How to Detox Your Overstuffed Email Inbox

Many entrepreneurs are email hoarders—especially when it comes to their inbox. Unfortunately, displaying emails front-and-center creates a cycle of continuous switchtasking. Talk about a productivity killer!

Start stockpiling those messages the smart way with my super simple solution—served up in less than 90 seconds! Think of it as a much needed detox for your overstuffed inbox.

Click to tweet this: You can, and should, bring your email inbox to zero at least once per week. @DaveCrenshaw

Transcription:

When I help entrepreneurs with their productivity, I am often shocked at how often people are leaving emails in their inbox.

They do it as a reminder of things that need to be done or in case they need to get it in the future. The problem is that creates lots of switches and stress in your day. Every time you look at that email inbox, you see a hundred things that are undone.

The inbox is the home of unprocessed items—things that haven’t been dealt with. And you should bring your email inbox to zero at least once per week.

And when something is processed, you should move it into the archive or into one resource folder. There’s no need to sort them and put them into separate folders. Just put them into one big folder and let the search engine take care of it when you need to find things in the future.

So the question I’d like you to answer honestly in the comment section below is—how many emails do you have in your inbox right now?

Also, if you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future video, please ask that below as well.

Thanks for watching. Now go archive an email.

Join the conversation: How many emails do you have in your inbox right now?

I respond to every question and comment. So, please, join the conversation!


Wish you had more time? What if you could uncover dozens of free hours every week, with just a few simple tweaks? Find freedom with a free copy of Dave’s guidebook, How to Get 10 Free Hours Every Week by clicking here.

42 Archived Responses to “How to Detox Your Overstuffed Email Inbox”

  1. Loredana says:

    Since I follow your precious advice about managing email, I have zero email in my inbox at the end of the day! I put the items in the “Resources” folder if they don’t need processing, on the other hand I put them on my calendar, and they have a flag to find them into the same “resource” folder when it’s time to act. THANK YOU!!!

  2. Zeya says:

    I have 11514 e-mails in my inbox. (my head is hanging down very low) . I did what you suggested and archived them all and now it feels very strange to have 0 e-mails in my inbox!! Now the next challenge is how to keep it to 0 by the end of the week. Do you have a tutorial on this?

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      The detailed step-by-step version, along with my streamlined processing flowchart is found in Time Management Fundamentals on lynda.com. Chapter 9 in particular deals with how to process email.

      I just want to be sure that you didn’t/don’t archive UNprocessed items. Of all of those 11514 email, none of them had an action to perform? Be careful not to archive something until it’s processed, otherwise, you may just bury actionable emails and create a second gathering point in your archive.

    • Zeya, Merlin Mann has a fabulous tutorial on this. It’s changed the way I work and process all the e-mails I get in one day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9UjeTMb3Yk

      • Zeya says:

        Thanks Gabe for the heads up on the tutorial. Dave I will go through your material as well.

        Any e-mail that I need to process goes into my draft folder which I deal with at a later time. The inbox had tons of mail from other mailing list and all e-mails in there are done with. It is so nice to see such a small inbox. Like looking at a newly cleaned room!

        I had deleted most of the e-mails at one time from the inbox and when I bought a new Mac and set up the e-mail account all my old e-mails got downloaded again! I now know how to delete e-mails from the gmail server.

        PS: I now have 1 e-mail in my inbox 🙂

  3. I have 58 — after I archived Dave’s last e-mail. 🙂

  4. Tracy Ann says:

    I had 754!!! and did exactly what you said it took me a good 1.5hr to clear it! But it was so worth it. My aim now is to keep on top of it every day / week.

  5. John B says:

    Way too many and way too easy to accumulate. Thanks for the refresher Dave. Need to clean up so I can think clearly!

  6. Nick Webb says:

    About 20, the day just started (I get about 100/day). I do get to 0 once or twice per week, but to be honest I leave a few emails around that are unprocessed at times. I should move them to the to-do list, but at the moment that list is very long… When you are stressed, some of those olds habits sneak in.

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Thanks, Nick.

      “When you are stressed, some of those olds habits sneak in.”

      True. Which is why I’ve found the moment when I’m most stressed is when I’m most in need of practicing the fundamentals.

  7. Alex says:

    I have 784. I follow that system where I move them to archive when they are complete, but I get about 100 emails a day. I’m not sure how to keep it down in my busy world as hard as I try every day and it gets so frustrating! I’m working 10-12 hour days as it is, and I stay late so I can actually catch up on emails without more coming in at the same time. I’ll have to watch that video by Merlin Mann on how to keep that down!

