Step-by-Step Guide to Decluttering Your Email Inbox

In the last blog, you read how I decluttered my Gmail inbox, and what it has done for me since then. After that article, I received some messages to share if I have any tips on how to do it efficiently.

Well, sure enough, I do. 🙂 And yes, I use Gmail, however 95% of the tips are still applicable to any other inbox you use. 

My goal from this blog post is to share with you the EXACT 8 steps you can take to cleanse your inbox and keep it that way.

If you know anything about me, you know how much I care about streamlining processes. I have a natural gift for looking at an activity and observing how to make it better, faster, and more efficient.

So when I spent 2 whole working days on cleaning up the mess called my “Inbox”, let’s just say I figured out a step-by-step approach that works. I swear, I had become an email deleting robot by the time I finished.

I know you have many more interesting things to do than this so don’t waste any more time than you have to in figuring it out. I have already done that for you. 🙂

Just imagine… How would it feel to see “0 Unread Messages” every single day when you finish work? With that outcome in mind, let’s get started!

1. Schedule time for the decluttering

For the most people, life can get in the way. Unless planned, urgent always takes over the important so if you are sincere about your desire of creating the space for the new and necessary, put the decluttering time on the calendar.

However, there is another group of people whose schedule is pretty flexible. If you have the luxury of doing what you want when you want, that’s great! Then when you feel like you want to organize, that’s the best time to get started. You will get a lot done when you want to do it.

I fall in this category. So one day when I was just fed up with what’s around me, I decided to declutter and took on this project. When I am determined to get something done, I am laser-focused and relentless about it. I don’t look at any other tasks. Heck, I don’t even take breaks to eat or drink.

But then once the project is done, I don’t even look at it. That was a problem because this project requires follow-up. So I scheduled the follow-up times as weekly appointments so that I make myself do it.

After doing it for two months or so now, it has just become a habit. I no longer need calendar reminders to get it done. But until you get to that point, schedule appointments with decluttering.

2. Use music to boost your energy:

When it’s time to start decluttering, put on some good music that boosts your energy. A repetitive task such as this, can benefit form good music. 😉

3. Decluttering:

Open your email, and start with a folder (Social, Updates or Promotions or Primary Inbox) that has the least amount of emails. Open one email at a time, unsubscribe, find similar messages, and then delete them ALL.

In Google, if you select “Filter messages like this” option in an email, it catches most of the emails from that sender.


Most of the people that I had subscribed to, I didn’t even remember why I signed up for their list in the first place. So I unsubscribed from their emails. Then I filtered similar messages, deleted all of the emails that came up.

The only exception to this rule are the thought leaders that are on your mind right now AND you are already taking an action on the content they are currently sharing. e.g. an online course you are taking or a 7 day challenge you are doing with other blog readers.

Keep subscribed to them but delete all their emails until now. Most of them have already served their purpose so you don’t need to hold on to them.

When you are done with one folder, move on to the next one and repeat the above process.

4. How to handle stubborn senders:

Some senders can be stubborn (and as a marketer, I hate it!). They use multiple email addresses to send emails from or they have multiple lists and every time you unsubscribe, the options are set such that you unsubscribe only from that particular list but not ALL the future communication from them.

However one factor that they keep common is either their name or the company name, and the logo appears in every email. So you can recognize them easily.

If you see such stubborn senders appearing again and again in your searches despite you “filtering messages like theirs”, finding an option in one of the emails to “unsubscribe from all the communication” is worth the effort. Usually, it’s disguised as “Update or manage your preferences”.

Then, conduct a search with their name or company name. Catch whatever you can, and delete.

Caution: “Unsubscribe All” option sometimes does not allow you to receive receipts, invoices, product updates etc. that you may be interested in. So when you unsubscribe from the businesses whose services you buy e.g. Amazon, just double-check what “all” means. Usually it’s clearly mentioned in the preferences.

