I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

For more, check out the archives.

We all want to control the barrage of emails hurling at us everyday, but often the task is just too daunting. Perhaps, you read Merlin Mann’s Inbox Makeover tutorial or Gina Trapani’s Trusted Trio system for managing email. You might have said, “Wow, this is great and makes a lot of sense. I’m gonna do it now!” Then you turn to your inbox, you see the thousands of emails rotting there, and you end up saying, “Oh shit… that’s a lot of email. I’ll do it later (or never).”

Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in about 30 seconds. Here’s how:

30 seconds to zero

Put it all in one folder:

  1. Create an archive folder
    In your favorite email program, create a folder and name it “Archive” followed by today’s date. For example, “Archive_20060822″.

  2. Move everything in your Inbox to the archive
    Go to your inbox, select all the email messages and move them into the folder you just created.

That’s it! Your inbox is cleared, and your mind can enjoy the resulting calm. Here’s why I recommend throwing old emails into this single folder instead of attempting to process and organize each message:

  • You won’t read 95% of it again
    Most of the emails festering in your inbox are messages that you’ll never ever read again. So why even bother wasting the mental energy to decide if you should delete each message or not? If you do need an old email later, just use Spotlight on the Mac or Google Desktops on the PC to retrieve it.

  • An instant clean break from your antiquated system
    The longer you spend entrenched in a cesspool of old emails, the less likely you’ll adopt a new system because of the perceived time it will take. Since it’s over in 30 seconds, clearing your Inbox immediately gives you a positive sense of relief and a clean slate to implement a long-term strategy for new emails.

Now what?

Ok, so you’ve you banished all your old emails, what’s next? You still need to manage incoming email. Since you’ve cleared your inbox, you have no excuse to implement Merlin’s Inbox Makeover or Gina’s Trusted Trio system to process new emails. It takes just a few more minutes (really, it does), so do it now!

For more email tips, check out Merlin’s Inbox Zero series.

25 Comments

  • Lisa

    gravatarAug 23, 2006
    10:46 am

    This definitely delivers a sense of inner calm (we were forced to do it at my old company where thousands of full inboxes meant too much of a drain on storage, so had to archive everything to the desktop). But surely it’s only a temporary release from email hell and just masking the problem? Everyone is obsessed with filing email, having an empty inbox… the simple problem is that the number of emails I have coming into my inbox is disproportionate to the time I have to deal with them. What I need is the solution to that!!

  • Chanpory

    gravatarAug 23, 2006
    10:58 am

    You’re right Lisa, moving old emails into a single folder doesn’t resolve what to do about new incoming emails. That’s where Inbox Makeover and the Trusted Trio come in!

  • Sam

    gravatarAug 23, 2006
    12:47 pm

    Next, how to clean your desk in 30 seconds…take a big stick and brush everything into a trash can. Film at 11.

    Nevermind that you maybe were supposed to actually read and deal with some of that mail? Best solution is to develop a very basic system and stick to it–never letting any messages sit in your inbox once you’ve read them. Solve it before the problem exists.

    Or, back to the desk idea…FLAMETHROWERS! ‘Cause they’re just FUN!

    No digg.

  • Joshua Kaufman

    gravatarAug 23, 2006
    3:16 pm

    “You’re right Lisa, moving old emails into a single folder doesn’t resolve what to do about new incoming emails.”

    Actually, I just wrote an entry on how to organize your email with one folder. You might want to check it out.

    By the way, great site (and a cute name) LifeClever!

  • BW

    gravatarAug 24, 2006
    5:23 pm

    I use a modified GTD approach, and if I can’t get it done or take action upon reading a new email, it goes into the ACTION or WAITING folder. I check ACTION daily to complete tasks, and check WAITING regularly to follow up on items.

    As such, the inbox never has more than 5 emails in it at any given time. The benefit is that I don’t feel overwhelmed by dozens and dozens of email in my inbox, and I have a methodology for discerning between what needs my immediate attention and what doesn’t.

    Full disclosure: I average 40-50 new work related emails each day.

  • J.D. Roth

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    10:26 am

    I’m in awe. Seriously.

    My inboxes are ten-thousand message monsters. I’ve been wanting to do something about their size, but am always intimidated by the prospect of spending hours sorting through messages for keepers. I’d seen Merlin and Gina’s pieces, and thought they’d be great systems to use, but they aren’t good starting points.

    Thanks for showing me the light. :)

  • AmericnJewl

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    2:36 pm

    This doesn’t really work for those of us who use their Inbox as a To-Do list.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    2:41 pm

    AmericnJewl,

    It works, if you follow it up with Gina Trapani’s Trusted Trio system. The idea is that you create an Actions folder, which can contain your to-do’s.

