How to Protect Your Email Inbox


November 13, 2012 by Will Ray

Email.  The very word can cause you to roll your eyes, stress out, or go immediately into work-mode.

The truth is, email has gone in the last 10-15 years from being a little-used communication tool to probably one of the most commonly used means of communication.  Drafting and responding to emails can be a massive task for some people’s jobs.  I have a friend who constantly sees inbox numbers in the thousands with his job!

Furthermore, businesses and organizations have started using email to keep customers and their “tribes” up-to-date with new product and service offerings.  It’s possible now that you could receive dozens of email newsletters a day if you subscribed to everything offered.

For me, email is a big deal, and I don’t like to have my inbox cluttered with a ton of stuff I don’t need.  I like to be able to close out the work week with no more than 10-20 emails in my inbox, and those are things that still need attention.

Granted, I don’t receive as many emails as some, but I’ve worked to get a system that works for me and helps me keep things under control.  Here are some ideas that might work for you, too:

1) Unsubscribe with “extreme prejudice”

To quote Heart of Darkness, terminate those email subscriptions with “extreme prejudice.”  These things can gunk up your inbox really fast, if you don’t keep a handle on them.  According to anti-SPAM laws, legitimate newsletters and fancy email clients are required to give you an opt-out option.  It’s almost always at the bottom of the newsletter, like this:

Instead of just deleting these ubiquitous newsletters with a frustrated huff, take the extra 30 seconds to hit that “Unsubscribe” button.  The link will take you to a webpage where you may or may not need to confirm your choice.

2) Create a good filing system

Once I got a good filing system established, I found that I could do a couple things more effectively.  First, I was able to get my inbox down to a comfortable level fairly easily.  Secondly, I was able to find old emails more efficiently by searching or browsing just one folder instead of my entire email account.  I love Apple’s, but most email programs now offer drag-and-drop support for quickly and easily putting your emails into folders.

My folder list is a little long, and looks like this:

3) Adjust your email settings in social media services you use

I about lost my mind when Facebook started sending me email notifications for everything that happened related to me.  I initially appreciated the occasional Facebook email about friend requests.  After many changes to the notification and privacy policies, Facebook started sending email notifications for nearly everything.  I quickly found out how to adjust those, and did so.  You should too.  You don’t need your phone buzzing every time a random acquaintance likes your photo or post.

For facebook, hit the little drop-down arrow in the top-right next to your picture, and select “Account Settings.”  Then select “Notifications” in the left hand menubar.  The specific screen looks like this:

Rinse and repeat for your Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn, etc.

4) Utilize rules options in your email client

I don’t use these currently all that much, but just about every email client has the option to utilize custom filters and rules for emails you receive.  They’re generally available in the preferences.  For instance, if you get a report or standard email from an associate, client, or service that you don’t necessarily need to see every time but need to retain, set up a rule.  You can specify that any emails coming from “” containing the words “Weekly update” (or anything else) be automatically marked as read and moved to a folder of your choosing.  This can be a very powerful tool if you take the time to set it up on the front end.

Email is a great tool, but it can take over your life and job if you’re not careful.  Try some of these suggestions and keep it tidy and effective for the long-run.

Question: What other things do you do to keep your email inbox clean?

2 thoughts on “How to Protect Your Email Inbox

  1. John says:

    Another item I use to manage reference or informational newsletters is to send them to Evernote, or even subscribe via Evernote. It goes there, into my Offline folders, and then when I travel, or sit down anywhere, I can pull out my phone or iPad, and read it. Then I can disposition it. That way, I don’t have to be online to read the “filler’ info. Good write up, Will!

  2. Will Ray says:

    Great point, John. Evernote is an awesome tool. I’m still figuring how best to utilize it day-to-day, and you just suggested a use I’ve not heart much before. Thanks!

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About me…

Youth minister, financial coach and part-time wedding photographer, based in Raleigh, NC

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