How to Clean up an Inbox

By Jacqueline Hills

Is your inbox bulging with useless information? Do you find that emails you need seem to elude you, wasting your time and frustrating you? You’re not alone. Many of us have email inboxes that contain hundreds or even thousands of messages, especially in the email we use at work. Having an unorganized mailbox can stress you on a hectic day. Take time to get that out-of-control mailbox in order. It will save you valuable time when looking for that important piece of information later.

Step 1

Sort the email in your inbox alphabetically by subject. Many email programs have a sort feature, including web-based programs. For example, if you are using Outlook, Yahoo or AOL mail, click the title bar above the column you want to sort.

Step 2

Skim down the email list by subject. Many times, emails are replied to and/or forwarded. These email “chains” will be apparent when grouped by subject. When you spot a chain you do not need, delete all the emails in it.

Step 3

Sort by sender.

Step 4

Again, browse the list of remaining emails by sender. You will find many one-time emails from people you no longer need to correspond with or which contain information you no longer need. This is also a good time to mark any “spam” and delete it.

Step 5

Create folders to categorize emails. You should organize your emails in the way that works best for you. If you have a business, you may want to categorize your emails by client or project. For your personal email, you may want to categorize them by subject, such as family, banking, employment or other subjects.

Step 6

Move the emails you want to keep into the appropriate folders.

Step 7

Set up rules that manage your incoming mail. Many email programs allow you to create instructions for how the program will handle mail it receives. For example, if you receive electronic statements from your bank, you can create a rule that automatically puts those emails in a folder based on the sender’s email address. See your email provider’s online help guide for information on how to create rules.

Step 8

Keep your mailbox clean by answering, deleting or moving new messages into folders promptly.

Tips & Warnings

  • Know the rules your email service providers apply to items in the deleted items folder. Providers have different time limits on when items are permanently deleted. Be sure you review deleted items before emptying the trash.
  • Be sure you have saved any email address or contact information you may need before deleting an email.