Spring cleaning your digital life: Easy ways to manage your overflowing inbox

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Like with nearly every other app on our phones these days, the little notification bubble that jumps from one to two to 37 on our email app can be intimidating. If the number keeps going up, how are you going to manage all those notifications if you have other things you need to get done?

Despite what you might think upon glancing at that ever-increasing number, tackling an overflowing inbox is possible without having to hire a personal assistant.

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Delete old emails

If you have hundreds (OK, thousands) of emails piled up, it's likely you won't actually read them if you haven't already. This is the simplest step. Breathe in. Take a quick scan to make sure you didn't miss anything important. Check the boxes of emails you don't need or hit "select all" and then click that garbage can icon. When the pop-up box asks if you're sure you want to delete in bulk action, select "yes." Breathe out; you'll likely feel calmer immediately.

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Not ready to delete? Archive instead.

You've completed a big step, but maybe there were some emails you just weren't sure about yet. If your email server already has an archive folder, archiving the emails you're not ready to get rid of will allow you to remove them from your inbox and get them out of sight without completely removing them from your email. If there isn't an archive option, make a new folder for the emails you'll decide on later. Try not to get into the bad habit of putting them there and then not reading them, though.

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Delete old accounts

That VolleyballGurl99 hotmail account you made for your MySpace needs to go. So does the Sk8erBoi4sho AOL that you used for your Facebook login in 2006. Delete any accounts with embarrassing names you no longer use in your adulthood. Get rid of old school accounts you don't have access to anymore. The same goes for work emails from companies you no longer work for.

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Unsubscribe from newsletters or promotional emails

Sure, there are some newsletters you probably actively read and look forward to each week. For the ones you only receive on accident, like newsletters about which vacation to take based on your astrological sign, scroll to the bottom of those emails and click the unsubscribe link. Do this with promotional content from stores you no longer shop at as well.

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Create the right folders for you

If you're a deadline-follower, create new folders with labels such as "today," "tomorrow," "this week" or "by end of month." When an email pops into your primary inbox, plop it into one of those folders so you know when you have to take care of it. If you're a subject-oriented person, set up new folders depending on the types of emails you get. If it's a work email, try something like "clients," "ASAP," "projects" and "contacts." For a personal email, labels like "to read," "family," "finances" or "appointments" might be more suitable.

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Set up filters

Some email providers might filter your inbox automatically - sending suspicious content that looks like a scam to your spam folder - and other emails give you the option to filter the way you like, such as by date or importance. This is helpful when you receive a lot of social media notification emails or emails for promotions like sales. Filters will help you keep incoming messages separated by subject.

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Merge emails, if you can

In some instances, keeping your personal life separate from work is a good thing. When it comes to email, it might be best to let the two lives mingle. If you can consolidate accounts, receiving all your emails in one place versus three places might be more time-efficient.

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Take action in real time

This step might be easier said than done, but if you can, read messages as you receive them. This means turning your push notifications on and opening your email app. If you know it's an email you're going to read later, archive it or drop it in the corresponding folder. If you know it's one you're going to delete right away, then do it.

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Set aside time each week to read/respond/delete

If the real-time plan doesn't work with your schedule, try setting aside a weekly time to sort through, read and dispose of emails. If you're at work and sorting through work emails, set your calendar to "busy" and use the time to organize. If you're at home, try using 10 free minutes while you wait for your dinner that's cooking in the oven, or when the kids are down for their nap.

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Use the folder and label functions

Don't just make folders and then don't use them. Have an idea about which emails you receive most regularly, and base the folder names on that. Organize accordingly and then use labels to further divvy up the emails you put in each folder. For instance, if you have a financial folder where you save emails from your bank, pay stubs from your job and bill payment confirmations, use the color labels so you can tell which ones are which: blue for bank, green for pay stubs, yellow for bills.

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Don't keep emails you've forwarded

Emails that were meant for someone else - a coworker or a cousin - are easy to keep out of your inbox. Simply forward them, and then delete them. They're not your responsibility, so why let them pile up?

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Download an app to help you stay organized

Does the idea of organizing your inbox on your own seem impossible? If that's the case, decide which aspects of the organizing you need help with and download an app to get you started. Apps like Boomerang, MixMax or Streak allow you to save emails for later, schedule when you want to send certain emails or split threads into separate conversations.

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Create a system for saving articles that won't clutter your inbox

Sometimes, email content looks really enticing but you know you don't have time to read it. For instance, if you get a daily email of the morning's top news headlines and one really stands out to you, save the link somewhere like a desktop sticky note or a notes document, and then delete the email once you've saved the part you want to read. This will make it easier for you to find the link later without having to go through a day's worth of clutter.

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Choose a minimum number

Kind of like you would do when starting to train for a marathon, set a number or goal you'd like to start with for the week. Avoid going for zero unopened emails in your inbox, and instead, try to get down to 100 one week, then 50 the next, then keep it at a consistent 30. Setting a realistic goal might make clearing your inbox seem more manageable.

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Don't overthink it

Getting to an empty inbox should not consume your thoughts. Likewise, checking your email every few minutes should not consume your day. It's OK if you miss a day or a week of reading and purging. If it helps, set a weekly reminder on your phone to go through your email. Be sure to set it at a time that is consistent with any downtime you usually have throughout the day. You might even find that a clutter-free inbox relieves some of the stress you've been feeling recently.


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