As Spooktober comes to a close, there’s very little scarier than a crowded, muddled mess of an email inbox. Even if you know you’re not going to be able to reach the nirvana of Inbox Zero (that’s when you’re able to perform the magic of clearing your email box of all messages), it’s a great time to fall (get it?) into new habits, and out of old ones. Did you Marie Kondo-clean your house? Now is the time to be as impressive in your digital world. Reviewing your cluttered email box no longer needs to be horror-movie, shockfest scary.

In the interest of complete transparency and email-inbox reviewing, most of us may say it’s scary to check our inbox, but what we really mean is that we fear cleaning our inbox, stressing out and interrupting our day to find a specific email that has turned the search into a journey that takes us from search, to inbox, to subfolders, to trash and back again into the inbox.

Popular email platforms like Gmail are intuitive and easy to use, yet an overloaded and messy inbox can still inhibit your daily productivity.

Learn to manage your email

Tackle it when you can. “Everyone has their own way of working, but the key is to manage your email and not let your email manage you,” recommended Eric Wanta, CMO of Zive, the maker of Kiwi for Gmail and Kiwi for GSuite. “Emails are a top distraction in the workplace, with office workers checking their emails 30 to 40 times per hour. To produce the best work there needs to be minimal interruptions. Of course, it’s normal to check our mail several times a day to stay on top of any incoming urgent requests but scheduling a time to process email should be step number one. I suggest setting time [to refresh your email browser] in your calendar.”

Studies show the average person sends and receives 124 work emails every day, or 620 emails every week. “And we’re spending an average of 1.1 minute on each email. So do the math based on how many emails you get each day. Reading and responding to emails takes up about 28% of an average person’s total work week,” Wanta said.

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Whether you give yourself a hard deadline, attempt to do it until you’re done, want to nap in the middle of your purge, or simply take your time, this, “of course, this depends on the volume of email you receive and the type of replies you need to send,” Wanta said. “One way to minimize the time you spend is to limit your responses. Your email responses should be concise and straight to the point. If you’re responding more than three sentences to every single email, you’re probably doing it wrong. And resist the urge to constantly check. Turn off notifications.”

Clearing your email is invaluable to help you to stay organized, but it also does “not let important things slip through the cracks, and makes it easier to find things when you need them, reduces anxiety, and makes you more productive,” offered Wanta, who said he knows many people who have “tens of thousands of emails in their inbox.”

The process

Start by deleting time-sensitive email, the ones that matter most to you, at a particular point in time. “Set up filters based on what’s important to you, or choose to only look at new ones. How you prioritize is up to you, and what you need to get done that day,” Wanta said.

Advocacy for Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero “has been an approach advocated by productivity gurus like Tim Ferris to constantly stay on top of email and keep your unread count to zero,” Wanta explained. “The problem is, just like exercising to keep a healthy six-pack and 2% body fat, most wind up with inboxes with hundreds of unread emails that just pile up. The fact is, people don’t have time to organize their inboxes.”

More than 80% of users have tried repeatedly to get their emails under control, and while they tend to have initial success, the average amount of time it lasts is just six days. So “while the concept of Inbox Zero is interesting, its completely unrealistic given the realities of email and human nature,” Wanta said. “You’re fighting a losing battle you can’t win. Accept the fact that you probably won’t have time to get to all of the emails you receive in one day and instead focus on getting to priority emails first and leaving others unread.”

There may be a psychology, or it may be laziness, but with storage aplenty web-based email like Gmail, “the trend is, just keep accumulating and storing messages,” Wanta said. In the “old days,” people would download their messages to their computers, and they were generally more concerned, and diligent about deleting old messages, because of limited storage on hard drives.

Another reason it seems easier to just keep emails is because of the improvement of search. Many people don’t bother to organize or archive emails, and opt to use tagging, the search capabilities, and emerging AI tools to look for and ID emails when they need them.

To clear your inbox, try this method

Delete it if it’s junk or you no longer need it, trash it. People hoard objects, but other people hoard emails they don’t need.
Take action whether it’s an event you need to RSVP to, a date that needs to be added to your calendar, or something that needs a response, handle it right away.
File it away this is reserved for anything that should be saved for future reference.

Wanta said Zive developed the Kiwi for Gmail Focus Filter Inbox, “to solve this problem and help you get control of your email.”

About your email account

Most people have several email addresses, which include work and personal, but they might also have addresses for schools or organizations to which they have an affiliation. Because setting up an email account is free and easy, the number of emails you have can be as many as you feel you need.

A benefit of an email address like Google or Yahoo is that people have become dependent on being able to access email accounts from anywhere and from any device. So having a web-based email account is “by far the easiest way to make sure all of your personal emails are at your fingertips,” Wanta said.

Face your fears and go for it: clean up that ponderous email account as soon as you can. It’s not that scary of a task.

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