved or useless emails that no longer need to be in the inbox . . . but they wind up just staying there. However, you don’t need to deal with—or keep—all these emails.

Is your inbox overloaded but you don’t know what to do? You’ve come to the right place.

There is, in fact, a simple yet underused secret to clearing your inbox. Put it to work today, and you can make email easier to use—while not losing access to emails you need to retain.

It’s okay to keep old emails, but you don’t have to keep them in your inbox

Email storage isn’t infinite, but nowadays it might as well be. So, for starters, in many cases, emails don’t have to be deleted. If it makes you feel better to keep old emails, go for it.

Email can be forever. Now, of course some emails need to stay in your inbox, front and center. For example, it makes sense that you might want to keep messages related to a current project or support issue close at hand. In those cases, scrolling and unread/read statuses can be a good way to help you with day-to-day management.


However, old, resolved, or no-longer-relevant emails don’t have to linger in your inbox. Whether for a solid declutter or your personal quest to achieve your version of Inbox Zero, here are two ways to get emails out of your inbox (and we’ll discuss each in more detail below):

  1. Delete the email. That can sound scary, but here’s something you might find reassuring: When you delete, or trash, an email, it doesn’t go away right away. Many email providers, such as Gmail and G Suite, typically retain an email in the trash folder for 30 days, then permanently delete it (or sooner if you manually empty your email trash). During that window, a deleted email can be restored anytime. That means you have a 30-day safety net to pull an email out of the trash before it’s gone forever.
  2. Archive the email. For emails you want or need to retain, you can simply archive them. Archiving moves the message out of your inbox, but keeps it in an archive, or all mail, area for future reference. You just don’t have to stare at it all the time, in the midst of the more current emails you need to deal with. An archived email can also be restored to the inbox at any time.
  3. Organize using labels. If you have emails related to different projects or topics, label them and then move them to a folder with that label. When you need to find that one message, you’ll be able to go right to it. 

Good-bye forever: Deleting email

A big sale that’s passed. The weekly reminder that the office fridge is getting cleared out after lunch on Friday. Some reply-all thread that had nothing whatsoever to do with you or even your department. Emails and promos from brands you no longer care about. 

Do you know what they all have in common? You can delete them. Safely and confidently.

Emails that you don’t need, don’t use, and/or annoy you have no business staying in your inbox—and your face.

Get rid of them. Really.

A truly unnecessary email is an email that no longer needs to be part of your inbox. It’s okay to cozy up to the delete icon and the unsubscribe link.

Is deleting permanent? Eventually, but not right away. As mentioned above, you typically have a 30-day grace period before a trashed email gets permanently deleted.

So, go through and delete the emails you really, truly do not need—which will probably be more than you might have thought. Delete them and let them go. It’s okay.

After all, that wonderful, satisfying, surprisingly cathartic deleting, you’ll be left with . . . the other emails. The ones that are not part of the active things you truly need to keep in the inbox. They’re the “what-if” emails. What if you do need to come back to that email? What if that reply-all thread will have some larger significance later, and if you can’t reference that earlier email you’ll be unprepared or out of the loop? What if your organization requires certain record-keeping or message retention?

Luckily, there’s a middle ground. Emails like that don’t have to stay in your inbox, but you don’t have to kick them out of existence altogether either.

See you maybe: Archiving email

Email is not an inbox-or-delete either-or thing. Archiving email is a simple, graceful way both to get emails out of your face while keeping them should they ever be needed down the road.

However, archiving is often underused. Luckily, today many email services make it easy to archive an email—and to find what you need, should you need to come back to an old message.

With tools such as G Suite and Outpost, for example, you can send a reply AND archive the email—with one click. (And don’t worry about missing a reply if someone replies to your reply: new emails and replies will still show upfront and center in your inbox. If you really don’t want to have replies in your inbox, though, you can also “mute” the entire conversation, so you receive replies, but they go straight to archive.)

The great thing about archiving email is that it removes all doubt or ambiguity. If you feel the slightest hesitation about deleting an email, simply archive it instead. You’ll have the peace of mind that the email is there, but since it’s no longer in your inbox, you’ll have an easier time finding and dealing with the emails that do require your right-now attention.

Archiving emails can also be as simply stored or minutely organized as you want. If setting up various filters, labels, and folders helps you segment out your email archive, go for it. However, today’s robust email searching capabilities are pretty much email superpowers. Even if you archive everything into one big archive/all mail area, you can pinpoint exactly what you need with a few simple searches.

With archiving, instead of having thousands of emails in your workaday inbox, you can switch to your archive or all mail area, and there you can find every email you’ve kept.

The secret to clearing your inbox

You no longer have to suffer through an overwhelming inbox. Email doesn’t have to be a grinding, day-to-day slog through thousands of old messages. 

From our long experience working with global clients across a broad range of industries, we suggest the following three steps to clear out your inbox and keep it manageable:

  1. Keep in your inbox only what you need for current work, and organize it using labels or some other method that works for you.
  2. Delete what is truly irrelevant, and unsubscribe from emails you don’t need to be getting. If you start your day deleting emails you don’t even read, those can safely go.
  3. Archive the rest.

We’ve baked archiving right into Outpost. You can easily archive emails, either by selecting the “Archive” option from the top main menu, or by setting Outpost to archive the email as part of sending your reply (your send button with have two options:  “send” or “send and archive.”) This makes it easier to see what still needs to be handled in your inbox, but the conversation disappears from view (and goes to the archive) in case you ever need to search for it.

Archiving email is the secret weapon to clearing out your inbox and keeping it manageable. It’s you hedging your inbox bet on what you might need down the road.

There’s nothing wrong with deleting, but it’s also nice to know that you don’t have to delete emails—yet you don’t have to keep them in your inbox either. Through deleting and archiving, you’ll be able to more effectively deal with your day-to-day workload—and finally clear all those unneeded emails out of your inbox for good.

Posted in Email

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.