Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have two personal email accounts I have somewhat neglected, and they currently have a massive amount of email in them.

I am wanting to implement something like Inbox Zero with these two accounts,as well as a couple of others, such as my work email.

A lot of the emails are sales fliers, [monthly|weekly|daily] newsletters, recipes, e-magazines, etc

The account that has the most emails currently has over 8,100 unread emails in it.

I keep wanting to get it sorted and cut back on some of the email subscriptions, but the task is so overwhelming I don't even really know where to start. I work, and I have an infant in the house, and am remodeling my house, so I don't typically have big blocks of time to dedicate to tasks like this.

What is the best approach to get the emails down to a reasonable level, so as to be able to implement something along the lines of Inbox Zero?

share|improve this question
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Work in the smallest of steps that allow you to make progress. For many of us, "zero inbox" is not a task but more of a project.

1) As someone else suggested, move everything to a folder. Get it out of your way. As new things enter your Inbox, deal with them. Respond, file it, or archive/delete it.

Personally, I file/organize virtually no email. I archive it. If it is important enough that I'll need it in the future, I will know the keywords I need to search for it. The only thing that I do "file" is unread email and I do that by automatic filters.

2) Identify one type of newsletter (coupons, offers, other). For example, Macy's weekly special. Archive it or unsubscribe. Mass search for the backlog of Macy's then mass archive/delete those as well. You're one step closer.

3) I have two types of filters for organizing email. One is mainly focused on bills and other email that I must review. But, they do not need my immediate attention so I don't want my email client, or phone, notifying me of them. So, I have filters that place bills, statements, etc. in "money".

Consider filtering out the items like bills, statements, and other must-reads to a folder. Review that folder periodically but get them out of your Inbox or the area that may require your immediate attention.

4) Newsletters, offers, etc. I filter those into their own "news" folder. Again, consider not allowing them to hit your Inbox if they do not require your immediate attention.

About every couple of weeks I will find that a newsletter never was or has become non interesting to me. I unsubscribe from it.

5) After some time, most everything the hits your Inbox are items from friends, family, co-workers that you'd like to read and/or respond to immediately.

Regardless of how often you check email, try to take an action on each one. Respond, file it, or archive it.

Good luck.

share|improve this answer

Filters do this for me. You can add some to both organize your backlog and also stop it happening as you move forward.

You should be able to find common title or body content for them so you don't have to look at each of the messages one by one.

I use gmail and I use filter a lot.

Here's how to set them up in gmail with some key tips

For gmail:

1) Click on the 'cog' for settings.
2) Click on the 'filters' tab.
enter image description here

3) In the filter fields, put whatever matching criteria you want:
4) Set the options you want. I recommend using 'skip inbox', 'mark as read' and 'also apply to matching conversations' and I choose or create a new label enter image description here

share|improve this answer
+1 for the nice explanation and the bothering to use screenshots.:) – Joe May 14 '12 at 9:10

Triage. Move all of the mail in your inbox to another folder/label and get it out of your inbox. Then decide on an approach. Is your goal to be at Inbox Zero going forward or to go through all the old mail or both.

Either way, you start by dealing with new mail. When you get a new message, go through the following process:

  1. Unsubscribe if you don't need it. This should be the majority of them. Since you haven't looked at this account in months/years, they clearly aren't an important part of your workflow. Search for e-mails from this sender in your "triage" folder and delete these as well.
  2. If you do need it, add a filter as Michael subscribed. Search for e-mails from this sender in your "triage" folder and delete or move to the new label. Revisit this label in a few weeks to see if you really need it. You probably don't.

With doing it daily, you don't have many e-mails to think about each day. But if it gets away from you again, set another triage point until you get a handle on the new mail.

share|improve this answer

The day I unsubscribed from EVERY email subscription I was getting was truly liberating. I had hit a point when simply deleting automatic mail was taking way too much time and attention from me. I highly recommend a reset.

Second, I've read about people declaring "email bankruptcy". It's simply sending an automatic email to anyone who sent you an unread email, saying that if it's important they should re-send it, because you couldn't handle the volume. Promise to do better in the future, and then proceed to mark everything as read.

I haven't tried it, but I've been tempted in the past.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.