3 Fast Ways To Tame Your Unruly Inbox

Do you need help coping with the mountain of emails waiting for you each morning? We sat down with Dharmesh Mehta, senior director of Outlook.com for some quick tips to overcome the clutter.

You need to be strict with your inbox.

According to Dharmesh Mehta, Senior Director of Outlook.com, the average inbox-throttled person receives a staggering 15,000 emails per year--that's about 41 every day. Without the proper planning and rules, you'll be lucky to make it past your morning coffee.

Dharmesh Mehta

So how do you combat the never-ending stream of information and separate the emails you actually want to read from the trash? We sat down with Mehta, who gave three easy tips to start organizing your life:

Sweep it out

Sometimes you just have to say no. Get rid of the newsletters (that you probably never signed up for) and the endless stream of advertisements by telling your inbox you don't want them in the first place.

"If you're someone that wants to get your inbox organized," Mehta says. "Then one of the things you've got to start with is just helping your inbox know that these are things I don't want."

So be clear about what you want and don't want and give your inbox the message:

"Get rid of it now, get rid of it forever."

Update your address book

You've just started emailing with your new friend John. But does your email know that you know John, and that his messages are important to you? Not unless you say something.

"Keep your address book up to date," Mehta says. "Whether that's you manually updating it, or by connecting your address to things like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter so it's got your latest friends and people you care about."

A current address book tells your inbox who's important and who's not. This should ensure that the right mail gets to the top of the pile--and help you get on with your day.

Flag and Set rules

Not all email demands an immediate response. However, it's easy to lose track of saved messages once they've been sitting in your inbox for a few days. The answer: Flag the message.

"If you're in your outlook.com inbox and you flag a message, it just pops to the top and it stays flagged until you stay it's done," Mehta says. "It's kind of like a mini to-do list that lets you know, 'Hey I gotta take care of these messages--they're super critical.'"

Another good way of keeping your inbox organized is diverting emails from certain people or services directly to folders for optimal organization.

Whatever your strategy for making sense of the daily barrage of emails, always keep one thing in mind: no matter how bad it may seem, you can always reclaim your inbox.

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  • fwade

    I don't get it.... Can I share my frustration? Between Microsoft.com and FastCompany (companies know n for thought leadership in so many areas) - are these elementary, trivial tips the best that both companies can muster?

  • Propel Businessworks

    Sweep, update, flag and (as David mentioned here in another comment) delete. Great system to get into to keep at least this one area of our lives a bit more uncluttered and less stressful. Thanks for this. Fantastic video, by the way!

  • Larry Buckley

    Also... #4.  Use "downtime" like commuting or waiting in line to chip away at your In-Box.  One mobile app, Talkler, gives you eyes-up/hands-free access to email, using just your voice.  (Check your state's laws regarding use behind the wheel... but on the bus or at Starbucks/Dunkies, you can blast through a dozen emails before you get to the office or on the way home.)  Unlike other apps this one lets you do things like Reply, Delete, "Mark unread" etc.

  • Tothewood

    I am a fan of outlook.com - compared to other free web mail products - I think it has a better UI, better functionality including the many noted in this article. That being said - this article is a puff piece. Sorry to be so blunt but this is not journalism - this is an ad (well done Microsoft). It completely ignores the role that users play in managing their inbox and lacks any analysis. Fast Company and the author lose a ton of credibility when articles likes these are published. I know PR departments and firms love these articles but regurgitating a press release (and even having a video accompany it!) is lame. 

  • David Bradley

    The delete key is my best friend. I have three levels: current, approvals, and done. Current stays where it is, flagged or un-flagged, whatever. Approvals is anything that someone told me to do or has given me permission to do. These get filed. Done is anything that does not contain information I currently or will ever need again, done tasks, done requests, outdated information, or cc (aka chit-chat between other people on the email about something that doesn't include me). These get deleted. I make it a point to sit down and review what is left in my inbox at least once a week.

  • ξL.мΛкняΛz

    Be leading, use the best and use it to its best, GMail:

    *Use Labels extensively...label everything, from Business, Entertainment, Blogs, Forums...

    *Label attachments: PDF, XLS, DOC,...

    *Label as task management tool: Waiting On, Act, Urgent,...

    *Label Groups, Associations, Company-Types, and Companies...

    *Automate incoming mails as Labelled "Unread-Tag" so that you still see them in the inbox until you take action on them, then you unlabel them to their other labels

    *Each mail can have more than one label, e.g.: Shopping, Sports, Diet can belong to one email.

    *Use Filters (for the above mentioned automation), so that incoming emails be auto-labelled when matching their known email IDs or email domain IDs or even Subject content.

    *Use colored labels for ease of identification.

    *Use quick-links in GMail Lab to establish shortcuts to Unread-Labeled emails.

    *Use quick-links in GMail Lab to establish shortcuts to Action-Items-Labeled emails.

    *Use Rapportive add-on for better contacts recognition, interaction and taking notes.

    *Use Boomerang for recalling emails at certain date in the future; Otherwise emails would be archived and forgotten.

    *Use "Any.Do" extension in your browser to record GTD actions while reading emails. "Any.Do" syncs with your Mobile, Tab, Android and BB.

    *Use Evernote clipper extension in your browser to record BI stuff or actionable readings for later on-the-go use.

    *Finally, for short notable short term notes, use Google-Keep browser extension.

    With the above, you'll be having a dashboard items and a CRM like platform to conduct all key business and personal daily items.

    Good Luck!

  • Steve Fogel

    Don't Flag.  File.  If you Flag and leave a message in your inbox, you just increased the stress because now its screaming at you.

    Create a file for the newsletters or other reference material you may someday get around to reading.

    Get your inbox down to zero every day.