Top 10 Tips for Clearing your Inbox

Posted By on Apr 24, 2012 | 4 comments

Every Monday morning, the sun is shining, and my apartment is suffused with the smells of freshly-baking croissants and coffee. Monday mornings are a special time, because every week, I have a wonderful treat to get me out of bed. Not the breakfast (though the croissants are delicious) – I’m talking about the hundred or so emails that queued up in my Inbox over the weekend.

Croissant and Coffee! Source:

As CEO of an email productivity company, the opportunity to flex my muscles and rip through a few hundred emails at a staggering pace feels sort of like a NASCAR driver getting ready for a race. It’s exhilarating to know that you’re going faster than almost anyone else on the planet! For most folks, though, it’s not quite that exciting. If the thought of clearing your Inbox on a Monday morning doesn’t make you leap out of bed already, these tips might change that.

As part of our ongoing efforts to help folks manage email better, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 tips for managing a lot of email from our Revive Your Inbox 21-day email course. If you feel like your email could use a small shot in the arm, give these tips a read-through and start putting them to work! If you feel like your email could use a BIG shot in the arm, sign up for the 21-day course. Every day includes digestible, actionable information about how to make your email work better for you. Best of all, it’s completely free!

  1. Use search to find specific emails. It takes less than 30% as long to find a message using search as with any other way. Modern email clients include very powerful search capabilities – spend 15 minutes learning to use them, and it will pay dividends for years.
  2. Try turning off email notifications on your computer and your phone! Every time a notification comes up, it takes your brain over a minute to fully regain concentration.
  3. Don’t bother with complicated folder systems – research shows it’s significantly faster to find messages by scrolling through a list of every message you’ve ever received than by looking through an “organized” set of folders.
  4. Send messages at optimal times – usually just before work or during lunch, and rarely in the late afternoon. A message sent  +at 7am is almost 4 times as likely to be opened as one sent  +at 4pm.
  5. Leave only messages that still need your prompt attention in your inbox. Move the rest to a single old mail folder, or Archive them in Gmail. That way, your old messages are still searchable, and it’s harder for emails that aren’t “finished” to fall through the cracks.
  6. Try writing shorter emails. You’ll be surprised at how well people respond to brevity in email. A good guideline: try to keep most of your messages (though clearly not all!) under five sentences.
  7. If your schedule allows, set up specific time blocks each day to handle your email. During those times, go through your emails in batches. If possible, try not to make one of these times first thing in the morning, so that you start your day with your most important work, rather than the seemingly most urgent.
  8. Figure out a system for deferring messages to later. Research from CMU shows that over 1/3 of all email doesn’t need attention now, but needs it again later. Some options include an email reminder service like Boomerang for Gmail or Boomerang for Outlook that can bring messages back to your attention later (full disclosure: we make these!) or a system of folders like the one popularized by the Getting Things Done system. Both these methods work much better than leaving dozens of messages in your inbox.
  9. If you’re sending an email where you ask for more than one thing, number your requests and put them near the top of the message. If the requests are numbered, it’s easy for the recipient to figure out what he/she needs to do!
  10. Finally, try to make the first sentence of your emails descriptive. Most mail clients show a small snippet of the message in the inbox view. Which one of these is more likely to get your attention? “Important meeting next Friday. Please RSVP!” or “Hey Frank, I’m just writing to let you know”
We hope you found these tips helpful. What are your best tips for cleaning out your email?


  1. Is Boomerang for Outlook dead?

    I can’t find anything on about it anymore.

    I’m a paying customer of the product. Will new updates be released?

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    • Definitely not dead! We reworked our home page and didn’t have a good logo for it. It should be back on the page in a few days 🙂

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  2. Re: #9

    I’ve found over the years that numbering them usually fails. Here’s why: Let’s say someone is able to reply to item #1 immediately but not item #2. So he does so, thinking he’ll reply to #2 later. But now your msg is marked in his inbox as “replied” so he doesn’t remember that there is unfinished business therein.

    Therefore I instruct my employees: one request per email, period. You need 5 things? Write five emails, each with a unique subject.

    That, as my grandfather would have said, is my 2-bits.

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    • Thanks for the suggestion!

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