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7 Top Tips to Overcome E-mail Overwhelm

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

If the number of e-mails in your inbox stresses you out, here's what experts from Digital Helpmates, the Harvard Business Review and TidyWild Organizing recommend...

This was the number of e-mails in my email inbox while I was taking care of my Mum until she passed away. I would open my e-mail and feel that number like a physical weight.

I know I'm not alone - friends and client-friends often mention how frustrating and overwhelming it can be to have so many messages piling up.

There needn't be a major life challenge for e-mails to pile up. It's like they breed as soon as we look away - every time we turn around there are another 300+ emails!

First, I just want to say this: we're not lazy, we're busy. Having e-mails piled up just means we haven't made clearing them a priority.

There's nothing wrong with us and we're definitely not alone with our e-mail woes!

Here are top tips for moving through e-mail overwhelm, with input from Laura Moynihan, tech tutor extraordinaire and owner of Digital Helpmates, the Harvard Business Review, and me, Spring Courtright, a professional organizer for 10 years who struggled with e-mail overwhelm but who now is FREE from it!

First, here are some things Laura suggests that I find interesting:

Think of laptops, phones and other tech devices as rooms.

It can be just as stressful to be unable to find an e-mail, photo or file as it is to be unable to find our car keys or an important paper.

Decluttering and organizing our digital rooms is as key to finding more peace and calm in our everyday lives as is our physical spaces.

Excess e-mail is really only a true 'problem' if it poses a danger to our health.

If you're missing important messages from doctors, ask your doctor to call rather than email as we get the e-mail room of our lives organized.

Let's dive in, do some digital decluttering, and create habits and systems to eliminate e-mail stress!

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.

To save time, highlight multiple messages at once to highlight: hold the shift key down while moving over messages.

These are the icons for archiving in Apple mail and Gmail - you can drag messages to the icon or right click on the message 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

Companies are required to have an unsubscribe link at the bottom of newsletters, use them to unsubscribe ASAP to stop the incoming flow of messages.

When I know I have a bunch of unwanted messages from a company, here's what I do:

  • type the name of the company in the search bar

  • unsubscribe using the link at the bottom of one of their messages

  • select all their messages and delete or archive

5. Use Smart or Favorites Folders

This is how Laura organizes her e-mails. 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."

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?

#7: Use the search function

When I asked Laura about deleting messages, she said:

"Instead of spending time deleting emails, 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.

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!

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.'

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, if you're an email ninja who never feels overwhelmed, or if you're somewhere in the middle...

Reach out to me 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.

It's 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?

Please remember that I'm here for you! Reach out if you have questions and/or you feel stuck.

There's no need to struggle with clutter anymore - you're not alone and I can help you feel better right away.

For inspiration and organizing tips in your in-box, join my e-newsletter, Sunbeams. Inspiration only, no spam, I promise :)

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