Remember, if a business makes it hard for you to leave, they are not worth doing business with in the first place. I am a firm believer that a good user experience includes flexibility in leaving and the ease of joining. Every business should strive to achieve both, not just the latter. You are not missing out on anything by unsubscribing from everything they have to offer.

Steps #3 and #4 are the biggest chunk of the project. However, the next steps will make sure that your inbox is 100% clutter-free and clutter-protected in future. (This is where my streamlining magic comes into picture. We have many better activities to do in life than emptying our inboxes. That’s why we must make sure that a messy inbox just doesn’t happen ever again. Below steps will help you achieve exactly that.)

5. When to resubscribe:

As you declutter, make a list of those thought leaders that you have liked so far and would want to subscribe to. Do not subscribe just yet.

The next time you think about those or need their material, visit their blog or product. That way, you control the access to the information.

When should you resubscribe?

  1. If you find you are reaching out for their material regularly / more frequently than you anticipated
  2. You hate missing out their content
  3. You just came across a new blog which you like but you are not so familiar with them that you will seek out their content on your own. (Consider this subscription to be in a trial period with an intention of unsubscribing if you don’t find their content interesting in that period.)
  4. And then, there are times when you don’t even know you need to hear a perspective or news, but when you do, you walk away with a valuable insight that makes your day. This is usually the case with inspirational content or for the blogs in your niche. In such cases, resubscribe to those thought leaders whom you already know you value.
6. How to handle action Items:

When you are decluttering, you will come across some emails that will resonate with you. You would want to take the action that it says or want to read the article it mentions.

Flag or star those emails. Add them to a separate folder (or label) titled “to do”. Do NOT be distracted to do those right now but set an hour or two in your calendar either today or tomorrow to take that action.

7. How to track your subscriptions and online accounts:

There are so many places online these days that want you to open an account, it will be useful to know who has your information.

Start by deleting the accounts you don’t use anymore e.g. shopping websites, irrelevant social media, restaurant perks’ accounts, apps you do not use anymore. Obviously it’s hard to remember them all. But do your best.

In future, check back periodically (once a year) to delete unused accounts. That way you will reduce the probability of your email ID or other data being compromised.

Save one email from every thought leader or business that you are subscribing to or a website where you have an account. Label those emails as “Subscriptions”. That way when you check in that label, you know whom you have subscribed to.

Moving forward, anytime you subscribe to a new blog or create a new account, label their welcome / long-in information type of email as “Subscriptions”.

8. Daily maintenance:

After all of the above steps are implemented, you should see quite the transformation of your inbox. But cleaning you current inbox doesn’t mean you have stopped all the incoming clutter.

Repeat the necessary steps daily.

  • Delete emails after their purpose is served.
  • Unsubscribe from the ones that you no longer find interesting.
  • Sort with right labels such as “Subscriptions” and “to do” as soon the emails come in. (I mark an email “unread”, if I do not take an action on it when I read it.)
  • Schedule relevant “events”, “tasks”, and “reminders” on your calender immediately after reading an email.

All of this, for me, takes about 5 minutes total every day, and yes, the time goes down as you do it more and more. It keeps me super productive, and I am not afraid of an action item falling through the cracks. It is totally worth it!

In conclusion:
After this cleanse, every day, I wake up to an inbox where I know every unread email is meaningful. At the end of the day (or work), I finish with peace of mind that comes by seeing “0 Unread Messages”.

I hope this step-by-step guide helps you clean your inbox efficiently. Spend less time on what needs to done so that you will have more time at your disposal to do what truly brings you joy.

Now it’s your turn:
I would love to see your before and after transitions! Take a screenshot of how many unread messages your inbox is showing right now, and then when you are all done.

I started with 6097 unread messages. Had I realized before I began, what a difference it would make, I would have taken the “before” shot. But I can at least start the party by sharing my “after” screenshot – as it stands right now. 🙂


Not too shabby even after 2 months, right?

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