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Hi Alex. I appreciate the talk by Merlin Man that a couple of people have referenced. I’ve seen it myself and am a fan. However I find it to be difficult for many to follow and still stuck in the excessive complexity of Getting Things Done, which I also borrow from, but simplify heavily.

      If you want the entire system I teach my coaching clients that is streamlined and simplified, you can get it here: http://bit.ly/TimeCourse

      If you don’t currently have lynda.com access, you can get a free trial (which is more than enough time to complete my course) at: http://davecrenshaw.com/free

  8. Kevin says:

    It took me days to get to the inbox zero system once I got turned on to it. I has been a complete game changer. Look at this if you want to learn about the system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9UjeTMb3Yk This video to me was HUGE.. The game changer that followed was the “work offline” button for Outlook so that I don’t see every message that comes in, when it comes in. I also make a deliberate effort to do email only at specific times in the day. Right now, I have zero email in my inbox, and 32 in a “To Do” folder.

    • Nick Webb says:

      I miss that feature, as we use gmail now (Google apps for business). Can’t go back, but I loved that feature. There is a 3rd party pause app, but not the same.

      • Dave Crenshaw says:

        Hey Nick. Try this Chrome plugin: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/gmail-offline/ejidjjhkpiempkbhmpbfngldlkglhimk?hl=en

        Then turn off your network connection while processing. 😉

        • Nick Webb says:

          I have, but unfortunately it doesn’t work great for me. I also can’t turn off my network connection, as I have to approve items from other apps while processing (approve employee hours, approve charges, approve code change to go live, etc. — those require access to harvestapp.com, github.com, etc.).

          This is the one Outlook feature I love. I could still be 100% online, but no new email AND no email goes out until I’m done with my processing session, so no follow up calls or emails coming in distracting the process. I think it helped set better expectations as well.

          Might be time to try gmail offline again, but note Google hasn’t touched that in 2 years, I don’t think they are keen on keeping it alive.

      • Rebecca says:

        Last week, I heard about the Inbox Pause plugin that integrates with Gmail. When you click “Pause” next to your Gmail’s Inbox button, you can opt to send an auto-responder and opt when to unpause at different times throughout the day. So far I really dig it. Not sure if it’d help but I thought I’d throw it out there in case.

        • Nick Webb says:

          Thanks Rebecca! I have tried that before, it does help.

          I guess the weak spot is that it doesn’t stop replies from being sent out, but I actually use something called RightInbox that can delay sends for some time (you specify the time in the future it needs to be sent).

          The great thing about offline mode in Outlook is that it stops both incoming and outgoing in one easy click.

          My business is very technical, and many clients check their email constantly (I guess I should send them Dave’s stuff!); very common that during an processing session I’ll get several replies before I’m done (Inbox Pause solves that), but sometimes calls as well in regards to my messages…

          Combined, RightInbox and Inbox Pause may do just what I want, now that I think about it.

          • Rebecca says:

            I’ve been using Boomerang (made by Gmail) to delay sends, but will have to check out RightInbox. The fewer the steps for me, the better- will check it out. Thanks Nick!

  9. Maggie Kazemba says:

    7,327!!!!!!! I use Gmail, is there a way for me to do it through Gmail with folders?

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Hi Maggie. Gmail uses labels instead of folders, although they are very much the same thing.

      You can always drag and drop an email into a label with Gmail.

      However, I recommend in my training to just click the Archive button. Faster, easier, and you can still always find the email with a search later.

      To archive many at once in gmail:

      1) do a search for all email before a certain date, like this: before:2015/08/24

      2) Click the select checkbox at the top left

      3) Then click the text “Select all messages that match this search”

      4) Then click the Archive button.

  10. Melanie says:

    Mine had been around 80-100 consistently. I unsubscribed from a bunch of stuff. Only Dave and one other is left and they are staying! 🙂 Down to 26 and have been maintaining for a couple of weeks now. Not quite zero, but much closer!

  11. Angy Ford says:

    I have 2…now 1, I just archived yours. GREAT VIDEO. Can’t wait to use it for training!

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Spoken like a 4-year veteran of my coaching, Angy! Probably for you I should ask: what did your email inbox USED to look like?

  12. carol says:

    326…..getting busy now!

