Digital clutter is real. Although it is present in many ways, its lack of physical appearance allows us to ignore it.

Digital clutter appears as a disorganized desktop, misplaced electronic files, multiple copies of the same documents, and misspelled file names, among other things.

Digital clutter causes us to spend precious time looking for information, going through duplicated files and folders, forgetting tasks, and missing appointments. All this probably unnecessarily fills up our hard drives and before we know it, we have 10,000+ messages in your inbox as well.

Organizing our email system might be a daunting task. However, email is so front and center in our lives that a change in this area can produce substantial changes to boost productivity and increase our efficiency.

Here are some email management tips to start reducing electronic clutter.

Retail Bombarding

Setup a new folder for promotions and store-related matters. If your email service does not allow creating folders within the inbox, consider setting up a separate email account just for stores, ads, and orders. After setting up that folder, go through your current retail subscriptions and move each one to the new folder. Instead, if you need to create a new email account, change the email address retailers use to communicate with you to the new account’s email address. Only check your new retail folder or the new email account when placing orders. Clean out the new file or inbox monthly.

Email and Breakfast Do Not Match

Avoid reading your email first thing in the morning. When you do, you let someone or something else prioritize your day. This practice sets the day off to a stressful tone—instead, schedule times during the day to read your email. You will notice an increase in productivity in your email response time and other tasks.

“You’ve Got Mail”

For most, the chime of a new message creates an immediate reaction to check the email. Turn off notification sounds that make you jump and see how much more productive you become. When distracted, even for a second, by an email notification, you lose momentum and efficiency. And remember that the multitasking phenomenon is a myth. Attempting to multitask makes us absent-minded and derailed.

Update Contacts

Add important senders right to your address book. Otherwise, their messages might arrive as spam or junk, and you will miss important information and dates. Keep your contacts updated for your peace of mind.

Managing Emails Efficiently

Strive to read each email only once. Using folders and category options in the email is a necessity. Use the following categories or actions for each email message:

    • Delete – When the message is not needed now or later, delete it at once.
    • 2-Minute Action – if your response or action to this message will take less than 2 minutes, process the message at that moment and then delete it, if possible. If the answer or action necessary takes additional time, leave the message in the inbox as a reminder to tackle later.
    • Pending Matter – Messages with information to be referred to in the short-term future and notifications to remember can stay in the inbox until the time comes to act on these. Limit inbox messages to follow-up and immediate action items to allow these messages to stand out.
    • File – File messages or notifications containing information for future reference. These messages might deserve a permanent electronic file but it is important to remove them from the inbox.

Let’s keep in mind that an inbox that contains 4,230 messages will not be of much help in improving efficiency or boosting productivity. Such an extensive email list will hide essential messages that should rather stand out for the inbox to become a productivity tool.

More importantly, an inbox with this many messages is evidence of delayed decisions. An inbox where all messages are kept the same for lack of action about what to do with them is no different than the basement, or the garage, or that junk drawer where things are kept “just in case,” but no one knows what is in there for sure.

Digital clutter might not be as obvious as physical clutter but it affects us the same.  And whether the clutter is digital or physical, it creeps up by postponing decisions and actions. So, decide and act promptly and consistently when processing your email messages. Increase your inbox control to decrease your digital clutter.