Essential Email Tip: Clean Your Inbox Weekly

When was the last time your e-mail inbox was empty?

I can’t remember either. I know the Getting Things Done gurus say it’s an essential step to reaching productive nirvana. But I just can’t reach it.

But look at it. I have less than 20 e-mails stashed in my inbox. The bulk are part of an e-course on content marketing that I subscribed to. And as soon as I’m done with this blog post, I’m reading all of them. Promise.

I confess that this doesn’t happen every day. Who has time for that?

So I set aside one day each week to take out the trash. I go through my e-mail inbox and mercilessly trash the e-mails that don’t matter. The rest I act upon or file in my archives. When I need them, search finds them very nicely when I do need them.

The key is to only do it once per week. Doing it daily is too easy to ignore or put off. Making e-mail reduction a weekly task gives me a better chance of actually doing it.

And thanks to a few more email management tips, it is much easier. I have fewer e-mails coming into my inbox. That means I can catch up on that e-course.

Oh wait, three new e-mails just arrived.


Carl Natale is a freelance blogger who writes about tips and advice for small businesses. He runs the site - a site about how top brands set their prices.


  1. Mickey on the 11th April

    I usually get to zero a few times a day, but not always. I used to be quite bad about leaving emails in there as a mini task list, which is a big cause of email cruft building up. Now I either deal with the actionable items in them right away, or put them on my main task list and then archive the emails, helping keep it close to zero most of the time.

    My main goal is to have it at zero before I go to bed. If some random task has been hanging out in there all day, I either knock it out then or go ahead and put it on the list for tomorrow, but one way or another the email gets dealt with.

    I find that as my email workload increases, keeping it at zero is even more important. Still, I only get around 200-250/day, which is fewer than a lot of other folks have to deal with.

  2. BlaineSch on the 11th April

    Why not make a “to-do list” tag/category. The subscriptions you talked about should also have their own category. At that point you can just go to that category each week and still maintain a “zero inbox” which makes you a cleaner person.

    • Thera on the 11th April

      +1, subscriptions/mailing-lists should have their own inbox/folder to reduce the noise and classify without filling up your main inbox.

  3. Jameson on the 11th April

    Like Mickey I get my in-box to zero at least once during the day

    Rule: Once an email is opened it can’t stay in the in-box. Delete it or file it. (I think I got this from GTD)

    There are only 5 possible actions for an opened email
    1. Act on it immediately (though this can be disruptive)
    2. Delete it
    3. File it in my “Actions Needed” folder for action within the next day or so
    4. File it in ‘Read & Review’ folder (I look at this at least once a week)
    5. Or file it away in a specific long-term folder

    This method has worked great for me for about 5-years and has never broken down, even when I don’t check my email for a few days. This method doesn’t even require that I look at all my email, I just have to deal with the ones I open.

  4. Rob on the 13th April

    I’m going to have to disagree with the idea of this post too. I live in a constant state of inbox-zero or near-zero. Though I know it goes against every productivity rule in the book, I decide what to do with emails as soon as they come in.

    That choice is between a quick reply, archive, or create a task in Things. That’s in. It doesn’t really have to be any more complicated than that. Letting mail pile up for an entire week in my inbox would make sure that I *never* look at it. A few hundred emails every day for a whole week… well… I don’t even want to think about it.

Add a Comment