How to clean a mailbox @ BYUI

Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM Call us: (208) 496-9000

Email Overload?

Basic Measures

  • Learn how filters work and use them to filter low-priority mail into mailboxes that can be checked periodically, rather than crowding your inbox.
  • Filter out messages that are CC-ed to you, or e-mails from sources that are high-volume but not vital.
  • Turn off pop-up alerts.

Severe Measures

  • Train people to send relevant e-mails by making your responses brief.
  • Delay responses to non-urgent e-mails, or don't answer e-mails at all.

Practice What You Preach

  • Don't forward, CC or BCC messages to people who don't need them.
  • If the topic has changed over the course of several messages, change the subject line to reflect more accurately the new content.
  • Be aware of "threading": don't cover too many issues in one e-mail, but don't break them down into too many separate messages.
  • Write detailed subject lines and be clear about action points for people.
  • When sending a message to multiple recipients, include a few words for each person if you require different types of responses or actions from them.

Cleaning Tips

Keepin your mailbox clean is an ongoing process.  Here are some tips we've learned along the way.  Feel free to add more to the list.

  1. Clean out your RSS Feeds folder
  2. Empty your Deleted Items folder
  3. Clean out unneeded items in your Sent Items folder
  4. File Your Email into Folders
    1. Use whatever system works best for you. You can categorize your email folders by source (ie: clients, accounts, vendors); type (ie: projects, reference, waiting); or task (ie: follow-up, archive, on hold). As soon as you've read your email, file it in its appropriate folder.
  5. Use Rules and Filters to Manage Your Email for You
    1. Outlook has the ability to sort your incoming emails based on simple rules and filters that you set up. For example, you could create a rule that says anytime you receive an email from a specific email address, it's automatically moved into the folder you specify. Outlook can also be configured to filter your email and send your spam directly into the trash so you don't waste time reading and deleting it.
    2. Once you've emptied your inbox, keep it empty. Commit to making a decision about the fate of every read message on the spot. Never leave a read or answered message in your inbox. Delete it or file it.
  6. Unsubscribe from newsletters, special offers and feeds that you don't read or act upon regularly.
    1. "Unsubscribe" links are almost always found at the very bottom of the email.
    2. Too Much Choice = Analysis Paralysis
      • In The Paradox of Choice by Tony Schwartz, he shares hundreds of pages of research showing how horrible it is when human beings have too much choice. We're pretty good when it comes to choosing between black and white, or having the fish or steak at dinner, or vacationing at Disney World or a sewage treatment plant. But as soon as you toss in a third choice, our brain starts to freak out and life gets stressful.
      • And what has the internet given us? Choice - an unlimited supply of it. We can choose between things we never knew existed, never even wanted, and then feel stressed because we made the wrong choice. So we save and bookmark everything and feel stressed because we have too much choice and all of it is good. Overload no longer comes from spam. Now, overload comes from too much of what we want.
      • So it's time to start eliminating choice. Yes, that's right. Start eliminating choices. Open your notepad program. Go through your inbox and unsubscribe from every newsletter, bulk email, software update, and status email you possibly can. As you unsubscribe from each one, jot it down in your notepad so you know what you used to subscribe to. Normally I would say use a pencil and paper to help you remember, but in this case, if you forget anything, that's a Good Thing. It means it wasn't important enough to be subscribed to.
      • Your mind is clear. You've unsubscribed from all that great information you used to get. No more newsletters, stock tips, weather facts, or deals of the day. Yes, you wanted to get all that. Yes, it was all good. And now, you're free. You may miss that great deal of the day, and you know what, now you'll spend no dollars and save more cash for your retirement.
      • Now, think deeply. What are the things you want to do well, that you care about, that you really want to devote time and attention to? Scan your list of unsubscribes and re-subscribe to 5-and only 5-of the things on the list. Yes, you care about baby seals, African orphans, religious persecution, free markets, entrepreneurship, and pending energy legislation. That's 6 things. Choose 5. Those will be the only ones you get battered with, going forward. Just be sure that the Get-It-Done Guy newsletter is one of those 5 things because how else will you get things done
      • Yes, you get a ton of good information and tools from the internet. But more information won't make a difference in your life. More doing will. Choose a small number of areas where you commit to taking action. Unsubscribe from everything, then re-subscribe to 5 things only, all of which relate to your deep commitments to action. You won't be in the loop for every thing, but you'll be in the loop for the right things. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters.
    3. Evaluate every email (Good, Better, Best)
      1. Does it add value?
        1. Why continue to clutter your inbox with email you never actually look at?
      2. Is it something I read, or routinely delete?
        1. If it's a list you intentionally subscribed to in the past, you can re-subscribe in the future should you find that you actually miss it.
      3. Is it so much noise, or something worth keeping?
        1. If it's an email list of company you've done business with or otherwise given your email address to, you can always return and do business with them by going to their web site.
    4. Don't unsubscribe from spam
      1. Spam is email you did not ask for.
      2. Spam is email from companies you've never done business with.
      3. Clicking on the "unsubscribe" link on spam emails only confirms to the spammer that they've found a live person in their mass mailings, and it will likely get you more spam, not less.
    5. On the flip side, never mark email that isn't spam as spam.
      1. Email from companies you do business with typically isn't spam. Often, as you go through the purchase process, you give them permission to add you to their list (sometimes inadvertently, by failing to uncheck a checkbox). This is not considered spam. Unsubscribe instead.
      2. Similarly, never mark email that you actually asked for as spam. For example, if you subscribe to a newsletter and later on you no longer want it, unsubscribe. In both cases, marking legitimate email as spam can actually harm the business and its customers, because email providers may use your actions to begin filtering this legitimate email as spam for others, who may not think it's spam at all. Don't unsubscribe from emails that give you value.
    6. Have you ever wanted to drop some online newsletter or service but found it hard to figure out how to cancel and remove your account? It is very common for cancelling a service to be a lot more involved than signing up. Sometimes it takes a major hunt to find out how to remove your account.

      Hunt no more. Cancelling an account has been made much easier by a website called It lists hundreds of services with a link right to the proper cancellation page for each. It also offers a preview of the cancellation policy of many services. This is worth looking at before you sign up with somebody so you can get an idea of how hard it will be to cancel if you don't like the service. Also, some services won't let you delete an account entirely once it is set up - Pinterest and WordPress, for example - something worth knowing.
  7. More Quick Email Tips
    1. If you can answer an email in one minute or less, do so immediately and check it off your list.
    2. Only keep email in your sent folder that involve some type of action by the receiver.
    3. Keep only the latest version of a thread of emails to cut down on volume.
      1. Learn how to "View Messages by Conversation Thread" at
  8. Last Resort: Email Bankruptcy
    1. This is the act of deleting all messages older than a certain date due to an overwhelming receipt of garbage messages or as a result of email hoarding. During the act of declaring email bankruptcy, a message is usually sent to all senders explaining the problem, that their message has been deleted, and that if their message still requires a response they should resend it.

Readers, what about you - do you keep a clean inbox? Share your tips for avoiding inbox clutter - or your email horror stories.

Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM Call us: (208) 496-9000