How many unprocessed messages are in your inbox right now? Is getting to inbox zero one of your daily goals? I’ve heard of some (brave) people who declare email bankruptcy (deleting everything) because of how time consuming it would be to process every message. That might seem a bit extreme, but it’s easy to understand why someone would want to start from scratch.
Sifting through emails can be tedious, especially if you don’t have strategies for processing all your messages. It doesn’t have to be difficult, though, and you can use technology to help to keep your inbox from getting out of control. Take, for instance, The E-mail Game. It turns your inbox into a game and you get points each time you read, delete, boomerang, or reply to a message. You’re also timed, so you need to make a decision about what to do with each message pretty quickly (usually a three to five minute window). I’ve played it many times (and still do) to keep personal inbox uncluttered.
Recently, I’ve found two free web-based programs that remove email clutter that help me to pay attention to priority messages: Unsubscriber by OtherInbox and Unroll.me. Both let you unsubscribe from unwanted emails (like newsletters you signed up for but you don’t want anymore) and redirect specific messages from your inbox so that you can keep the important ones more visible.
Have a look …
Unsubscriber by OtherInbox
After signing up, you’ll need to give Unsubscriber permission to access your email account. The app then checks your messages and looks for the ones it thinks you may want to unsubscribe from. You can also select the ones you really don’t want.
The app also adds an “Unsubscriber” folder to your inbox. To stop getting unwanted emails, drag and drop them to that folder. Unsubscriber then tells the sender of those unwanted messages that you want to stop receiving them. While that’s being worked on, all new mail from that sender is routed to the Unsubscriber folder. Note that this folder is not for spam (you already have a folder for that). This app can be used with Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo mail.
Unroll.me, though similiar to Unsubscriber, is slightly different. Once you sign up and give access to your e-mail account (Gmail and Google Apps users only), the app scans your mail for subscriptions and then adds them to a “rollup,” or daily digest that is sent to you once per day. New subscriptions are automatically added to your rollup. A nice feature is that Unroll.me organizes your email into specific categories (Unsubscriber has a similar feature with it’s sister app, Organizer).
You still have control over your messages and can edit your rollup by returning some emails to your inbox or permanently unsubscribing. As you can see, I have 149 messages that have been filtered to my rollup, some of which I will probably delete permanently. Not having to scroll through them in order to get to the messages I really need to see makes processing email a lot quicker. The key, of course, is to check your rollup once daily and maintain it so it doesn’t become a repository for junk messages.
Both apps are easy to use and help you to keep your eye on your most important messages. This means you’ll be able to respond to messages more quickly without having to weed through less time-sensitive emails. And, you just might get a bit closer to inbox zero.
A quick overview of my two email inboxes shows that I have 2,200 emails in one and just under 400 in the other. Why am I holding on to all of these messages? I’m not sure, but I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that some of you also have ridiculously high message counts.
Inbox clutter is definitely a issue I have yet to conquer and the problem is not taking care of itself. Over at 43 Folders, Merlin Mann has quite the series on emptying your inbox. It is called Inbox Zero. The series is extensive and also includes an hour long video of Mr. Mann’s Inbox Zero presentation.
From the introduction:
Clearly, the problem of email overload is taking a toll on all our time, productivity, and sanity, mainly because most of us lack a cohesive system for processing our messages and converting them into appropriate actions as quickly as possible.
Just as with any clutter, inbox clutter effects focus and takes away from the task at hand. Holding onto messages for no reason other than the fact that you “may need them one day.” Sounds like the excuse for clutter that takes up space in your basement, attic, or garage.