Few people can say that they never let their inbox get out of control. Even if you're more of an inbox zero devotee, there's a fair chance you find yourself with a flooded inbox when you return from vacation or need to go heads down on a project for a few days.
Simply put, leaving emails where they land wastes time. You waste 27 minutes each day re-reading emails that are languishing in your inbox because you can't help but read what your eyes see.
A full inbox also creates more distractions. Studies suggest it takes 23 minutes to return to your original task once interrupted. Plus, full inboxes create visual clutter, which depletes your cognitive energy.
To clear your inbox, you may aspire to review each email individually. Yet, it would take hours if you spent just one minute on each email. The alternative is similarly risky-- you could move all emails into one catch-all folder or delete them all and risk missing an important note.
However, through my coaching and training work, I've identified six searches that identify emails that are much less likely to require individual processing. Using these searches, you can move hundreds--if not thousands--of emails out of your inbox within minutes, leaving those that are most likely to require individual review.
Before you can take advantage of these six searches, you need to create two email folders. First, create "Archive" in Outlook or "All Mail" in Gmail, and then create "Readings," no matter which email service you use. Once you do that, here are six searches you can use to identify emails that are not likely to warrant individual processing.
1. Move all emails older than 7 days to Archive/All Mail
A 2018 study of 1,200 consumers found that only 13 percent of customers and fewer than 1 percent of co-workers expect a response to an email after 2 days. There is little chance the sender of a week-old email is still expecting a response. To remove more emails, change this to five or even three days.
Isolate these emails using these search sequences and then move them to Archive/All Mail:
- Gmail: in:inbox older_than:7d
- Outlook: received:<=1/27/19 (replace with the date 7 days ago)
2. Move all emails that you are cc'd on and that are older than 3 days to Archive/All Mail
When you are cc'ed on emails, there is less of a chance you need to respond if you haven't already. Find these emails using the following search sequences and then move them to Archive/All Mail.
- Gmail: cc:me older_than:3d
- Outlook: cc:your email, received:<=1/27/19 (replace with the date 3 days ago)
3. Move emails that don't have your name in them and are older than 3 days to Archive/All Mail
Emails that don't include your name are less likely to require your response. Some emails (e.g., addressed to a team or begun with "Hi All") may require your response, but by coupling the missing name criterion with a 3-day-old criterion, you can reduce the risk of missing something important.
- Gmail: -matt older_than:3d
- Outlook: NOT matt received:<=1/27/19 (replace with the date 3 days ago)
4. Move all newsletter and mailing list emails to your Readings folder
You don't have to read a newsletter. Move them into your Readings folder and set up rules/filters to direct them there automatically in the future.
There isn't a perfect way to find these emails, but you can use this search and the next to get most of them:
- Gmail: in:inbox label:^unsub
- Outlook: unsubscribe OR "opt out"
5. Move remaining mailing list emails to Readings by searching for common mailing list terms
6. Delete notifications of responses to calendar invitations
While emails letting you know that someone can attend an upcoming meeting can be helpful in the moment, there is no need to allow these emails to clog up your inbox when you can view people's responses in aggregate for any meeting in the invite itself.
Go ahead and isolate these emails and then delete them:
- Gmail: from: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Outlook: "Pacific Time" (replace with your time zone). Unfortunately, there isn't a super simple way to isolate these emails in Outlook.
These searches may archive a few emails you wish remained in your inbox, but the benefits far outweigh the risk. Plus, you can find those emails in your folders as easily as you would have in your inbox.