How to Declutter Your Inbox

kitten laptopIt can happen to anyone. You’ve been extra busy, or a family member was sick, or you just had your mind on other things. You thought you were dealing with your email, but you were just reading the urgent items.

Suddenly, your email inbox is filling up: the count of unread messages (or, perhaps even worse, messages that have been read but not actually dealt with) has crept into the triple digits. (Maybe even the quadruple digits.)

You vow to sit down and clean it out. But you only get through a screenful or two at a time and you can’t imagine how you will ever handle this backlog.

Here’s a simple tip that really helps. Sort your inbox by the name of the sender. This will allow you to quickly see groups of messages that you can delete without reading. Some of these include:

  • outdated announcements of events
  • old newsletters or bulletins
  • notifications from online services

Grouping messages by sender also facilitates quickly selecting and storing messages that you may need to archive for record-keeping purposes, but don’t need to read if your time is limited. These might include:

  • committee meeting minutes
  • professional organization announcements
  • policy or legal statements

Sorting these items by sender reduces the time it takes you to glance over the display and confirm which ones you want to delete. If your eye is skimming over a chronological listing showing multiple names, it takes longer and creates more cognitive strain because you can’t help but notice all the different senders.

How To Do This?

If you’re using an email client like Thunderbird or Outlook, you can simply click on the “Name” header in your inbox to sort by name. Click again on the “Date” header when you want to resort your inbox by date.

Working With Gmail:

Unfortunately, because Gmail is designed around searching rather than sorting, you can’t simply sort the contents of your full inbox by sender.

Instead, you can hover your cursor over a sender’s name in your inbox. A little box will pop up with the contact’s information. Click on the Emails link at the bottom of that box. This link is a shortcut for a search for all messages sent by or to that individual. You’ll see the search box at the top of the results screen display OR

The default search behavior will give results not only from your inbox, but also from many folders. To restrict the results to the messages in your inbox, add label:inbox to the search box along with the from:individual (you don’t need the to:individual since you’re trying to deal with incoming messages)


If you want to restrict your search to only unread messages, you can add that as a search criteria too:

label:unread label:inbox

Although this process is a little more cumbersome in Gmail because you can only sort by one sender at a time, it can still help you quickly declutter an inbox that has gotten out of hand.

Speaking Personally: Although I like to keep my professional email accounts pretty trim and lean, I have another account that I use for online purchases, newsletter subscriptions, and the like. Although I unsubscribe pretty ruthlessly from unwanted announcements from businesses, some of these mailings I do want to continue receiving. But it’s easy for that account to get cluttered up with old messages about now-expired sales on running shoes or dog toys. Sorting by sender allows me to clear out those messages much more quickly than I could by scrolling back through them chronologically.

How do you declutter your inbox? let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user generalising]

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