About a year ago, my inbox had swelled to over 10,000 emails. Messages were coming in faster than I could deal with them. I was overwhelmed.
So I declared email bankruptcy. It wasn't quite as drastic as the total deletion that some people have done. I simply archived all the messages, and started over with an empty inbox. What a liberating feeling that was!
I wish I could say that I've kept up with all my email since then. It's a struggle - not surprising, with a couple of hundred messages every day from five different email accounts. Also, I seem to have a tolerance for clutter, which reduces my motivation to keep a pristine inbox. Currently there are about 800 messages sitting there.
But I know I'm not alone. Email management is a universal problem, except for the lucky few who love sorting and organizing, and never go to bed if there are dishes in the sink or messages in the inbox.
Here are some tips that I hope will help. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section.
Use filters. Whether you retrieve your email on the web or via email software or app, you can set up filters to label individual messages or send them to designated folders, bypassing the inbox altogether. This works well for messages that don't require your immediate attention.
Set your inbox to view by conversation thread. Very useful if you subscribe to email lists or if you have ongoing conversations with various people. Instead of displaying each message of a conversation on a separate line of your inbox, a threaded conversation collapses all related messages into one line, with a dropdown box that will show them all if you click on it.
This has two advantages: First, with conversation messages collapsed into one line there's less scrolling needed to peruse your inbox. Second, if a conversation is not of interest to you, you can mass-delete all the messages in that thread with a single click or tap.
A possible drawback is that in mass-deleting a thread you might miss emails from people who hit Reply to a message, but changed the contents and subject line to a new topic. Because the threaded view is determined by underlying code, all replies to the original thread are collapsed into one line, regardless of whether the subject was changed.
Make your email program work for you, not vice versa. Gmail recently added a new feature to its web-based inbox, which sorts messages into categories under different tabs. Personally that doesn't work for me, so I went into my gmail settings and disabled the tabs.
Every email program can be customized in various ways. A half-hour of fine-tuning your settings will make your email management more efficient and save you much time in the long run.
Keep high-priority messages in view. My Mac mail has a color-coding system, which can display certain messages in specific colors in the inbox. I can do this manually (e.g., flag a single message by changing the font color to red) or by an email rule (e.g., all messages with the word "itinerary" in the subject line are automatically changed to purple.)
If you can't respond to an important message immediately, and you don't want to forget about it, use a program like Nudgemail (free) or Boomerang (for gmail only) to re-send the message at a designated time in the future.
Cancel unwanted email. Unsubscribe from newsletters and email lists that you don't read or that are no longer relevant. If you purchase something online, your order page may have a box checked that says something like, "Yes! Please send me more offers." If you don't want to receive these, uncheck the box. If you don't want to receive notifications from Facebook, Linkedin and other social media, cancel them from within your account settings.