You’ve got a problem.  Your email Inbox is big.  You have hundreds, and possibly thousands of emails in there, most of them are showing as unread.  

Every time you look at your email app you get a feeling of dread.  You know you need to do something but you are not sure what to do.

Step 1 – take a few deep and calming breaths.


How To Process Your Inbox Backlog

There are some simple steps you can take to clear out your Inbox.

There are so many different email apps, each with their own way of doing things.  You can use the process below with most of them.  I am not focusing on how each application works, only on the process you can take.

Depending on the size of your backlog this may take quite some time to do.  You may want to split it into several small sessions over the course of a week.


Create Some Folders

Most email providers let you create folders to store your email. In Gmail these are called Labels.  This is useful for filing away old emails that you may need to refer to.

For our purpose you need to create the following folders:

  • In-Progress
  • Completed

The In-Progress folder is where you put emails you still need to do something about.  It’s your to-do folder.

The Completed folder is where everything else ends up.

Powerful search functions in email apps allow you to quickly find the email you need.

If you prefer a more structured approach you can create extra folders.  These may include a folder per client or project.  Here we are concentrating on the two folder structure.


Start To Process Emails

It’s now time to start breaking down your emails.  This is where the functionality in different apps can help, or sometimes hinder, you.

Most apps sort emails by the date they were received, usually with the most recent at the top.

If possible we want to change this and sort by Sender, I.e. the person who sent the email to you.  If you are not able to sort in your app then work through in date order.  You may be able to do a search based on the senders name to group all emails from a person.


Marketing Emails

Is the email from a marketing company?  I find that 80% of emails usually fit into this category.  Open the first email in the list.  Now go down to the bottom of the email.  You are looking for the phrase “Unsubscribe”.  If you do not read these emails, and no longer want them click on Unsubscribe.  This may take you to another website, where you will need to follow the instructions to stop these emails.

Back in the email app select all the emails from that Sender and delete them.  Make sure you have a quick look as you select them to make sure you no longer need them.

Scroll down through your list of emails and do this for all the marketing emails.


All Other Emails

You can now go back to sorting your mail by date.

We are going to start at the bottom of the list.

For each email you are going to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Have I finished actioning this email?

    • Yes
      • Do I need to keep this email as a record of the action
        • Yes – move it to the “Completed” folder, or into your filing structure
        • No – Delete it

2) Am I working on something for this email?

    • Yes
      • Move it to the “In-Progress” folder
      • Add an entry to your task management system

3) If you do not know what to do with the email then

    • Move it to the “In-Progress” folder
    • Make a note in your task management system
    • Spend a couple of minutes to plan your next step to take, or contact the sender for clarification.

The point of this exercise is to assess each email and then move it to the correct place.  You do not skip an email.  If you are uncertain about what to do then perform action 3 – file as In-Progress and come up with a plan.

At the end of this you will have:

  • an empty Inbox
  • an “In-Progress” folder with some emails in it
  • a “Completed” folder containing everything else you want to keep.


New Emails Arrive

Now the Inbox is empty you need to keep it that way.  Every time you go to check your emails you repeat the process above.

  • Unsubscribe where possible
  • Delete what is no longer needed
  • File away what is complete
  • Put into In-Progress those that need more work performing


What To Do With In-Progress

You have now got a list of emails in your In-Progress folder.  You should manage the actions in your task management system.

Every day look through these In-Progress emails.  Have you actioned them?  If so then either delete them or move them to the “Completed” folder.

The only emails in this folder are those you are working on.  Keep this folder tidy so that it is a useful tool for seeing what is outstanding.



Having a large Inbox puts a lot of mental strain on you.  You are likely to dread the thought of tackling your emails.  Taking a planned approach to cleaning out you Inbox lets you quickly process them all.

An empty Inbox enables you to take action to improve your life and business.  You no longer have to worry about missing important things as they will be obvious to you.

Following this simple process allows you to get In Control of your emails:

  • Unsubscribe where possible
  • Delete what is no longer needed
  • File away what is complete
  • Put into In-Progress those that need more work performing

Once you have emptied the Inbox it is easy to stay on top of it.


If you need someone to help with clearing your Inboxes then email Garry at or visit us on the web at


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Also published on Medium.