from the Blog

Your Email Inbox and Hoarding


          “I know I have it, let me look here, I’ll have it in just a minute.”

This is reminiscent of my Dad searching in his garage or workshop for a tool or a saved part knowing that someday it would be needed (I admit – this trait didn’t fall far from the tree).

We are doing the same thing with digital files. We are saving things that we think that we will need someday. We are constantly searching through folder after folder to find stuff? How many gigabytes of photos, music files, documents, and random files are sitting on our hard drives? How many emails are currently in our inbox? 1000? 2500? 10,0000?

HoardersWe have become Digital Hoarders! Unlike the Hoarders Show on A&E, being a digital hoarder is probably not indicative of a mental disorder (but it might be).

Today we are going to focus on your Email Inbox – it probably has more direct impact on your daily life and with a few simple tips can be tamed pretty quickly. Do not fear, we will provide additional digital organization tips in future posts.

If you have over 200 emails sitting in your inbox it is probably looking like your kitchen junk drawer – there is some good stuff in there – you just are afraid to look. And it continues to grow – quickly becoming 400, 600, or more. The crazy part, probably 20% or more of it is spam or truly junk, and is just cluttering your life. A full Inbox is generally inefficient and as result can be very stressful. Taming your inbox is a process and we have a few tips and tricks to help.

In the old days your inbox was a box on the corner of your desk and was the funnel for all correspondence coming through your office. It was important to process daily lest it grow . . . . until it overflowed off of your desk. Our email inbox is very similar and we must have a process for daily management.

The basics – process and empty – Inbox Zero.

  • Junk items go straight to the recycling bin – that magazine or newsletter that you meant to cancel, solicitations, etc.
  • Project documentation – directed to the appropriate file or delegated to the right person.
  • Reference material – perhaps that magazine you intend to read, product information that you will need later, etc. is set aside for another day.
  • Notes and memos – addressed quickly or tucked into an Action Pending Folder.

The inbox is a great processing and distribution center and a terrible file cabinet.


Three Steps to Tame Your Current Inbox:

Set aside an hour to focus on addressing your inbox. This will likely take several sessions depending on your particular situation. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Step 1 – Organize your Inbox (processing center) to be a warehouse (filing center) by creating a place for those emails that cannot be deleted.

Create five sub folders in your Inbox – Pending Actions, Someday, Reference, Waiting For, and IDK. (You might also consider Project Folders as part of your initial purge, although project information should probably be part of a more global system in your office.)

You might expand this as well – consider these examples and adjust to fit your situation and personal preferences. KEEP IT AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE.

  • .Pending Actions (primarily within 3-7 days)
  • .Someday (not urgent or time sensitive, maybe never)
  • .Reference
  • .Waiting For – (ticklers that you are waiting for responses)
  • .IDK + today’s date – (I Don’t Know what to Do)
  • .Project A (these are reference folders, not Action folders)
  • .Project B
  • .Project C

Creating this filing system will not only help you corral your current inbox items, but will provide the infrastructure for processing all incoming email in the future.


STEP 2 – Clear the inbox – full on DELETE, DELEGATE, SCHEDULE, and FILE. Our goal is Inbox Zero.

Sort by sender. This is my ‘go to’ method when clearing my inbox. Sorting by sender quickly categorizes the majority of your inbox and allows you to make mass movements.

  • Junk. Quickly delete large chunks of junk, spam, and general correspondence. This will likely cut 30-50% of your current inbox.
  • Schedule type items. If an email/item has a time component, put it on your calendar – assign it a time and date. Did you know that you can drag emails to your calendar? What a powerful tool. If an item has a time component just drag the email to your calendar and assign a date and time – no retyping. Ex. – a renewal notice – drag it to your calendar 7-10 days before the due date as a reminder.
  • Actionable Items. If an email can be addressed in less than two minutes take the time to do it. Most will take less than two minutes. If not, drag it to your Pending Actions folder.
  • Reference items – those email items that are not actionable, but you would like to save for future reference – drag them to your reference folder(s). This might be newsletters that you subscribe to and want to save or product information that you have requested.

STEP 3 – IDK – I don’t know.

It is pretty likely that on your first blush that you will not get to zero. In fact there may still be hundreds of emails left in your Inbox that you just couldn’t part with. Remember our goal – Inbox Zero – we are trying to start with a clean slate.

Drag the remaining Inbox items to the IDK Folder that you created in Step 1. This will clear your deck and at the same time provide some relief about saving some stuff.

We can come back and delete this whole folder when your comfort level increases.


This week . . . consider taking the first step toward taming you inbox.

We have a lot more ideas for processing your inbox and managing your digital files – watch for future posts.

. . . . go have an Awesome Week!

Tom Trabue