5 Shortcuts for Clearing Up Backlogged Emails

a bulging inbox decreases productivity

If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed, you’re putting your business growth at risk.

For most entrepreneurs, “overwhelmed” is practically synonymous with “email.” Here are 5 shortcuts you can use today to start getting a handle on the Inbox From Hell. 

1.         Set a timer.

Any time you’re faced with a humongous task, just start chipping away at it, rather than trying to take care of it in one intensive session. One of the best ways to overcome your inertia is to set a timer for just 15 minutes and focus intently on inbox damage control for that short time. At the end of it, you can know you’ve made progress on your goal of cleaning up the backlog, and you can feel smug about checking off an important de-cluttering item on your To Do list. If, on the other hand, you’re so inspired by the progress you’ve made, you have the option of continuing to work. It’s pretty much a no-lose situation.

2.         Sort your backlogged emails by sender.

Outlook makes this easy—even for me. With your Inbox open, find the bar which lists the information you receive on each email. (For example, I’ve chosen to display the open/unopened icon, sender, subject, and date received for each incoming message.) Just left-click on “From” (i.e., the sender), and your messages will be sorted by sender.

Why bother with this step? It quickly accomplishes two things. One, it immediately shows you who is taking up a lot of room in your inbox, which makes it easier to decide whether you want to keep receiving messages from them. Two, if you choose to delete all messages from a particular sender, you can do so with just three clicks: Simply left-click on the first item from the unlucky sender, hit Shift, click on the last item, then hit Delete.

3.         Unsubscribe from energy-sucking mailing lists.

We’ve all done it. We’re lured into signing up for a mailing list by the bright, shiny opt-in offer, and then we let the resulting ezines, promotions, and miscellaneous communications pile up in our inbox. The solution: Just say “no.” If you don’t actively read and apply the information you get from these incoming messages, unsubscribe from the list.

4.         Create Rules for automatically handling incoming messages.

I personally stay a whole lot closer to sane if I have a small number of messages in several different folders instead of having a large, disorganized bunch of messages all stuffed in my inbox.  Creating Rules for handling messages goes a very long way to managing traffic flow, especially for ezines and other reference type communications that you know are valuable (see shortcut #3) but are not time-critical.

If you haven’t yet created Rules in Outlook , learn how to do it here.

5.         Categorize emails that need quick handling.

I’m madly in love with another technique for creating more categories with fewer messages in each. I do this using the fabulous Categorize feature in Outlook to identify and assign colors to various categories. The system I use for myself, and which I recommend to my private clients, uses different colors for what I call  “a D and 4 P’s ”.

The D stands for Delivery, i.e., emails from clients which directly relate to the services I’m providing (Delivering) to those clients. These are messages that I handle as part of working in my business.

The 4 P’s all relate to business development, or working on my business. I have a different color assigned to emails that relate to development of my Prospects, my Presence in the marketplace, my Products, and my Professional skills.

Just as organizing incoming messages by sender allows you to see who’s in your inbox, categorizing important “keeper” messages by business function (Delivery or Development) helps you see at a glance whether you’re spending too much time in one area and not enough in another.  For example, you may realize that you’re spending a great deal of time developing new products, but relatively little time doing the actual service for which you get paid.


It’s been said that knowledge is power, but I disagree. I strongly feel that applied knowledge is power. And since we’re living in a world where information overload will only get worse, it’s vital to manage the flow of information so that we can genuinely acquire and apply useful knowledge.

As long as you’ve got the information needed to make conscious, strategic decisions about your business growth, you’re far more likely to be able to create action plans that get you the results you want—and isn’t that really what it’s all about?

Tell me what you do to manage your information flow; I’m always on the lookout for good ideas to rip off make good use of and share with my clients.

BTW, thanks to xJason.Rogersx for posting his image of the amazingly awful inbox on Flickr.
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