Yahoo7 (of all people) has come up with five tips for getting your inbox under control. Here's our take on their list.
Understandably, Yahoo7's list of mail wrangling tips is couched in terms of Yahoo Mail, but they are applicable to other apps and services.
1. Clear the backlog
The 'inbox zero' strategy works for some people. The idea is to keep an empty inbox. If it's obvious from the subject line and sender that the message has no value, delete it. Otherwise you read it and take action immediately - delete, reply, forward or file. This is the equivalent of the 'touch it once' strategy for dealing with paperwork.
Another approach is to leave everything that you don't delete in the inbox (or perhaps in a 'read' folder), and then rely on the search function to find anything you need.
Yet another is to file all the messages you want to keep in a series of folders. What the structure of those folders should be depends a lot on what you do and how you like to work, but one possibility is a folder for each of your suppliers and customers.
But as Yahoo7 points out, if an email is weeks or months old and still hasn't been dealt with, it's probably not the end of the world if you delete it. Their suggestion is to pick a date and either delete or file all the older messages. We'd be inclined to err on the safe side: if in doubt, file rather than delete. Most mail programs and webmail services let you select multiple messages and then move or delete them in one action.
2. Unsubscribe to reduce the clutter
The best way of dealing with excessive email is to stop it arriving in the first place. This is the equivalent of dramatically increasing your effective reading speed by not reading unnecessary items.
Take a look at the newsletters, mailing lists and other mailouts that hit your inbox. If you really do want them, that's OK. But unsubscribe from those that have become little more than noise, and fine-tune the settings available to you. If you no longer shop at a particular supermarket, what's the point of receiving their weekly specials? Or if you used a florist to send flowers to a funeral in a distant regional city it's unlikely you'll do business with them again, so you don't want them to suggest flowers for Mothers' Day, Christmas or Easter.
3. Avoid unwanted emails
If your attempts to unsubscribe have failed, it's usually possible to set up a rule that automatically deletes messages from a particular sender. Most email systems have an explicit 'block' feature (look in the Account menu or similar) for this purpose.
Businesses are required to provide a functioning unsubscribe/opt-out link in their emails, and if they ignore your request subsequent messages are legally considered spam, along with commercial emails that you never agreed to. Report offenders to ACMA by forwarding their messages to firstname.lastname@example.org.
4: Find and file
This is really a special case of tip 1. The idea is to clear out your inbox by moving attachments to a more sensible place.
For example, searching for "photos" or "jpg" will find many of the messages where people have sent photos to you. Move the photos to whatever photo management software or service that you favour, then delete the emails if you have no other use for them.
5. Keep it together
Many, perhaps most email programs can handle multiple accounts so you can keep all your mail in one place whether it is personal or business, or if you have multiple business email addresses (eg, a one-person mobile gardening business might use email@example.com for most purposes plus firstname.lastname@example.org for accounts-related matters to provide a degree of isolation between the person that deals with customers face-to-face and the persona that anonymously chases late payers).
Webmail services often include the ability to collect email from another account, but according to Yahoo7, Yahoo Mail now has a feature that parallels that of email programs by handling multiple email accounts while keeping them separate.