After a while, we all have to come face to face with one certainty of life – a cluttered email inbox. Very few people have ever managed to keep their inbox clean and organized at all times. You slack a little during weekends, and the inbox is cluttered with new messages. You come back after a vacation; the inbox seems way overwhelming. And then, the messages simply keep piling up and before you know it, the whole inbox is so cluttered, it doesn’t seem like there’s any end to it and to get the situation back under control seems daunting.
How to clean your Inbox in Outlook
The best practice is to keep your inbox organized from the start. To have proper filters, rules, and categories set up in such a way that meets your particular flow of emails and style. But if the situation is already reached the state of cluttered and messy inbox, there is a still a way to fix it. Below are some tips to quickly manage your inbox and organize emails in a productive way.
Sort by Attachments
Sort the emails by attachments. An email with an attachment is often a good way to quickly find out about how important an email is. Most of the spam and marketing emails do not contain attachments. Most of your personal emails do contain attachments. Although, it depends on user to user, but it is a general rule of thumb to sort emails by attachments and sort out at least those emails that contain some files.
Click on the attachment icon inside the Outlook inbox view to sort them through attachments. Then you can either move the emails that contain attachments, take action if required, and delete.
Sort by From
If you like organizing emails into folders based on the sender of the emails, sorting the inbox folder by “From” will make it easier to move emails to particular folder.
Often, we have a recurring newsletter or similar kind of emails from one particular website that we receive from every other day or week. By sorting the emails based on the sender, you can quickly move a lot of emails to their respective folders. For example, if you have Google Alerts set to receive every day for one particular subject, you will get all those emails in a single group after sorting the folder based on the sender. Then, in just one drag and drop sweep, you can move all of them to the corresponding folder.
Filters are more advanced way to filter out certain type of emails based on specific criteria.
Remember that in Outlook rules and filters are different. Filters are just to decide what kind of emails will be displayed inside a folder. When an incoming email is met with a criterion and an action is taken automatically, that is called “rules.”
So, by choosing a narrower criterion for emails in your inbox, you can quickly see the emails that are relevant to you the most, and then you can take action on those emails, save them, or whatever else that’s required. For instance, you can filter the emails that contain your company’s name, making all other emails hidden. Or using a filter to show only those emails that are from your bank. Once you get the hang of the filters and have a clear idea of what emails are more important to you, it becomes a much more efficient and productive way to manage the cluttered inbox.
Simply delete the emails. Yes, you read it right. There’s no nuance or complexity here.
Although, deleting the emails in bulk may feel intimidating and will give you a feeling that you might miss out of something important and urgent. But the fact remains, more than 80% of emails in general do not require any action. These statistics apply to even business users. You can ignore most of your messages and it will never have any significant impact on your work or other areas of personal life. It’s just our tendency in the modern-day to always treat all emails as equally important to you, which is simply not true.
Deleting all of them in one big stroke might not be practical. But you can sort the emails based on the date and can delete older emails without worrying much if you will miss out on something crucial.
Of course, the tip of “simply delete your emails” is highly contextual based and you shouldn’t blindly consider it without considering your own situation. But you will be surprised to know that one of the best ways to clean the inbox is to delete the emails in bulk or simply archive them.
Use the pre-existing rules you might have setup in the past
The above tips were for those kind of inbox folders that are pretty much the regular inbox without any pre-existing rules for better organizing the messages. If you had some rules set up in Outlook, now is the time to use them to clean up a messy inbox. For example, if you have marked certain emails as “Important,” you can sort the inbox based on the importance and then perform the required action on those emails. You might also have certain settings and rules that “flag” emails based on the contents; you can use the flag status to quickly manage those emails.
Sort by More Columns that are hidden by default
The trick to organize and clean up a messy inbox is to find out what specific kind of emails you receive and then use that information to filter the messages, instead of relying on some general ideas. But how to find that out?
If you look at the top bar of the inbox folder where the name of the columns is, you will see the default “columns,” like: Attachments, subject, sender, and date. These are the most common ones. But there are many more information associated with emails that you can add as another “column” and then filter or sort emails based on that information. For instance, one of the columns you can add is for the “voting response” to only see those emails that contain votes. You can add columns and sort emails based on factors like due date, expiry date, retrieval time, tracking status, and many more.
Many of them may not apply and the column field might contain no information. But the idea is to see what column/criteria can apply to your specific situation, rather than only relying on basic general sorting columns like date, sender, and subject.
We hope the above tips help you in quickly be in full control of your inbox and organize it in a more productive way. Cleaning a messy inbox might feel overwhelming at first, but if you manage to get yourself through this process, it can have a substantial improvement in your productivity at work and life and be able to handle emails in a smarter way. And finally, the best tip is to use Outlook features like rules and filters and categories (and even client-side filters too) to automatically keep your inbox organized at all times. It’s much better to not let it reach the stage of overwhelming clutter and spam rather than ignoring it and cleaning it up aftwards.