Use your email inbox correct and effectively


Again and again I see people using their email inbox completely wrong. You might know one or two of them, or you might be one yourself. They are easy to spot, they have an inbox of 1000+ emails and for the worst of them, most of these emails are unread. I were one of these people many years ago, but found an easy and effective way of using my email inbox. Now you can too!

Wow, that last part could be taken directly from Tv-Shop, except this is free, works and you don’t get an extra one if you call now :)

Before you read on, I want to provide a little disclaimer here – this post shows my understanding of the correct use of an email inbox, so take it as that. If you have another way of using it and are happy with that, cool, keep doing it. If you have questions or some suggestions for improvements please let me and others know in the comments below.

It all started many years ago when I read an article, which I sadly can’t find anymore, about using your Gmail inbox as it were meant to be used. I can’t remember the details, but I got inspired by that and now have a method I use. My method will likely be like many other people’s, so if all this seems familiar, be happy that you already know it – and consider start using it.

Archive vs Delete

Before we get to the interesting part, there are two concepts that I need to make sure you are aware of. I use Gmail, but I am pretty sure most email providers have similar functionality.

To archive an email, means that you remove an email from your inbox and to some archive. This way it doesn’t take up your inbox (as that is only for emails that require an action – more on that in a moment), which is important. An equally important part of archiving is that fact that you can search for this email at a later point.
This is a very important think to keep in mind, as the reason people are often keeping emails in their inbox is because they are afraid of losing it, as they might need it later on.
In todays big free email providers (Gmail, and the like) the storage limit are so high that you don’t need to think about it. Because of this, just archive any email that you have the smallest feeling that you will need again at a later some in time, even 3 years from now.

To delete an email, means as it says, that your email will be deleted. As you might already guessed, the emails you delete will be gone and thereby not possible to find via search. This is also a very important thing to remember, because I’m sure you are getting a lot of emails that you will like never ever need to look at again.

Your inbox is your todo list

The mindset you need to be using is really simple. Think of your inbox as your todo list. All you see in your inbox is something you need to take action on.

Everytime you check your email, chances are that some new emails have arrived, run through them quickly and archive or delete them. After doing this for a while you will be quick at spotting what should stay in your inbox, be archived or be deleted.

To give some examples:

  • Email from my brother, where I can see in the subject that he is asking questions about a game (Memrace) we are working on these days. Leave in inbox, as I need  to answer this later.
  • News email with latest headline from some random news site. From a 2 second look at the email I see no of the headlines are interesting, so delete it, as I will never need to find this email again.
  • Another email from my brother where he is answering some of my questions about something random. The conversation is over now I can see. Archive it, as this is a email conversation, it might be useful to find later via search.

When you do this all day, every day, you have a sharp and effective email inbox with only a few emails, as you are using it as a todo list – as you should.

As I’m doing this all the time, I also use my inbox as a todo list. So instead of having some weird todo-list app on my phone, I just send an email to myself with a short description in the subject. I know I look at my inbox all the time, so I know I won’t forget it when it’s in there.

This simple system is really effective and very easy to use and understand.

How to get started

You might think, “How do I get from 1000+ unread email to this clean inbox. I don’t want to go through all of them now?”. It is actually very simple. Use your email providers version of an “archive” and archive your entire inbox – bam – you are down to a inbox of 0 emails and you can start using this system. Remember you can always use the search if you need to find something again.

If you are on a email provider which doesn’t have en obvious archive “function”. You might want to just create a folder called “Archive” and move all your emails there.

Hope some out there will find this helpful and will become friends with their email inbox once again.