The Start of the Year is Probably a Good Time for Force a Clean Inbox If You Need To

Say you have one of those inboxes with tens of thousands of emails in there. While you might still be a decently high-functioning email person, chances are slim. It’s probably an all-too-present sign of email being a problem for you.

My usual opinion is that you take steps toward fixing it. You’re probably subscribed to way too much stuff. You’ve probably got emails in there that literally just need to be archived. If there are ones that are important in there, you should chip away at answering them. My thesis is that good things happen through communicating with people and email is a particularly potent way of communicating.

But if that inbox number is, say, 20,000 or worse, that might just be untenable in your life. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck forever. “Email Bankruptcy” (just dump it all) isn’t my favorite choice, but if it gives you that mental relief you need to start fresh with better habits, I think it’s worth it.

Liz Gumbinner at Cool Mom Tech has documented the Gmail technique for Inbox Bankruptcy.

  1. Search for in: label:inbox (watch for a message that is something like “Select all conversationgs that match this search” or the like, so you can get them all not just one pagination worth)
  2. Create a new label like “Inbox 2021” and apply
  3. Archive them

Now you’ve got a historical marker that shows where you were at the end of the year, and a way to scope search if you’re looking for something you think is likely in there.

Now when the emails start pouring in again, take time to fight back. Find the unsubscribe link in them. Spam ’em if they really are spam. Do the organizational gymnastics you need to do to recluse yourself from receiving unnecessary emails. Change your app settings to what you really need. Chipping away at it can get the job done and then it’s easier to stay on top of.

Then when your inbox is clean, email can become… almost a pleasure. It’s generally where the biggest opportunities are.

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