Sep 202012

Those of you who read my PERFECTIONISM post know that I have struggled to gain momentum with my writing. I was paralyzed and stuck thinking I couldn’t write until this was done or that was finished or such-and-such was in order. I am still working to get past this, however, there was one huge issue that I simply couldn’t ignore anymore.

I’ve Got Mail. LOTS of Mail.

Just a few weeks ago, I had 20,000+ unread emails spread across three inboxes. The weight of all of that unread email created tremendous pressure for me every time I opened my inbox. These poor, neglected emails were calling out all manner of guilt-invoking messages:

  • “Look at all the electronic goodness you are missing out on by not reading us!”
  • “We are the manifestation of all your unfulfilled good intentions to improve your life!”
  • “We linger and multiply, continually reminding you of what a procrastinator you are!”
  • “If you can’t manage your inbox, how can you possibly manage the rest of your life?”
  • “No matter how hard you try, you will never, ever catch up on reading us. Feeling overwhelmed yet?”

Oh, yes. Overwhelmed is definitely the word I would use.

I didn’t have time to keep up with the 200-300 new emails I was receiving every day let alone deal with years worth of past emails. I would rather (and often did) read a novel instead of slog my way through thousands of outdated ads, old blog posts, and never-ending social-networking notifications.

Declaring Email Bankruptcy?

Some people declare email bankruptcy and making use of the “select all – delete” option. I knew there were some gems tucked away in the mass of emails awaiting my attention, and as sentimental as I am, I couldn’t bring myself to simply hit “delete.”

If I wasn’t willing to decimate my inbox, what other options were available? I found a few online articles about how to organize and process email. Some of the most common tips are listed below:

  • Unsubscribe from as many emails as you can
  • Only check email a few times a day and schedule those times in your calendar
  • Don’t look at your inbox unless you are ready to process your email
  • Decide quickly whether to delete the email, do it (if it will take 2 minutes or less), assign it to someone else to do, or make it a task or appointment (if it will take longer than 2 minutes)

(See these articles from Problogger, Microsoft, and

These are all great tips, but I felt like I needed a little more help. That growing number next to my inbox was like an avalanche burying me alive. Then I found something that looked like it just might be the ski patrol coming to my rescue. There is too much to go into here but don’t worry, I’ll tell you more about it in Conquering an Overflowing Inbox Part 2.

Do you struggle to manage your inbox? How do you “process” email? Would you add any additional tips to this list?

  4 Responses to “Conquering an Overflowing Inbox – Part One”

  1. Good suggestions. I don’t get emails for FB comments. I learned that when I was a gamer there. Now my email accounts (I have four and only one is for work) come through my phone. I can take a break periodically and have a delete fest. Makes it so much easier than having to wait until I sit at my computer.

    20,000? That totally blows my mind!

  2. Those are great tips.
    I try to follow the principal of Inbox Zero (it’s worth looking up) and Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. I subscribe to some newsletters, but I have them so they never enter my inbox, they go straight to a folder called @toread. When I have time to read newsletters, I go there. Following the 2-minute rule, if it will take me some time, I move it to a folder called @action, essentially making it a task-list item. If it’s something I need to keep for reference (order information from something I bought, a process document, or a department directory) then I move it to @reference. The only things in my inbox are new e-mails. The important thing is that the moment you see it, you have to make a decision, delete it, respond to it, or move it to the appropriate folder.

    • Matthew,

      Thanks for sharing your method for dealing with email. Your comment inspired my hubby to follow your example with the @ folders. I love both Inbox Zero and GTD, and have tried (and obviously failed) to fully implement those principles in the past. Thanks to both IZ and GTD as well as the program I will talk about in my part two post, I am closer to my email management goals than I have ever been. Thanks for the comment and the awesome suggestions!

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