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Overcome E-mail Overwhelm

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Does the number of emails in your inbox stress you out? Here's what tech experts from Digital Helpmates and the Harvard Business Review recommend...

I have to admit...this a photo of MY email inbox a couple days ago! Taking care of my Mum until she passed away was my priority the last couple months, so emails piled up.

It's not unusual to have many, many more than this, so don't feel like you're a lazy weirdo - you're definitely not alone and there's nothing wrong with you!

On our last call, my TidyWild Members asked for tips on decluttering e-mail, so here are my top tips, along with answers from Laura Moynihan, tech tutor extraordinaire and owner of Digital Helpmates.

First, think of laptops, phones and other tech devices as rooms. It's stressful to feel like we have "too much" and are unable to find what we're looking for in email, photos and files, just like it's stressful not to be able to find our car keys or an important paper.

And it's important to remember that excess emails is really only a true 'problem' if it poses a danger to our health, such as we're missing important messages from doctors. And if this is the case, it may be an option to ask your doctor to call you rather than email.

But if a lot of emails causes stress and we can't get a grip on our thoughts about what that means about us (I'm lazy, I'm not doing enough, etc.), then it's time to dive in, do some clearing and create habits and systems to keep this stressor from coming back!

Here's a quick, copyable tip list. I break down each tip below.

# 1 and #2 help me immensely when I have a LOT of messages, so I start there:

1. Schedule time for email and stick to it

I like to set a timer and work on clearing in the morning with my coffee. 30 minutes when I can, but 5-15 minutes if I'm short on time or I'm caught up.

2. Archive all messages older than one month

Yes, it's ok! Archived messages can be accessed through Search any time if needed. See more from Laura about archived messages below.

Did you know you can hold the shift key down and highlight multiple messages at once? If not, try it, it saves a LOT of time!

These are the icons for archiving in Apple mail and Gmail - you can drag them or right click and choose Archive.

Laura's top 3 favorite tips are #3-5:

3. OHIO (Only Handle It Once). When a new email comes in, quick swipe delete, read, or unsubscribe.

4. Be RUTHLESS in unsubscribing to promotional emails & newsletters. Since I'm just now setting up Smart Folders, I know I have a bunch of messages from certain senders I don't want (such as Eddie Bauer). I type Eddie Bauer in the search bar and when all the messages from them come up, I unsubscribe then select them all and archive them.

5. Use Smart Folders to organize emails (not 'dumb' or manual folders). To learn how to do this, use Laura's video here.

When I asked Laura to explain Smart Folders, she said:

"They call them “smart folders” in the Apple world. On a PC I think it’s called a 'favorites folder.' Basically, it’s an ever-updating live search that appears to be a folder."

She sent me this link to learn how to very easily do this on a Mac. Laura is an amazing teacher and tech tutor! She's the top center in this image...

The Harvard Business Review added #6, with a bonus for lessening stress:

Avoid individually processing irrelevant or less important emails - this can be done with smart folders, but unsubscribing and archiving are still necessary if you have a lot of messages to clear!

Turn off notifications. Scheduling time to go through emails allows you to be spared from the stress notifications cause our brain - it's like an alarm, and unless you truly need an alarm to go off when you get an email, turn it off!

To Delete, or Not to Delete?

This hits #7: Use the search function...

When I asked Laura about deleting messages, she said:

"I tell my clients not to bother deleting emails — they take up almost zero room on your computer and are easy to ignore. When you use the search function liberally, historical email can be a REALLY useful tool. It’s a good historical record of receipts, conversations, or events you will want to refer back to later. I just had an appointment this week with someone who deleted an important receipt accidentally, and it was really needed in that moment! She thought she was doing the right thing. Instead of spending time deleting emails, just focus on unsubscribing to newsletters. Trying to delete junk emails all the time is a task that never ends! What’s important isn’t how many emails total you have in your inbox, it’s how many UNREAD ones you have. (And whether you can get through those in one day largely depends on how many you get!) 'Email inbox zero' means no unread emails. That’s it!"

We're not email failures

Remember, we don't have to let emails stress us out. If we never get to email inbox zero, we're not failures!

Work toward what feels good and know that if someone needs to reach you, they will, and you can always use the search function to find messages.

I'd love to hear if you're overwhelmed by email OR if you're an email ninja who never feels overwhelmed!

You can share on my TidyWild Facebook page or use the information below to connect with me.

Click here to learn how to create Smart Folders on a Mac in Apple mail, or reach out to the incredible tutors at Digital Helpmates for help.

Time to move on from email guilt!



Are you ready to find more happiness and freedom in your home, office, art space, life and mind?

Do you feel called to connect with me?

I'd love to hear from you!

I work with a very small number of private clients who have incredible, life transforming results.

To connect with me, call or text me at 360-265-2477


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Sending a huge hug and sooo much love!

You're never alone with your clutter - I'm right here, loving you and your space just as you are.

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