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It’s hard to believe that 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of email. The technology has now become an integral part of daily life, but for many of us, this has meant an inbox overflowing with messages.
Whichever email provider you’re using, your inbox could probably do with tidying up. The key to this task is to be systematic and move quickly. Review, but don’t labour over all the emails or it will take longer than necessary and give you reason not to file or delete them.
Below, we run through some simple ways to get the job done. Plus, we have some bonus tips on dealing with a hectic Gmail inbox.
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Tame your inbox in five steps
1. Store sensitive information with a password manager
There are good reasons to save certain emails, whether it’s meaningful messages, login details or things you refer to regularly. However, if you have sensitive information such as passwords and registrations, consider storing those safely in a password manager.
A password manager acts as a vault that contains details for your online accounts. You can only open up that folder with a single master password. Some password managers, including LastPass (shown below), will allow you to share information with trusted friends and family, which is handy if you’re managing an account that’s used by several people.
To see which password managers we recommend, explore our expert guide on the best password managers.
2. Delete emails in chunks (or dive deeper with search)
If you want to delete several emails related to the same topic, type a keyword into your search bar at the top of your inbox. Once the results are generated, you can select multiple emails before you hit the Delete button.
Most email clients will let you fine-tune your search. In Outlook (on desktop), click the down arrow to the right of your search bar. You can choose to search for a keyword in a specific folder, or add in more than one keyword. This advanced view also lets you specify the dates of the emails you want to sift through.
In Gmail (on desktop), click the Show search options button to the right of the search bar. From here, you can filter the results by keywords or date received.
3. Turn off social media and other notifications
Facebook, Twitter and many other web services want to send you notifications of what’s happening or what you’ve missed – they do this to encourage you to engage more with the platform, or to lure you back if you’ve drifted away.
To deal with your Facebook notifications, click the arrow in the top-right, then select Settings & Privacy > Settings > Notifications on the left and scroll down and select Email. Click Only about your account (shown below) to limit all except the important security and privacy alerts.
You can repeat this process on other platforms such as Instagram and Twitter by going into the settings menu and following the steps to turn off notifications. Note that, for your own protection, emails related to security alerts can’t be turned off.
4. Use rules to automatically organise emails
You can easily cut down on inbox clutter by getting your emails to file themselves automatically. Once you’ve set this up, you won’t need to manually drag emails into folders. Each email program will have its own steps to create rules.
In Apple Mail, go to Mail > Preferences > Rules to create rules that will identify email according to a range of criteria. These will then be sorted into designated folders.
In Outlook, right-click on a message and select Rules and choose the parameters. You need to already have folders set up.
In Gmail (desktop), click Show search options (the button at the bottom right) in the Search bar and set your preferred parameters. You can create a filter for emails from a specific person or retailer, or create a filter for emails using the words ‘your order’, for example. Click Create filter. On the next window, you can choose a range of actions from marking as read and forwarding to applying a label (Gmail’s equivalent to folders), which can be an existing label or one you create then.
5. Get some help from inbox apps
If you’re short on time but still want to take steps to tidy up your inbox, enlisting the help of a third-party app might be the way to go.
One example is Mailstrom, which is a service that uses algorithms to identify and organise emails. Once it’s set up with your Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo account, it can delete thousands of messages in a couple of clicks. Mailstrom works across a range of email platforms, and has a free trial and paid service.
Another option is Inbox Pause, which works across Gmail, Outlook and iPhone Mail. The service is part of Boomerang, a third-party add-on for Gmail and Outlook to help with scheduling the emails you send and receive. It’s free, but with paid-for extras available.
How to organise Gmail messages
Gmail is one of the most popular free email services – here are some tips to help you manage your Google inbox:
- Filter messages – search using ‘from’ with a name or email address to quickly group, check and delete emails. Select an email, click the three horizon dots, then click Filter messages like these and enter the details in the next window and Create filter.
- Use labels – to store emails out of the main inbox window, first click Settings or the Settings / cog icon and go to Labels. Next, click Create new label to set a new label to save emails into from the inbox. Click remove if you want to delete certain labels and the messages, or edit to organise them into different categories.
- Automatic replies – click the Advanced tab. Then Templates > Enable to turn frequent messages into templates and create automatic replies using filters and templates.
- Organise in bulk – to organise and delete messages in bulk, see Filters and Blocked Addresses > Create a new filter. Set filter to show related emails.
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Additional reporting by Tom Morgan.