  13. So–
    I get a lot of email and have about 24 hours of meetings per week, so it’s impossible to hit zero daily. My benchmarks and ideas are:
    1. Ideal is 20 or less. I find that there are “sticky” emails that I might sit on for a few days while I think about my response, so I let myself off the hook for there being zero. I don’t ever let an email sit for more than two weeks. I clean down to zero if I am going to go on vacation (even if I am going to be online) for peace of mind.
    2. On a daily basis, my Inbox hovers between 50 and 100. I try to beat it back down below 50 once per day.
    3. If I get over 100, I pull the panic cord and make time to get it reduced.
    4. My lifesaver is my “Holding” folder. I have an Outlook rule to put a copy of every email that I am Bcc’d on in that folder. I BCC myself on emails that I want to track a response to and clear out the Holding folder weekly.
    5. I set up a separate email address for subscriptions. Then I can set aside time for reading. If there is a subscription that I particularly like to see under my eyes right away (for me it’s GeekWire, our local tech news site), I have it forwarded from the other email address to my primary one.

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Hi Jill. Thanks for the comment. To clarify, the goal is not to hit zero daily, but weekly.

      This is an interesting system you outlined and I hesitate to suggest otherwise since you seen strongly committed to it. However, I can promise you that if you follow the time management system my clients have followed, you’d have more free time and less stress. The majority of them are successful business owners like yourself.

      Impossible is a strong word. 😉 This is very do-able. I can tell you from experience that business owners with high growth businesses like yours can definitely follow my recommendation in this video. As just one example, I submit to you Angy’s comment above.

  14. April San Miguel says:

    Dave,

    I’ve been taking your classes on Lynda and you have changed my productivity levels to an all new high! I’m starting a new career in sales this week with that I said I’m getting brand new laptop and starting fresh with a clean slate. I wanted to know if you have any advise on how I can start out being digitally productive/organized? What new habits should I learn/start using because I have ADHD as well and I have so many Triggers and switched that I never even realize until taking your class.

    Thank you so much! Everything has a place and everything has a home ;-)!

    ASM

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Congrats on your new sales position, April! So glad I’ve been able to help.

      From a digital organization standpoint, that’s something I’ll cover in my Time Management Fundamentals course update, coming in a few months. Here are a few tips in the meantime, though.

      First, and most important: stick to the consistent processing schedule you created in Time Management Fundamentals. Everything hinges on your ability to stay on top of your workflow, and processing makes that happen.

      Second, Focus your time on your Most Valuable Activities. Two great follow-up courses to Time Management Fundamentals on Lynda are Discovering Your Strengths and Enhancing Your Productivity.

      And my last tip is a bit more personal. You mentioned you have ADHD. I’ve met a lot of people who say that yet don’t have an official diagnosis from a psychiatrist. Either they’ve self-diagnosed or they got one from a general practitioner. I’m not saying you’re in that category, but if it does apply, I’d recommend scheduling a full evaluation with a local, well-referred psychiatrist, who is best suited to guide you with any underlying medical issues.

      Welcome to the site, and please come again, April!

  15. Rebecca says:

    Great video Dave, thank you! I do use emails as reminders (just snuck under 3,000 unread… no idea how many total I have, yikes!) & it’s definitely overwhelming & causes me to procrastinate, which causes me to not be consistent with my email checking, which contributes to more chaos & stress. I am the worst time manager that I or most of my friends/family have ever met & have been soaking up your advice (& books) ever since I saw your course on lynda.com.

    That said, these are great tips for me! I also heard that Google’s Boomerang and Inbox Pause features (plugins for Gmail) could be helpful, so I’m trying to implement those. A HUGE help for me has been Unroll.me because I used to get almost 300 newsletters; after I un-subscribed to a bunch I used to archive without reading anyway, now the rest all get bundled for me once a day into one email & I get just the important ones I choose during the day, like yours.

    I need this advice stuff in such an enormous way, thank you again for all that you do!!

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Glad this is helpful for you, Rebecca! Welcome to the site, and please join the conversation often. 🙂

      And thanks for the tip about Unroll.me. I can see how that could simplify things. Personally, I use filters/rules to shuttle away all the coupons and newsletter I get that I don’t need to look at today.

  16. Jeff says:

    I have 0 email in my inbox. I can’t adopted this principle several years ago and it has been a big stress/time saver. The system I use is simple folders as follows: Inbox, Follow Up, Archive. Similar to the way I process my desk paperwork except my Inbox is an actual box and my Follow Up is an actual box then the Archive is scanning directly to Evernote in a common folder that can be keyword searched…. All this process is thanks to your pointers and tips. Thanks!!

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Thanks for sharing, Jeff! Glad you found a way to apply the principles I teach in a unique way that works for you.