  • AmericnJewl

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    6:31 am

    Chanpory,

    Ah, then it should be rephrased. To me, the entry clearly stated: step one, delete all emails in inbox. step two, implement organization system (Merlin’s or Gina’s).

    Aside from that, I might be part of a minority, but the folder systems didn’t work for me (though I tried) because if I don’t see it, it takes forever to get done.

  • J.D. Roth

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    7:13 am

    I think the important thing is to do what works for you. I think that Merlin’s and Gina’s systems sound great, but they require too much fiddling for me.

    For me, the flash of insight was this site’s “just move your old inbox to an archive folder”. From there, it was easy to implement a system that worked for me.

    First, I have an excellent spam filter that catches all the crap coming in.

    Next, I have several Rules that process the incoming e-mail into appropriate boxes. Each of my weblogs has its own inbox, as do my mailing lists, messages from Mom, and messages for specific groups. This takes care of maybe half my e-mail.

    I have my regular inbox for the other fifty percent of my e-mail. I process this by hand. Rather than set up several new folders for “action” or “hold”, I just use the single inbox for this purpose. If I read a message and it requires no further response from me, I delete it right there on the spot. If it requires a quick response, I make the response and then delete it. If it contains information I might need later, I put it in the archive box that I created with my inbox. If it’s something that requires a longer response, or that requires action that I can’t do right now, then I leave it in the inbox where it stares me in the face.

    I’ve been doing this for two days now, and it seems to be working even better than I’d hoped!

    So, I think the key is to take these recommendations and mold them to fit the way you work…

  • lucas

    gravatarJul 30, 2007
    7:37 pm

    The trusted trio is just a moniker for Getting things Done! which has been around for years, they even have email programs that make this easier. It is a good starting point, another useful feature is email-rules (microsoft outlook) or filters (gmail) etc… these will take common email and auto sort it for you, so you can glance at your “folders” or “labels” and see things in perspective. I also like gmail’s method, where there is no such thing as a folder, you can search and find anything instantly, makes my life much easier.

  • 100 Tips for Better Life « printf

    gravatarJul 31, 2007
    12:39 am

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • Internet Redux — 100 Great Tips to Improve Your Life

    gravatarJul 31, 2007
    11:02 am

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • 100 Tips to Improve Your Life ;) « GeekyChic

    gravatarJul 31, 2007
    4:20 pm

    [...] approach; they relish their progress. Some go so far as surrounding themselves with it. 3. Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, [...]

  • links for 2007-08-01 at DeStructUred Blog

    gravatarJul 31, 2007
    7:19 pm

    [...] 30 seconds to an empty email Inbox at LifeClever Tips for Design and Life (tags: Productivity Email) [...]

  • 100 Tips to Improve Your Life « My Weblog

    gravatarJul 31, 2007
    9:33 pm

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • 100 Great Tips to Improve Your Life « Invisible

    gravatarAug 5, 2007
    9:02 am

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • 100 Tips to Improve Your Life : XianSi ’s Blog

    gravatarAug 23, 2007
    8:56 pm

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • N 2 T u a n –˜ s B l o g » Blog Archive » 100 Tips to Improve Your Life

    gravatarAug 24, 2007
    5:33 am

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • 100 tips to improve your life « spiritually deep dish

    gravatarSep 18, 2007
    3:56 pm

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • Dirk

    gravatarMar 30, 2008
    11:24 am

    Its a great idea to archive off emails that are older than a month, although it may be slightly worth the time to pay a bit of attention to the more recent ones.

    I think its important to identify the bad habits that got our inbox in this messy state in the first place. Sometimes as much as we try to stick to good habits there are emails that are more difficult to deal with than others. Read about some of these problem emailson my blog!

    Thanks for the post Lisa!

  • More Organizational Tips for the New Year: Your Inbox | Pixelita Design Blog

    gravatarJan 24, 2009
    12:52 pm

    [...] 30 Seconds to an Empty Inbox (Life Clever) [...]

  • 100 Tips to Improve Your Life (w/links) // Random Dopeness

    gravatarApr 21, 2010
    1:52 pm

    [...] Empty Your Inbox in 30 Seconds. Is your inbox filled with thousands and thousands of unread messages? Before you give up hope, there’s an instant way to clear your inbox of old emails in less than 30 seconds. [...]

  • brian

    gravatarJul 5, 2010
    4:13 pm

    I like it, I’ll give it a try,as my inbox is at bursting point. Will let you know how I got on. I shall past this innovative way to fello followers. I currently have a site called htt://www.blogforyourmoney.com that has a few subscribers who like quarky stuff.

  • Ways to Change Your Habits and Improve Your Life « Dr. Richard Williams Medical Blog

    gravatarAug 17, 2010
    7:07 pm

    [...] Keep a clean inbox: Empty your email inbox so you’ll have a clean slate to work [...]