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A Neat Trick to Clean Up Your Inbox

Email has become a huge time-waster and taking control of your Inbox is becoming more critical than ever. The ideal state is only to have things in your Inbox that are important, urgent or time sensitive, and to put everything else automatically into folders using Rules governing what happens when they come in. I’ve been using Outlook Rules for a number of years to sort specific topics, but I recently came across a new rule that makes a dramatic difference.

This new rule is to take anything with the word ‘Unsubscribe’ in it and have it go directly to a new folder. I simply call this folder “Unsubscribe Rule” and put it at the top of my folder hierarchy so that I can easily find it and so that I remember to go through it regularly. To get the folder at the top of my Outlook folder hierarchy I put an exclamation mark in front of the name and Outlook does the rest.

What this accomplishes is to catch anything that comes from a mailing list and put it in a folder where you can look at it later. When I first did this, I was surprised at how many emails it caught – not just the obvious things like newsletters or where someone is trying to sell me something, but invitations to events and news articles and anything from LinkedIn and Twitter. By definition, these are things I may be interested in but it is very rare that they are urgent. Most importantly, I want to look at them when I want to rather than when somebody else wants me to.

It is important to still look at the folder regularly as things do slip through. I do it about twice a day and clean it up by moving anything I want to action to my inbox, deleting anything I’ve read or want to discard, and putting anything I don’t ever want to see again into another folder for my assistant to unsubscribe from whenever it suits her. What’s left are mostly newsletters I want to read sometime or pieces of information I want to absorb. Almost by definition, the older these get, the easier it is to delete them.

The big AHA from this was how it changed my Inbox. Before putting the rule in place, I’d find about 25 emails when I first looked at it each morning. Now that’s down to about 2, and I’m catching some 75 a day in my new folder. More importantly, I’m spending less time reading newsletters and random things. Knowing that you can come back and read something later rather than having to deal with it now is very liberating, and a great way of prioritizing better.


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