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E-mail is a necessary evil for every mama. It allows us to communicate on our own time, plan for the future, and stay up to date. But having a zillion unread emails can be anxiety inducing, and when you’re a mama running a business, your inbox is often the last thing you worry about.

Staying on top of it is a daunting task – leaving it unattended for even a couple of hours, let alone days, means you come back to inbox overwhelm… Every. Single. Time. As a professional inbox cleaner (yup, seriously!) and online business manager, I have a few tips on how to clean it up for good – and keep it that way!

1. Make a Date, Set a Timer

Just like you would schedule a touch-base with the team or time to review content, make a date to clean up your inbox. Check your calendar and set aside time to tackle everything you’ve been avoiding! If you can block off an hour, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

At the beginning of that hour, set a timer for 30 minutes. You can do anything for 30 minutes! This will keep you on task and help you avoid being pulled in by promo emails you forgot about. At the end of those 30 minutes if you’re still not done, set another 30 minute timer and keep on cleaning!

2. Folders and Filters

Once that timer is started, you’re going to work on creating folders. If you already have them and you’re not using them, now is the time to set up filters! One by one type in the names or emails of the people you most often speak to. Employees, clients, vendors, mastermind groups, etc.

Next, create a folder label for each one. If you’ve already done that, then here’s the key: set up filters and rules so that anything that comes from that specific email address is automatically labeled for you as soon as it lands in your inbox. That means that once you reply to the email, you just click “archive” instead of choosing which folder to put it in. That extra second of thinking saves your brain for more important things!

…set up filters and rules so that anything that comes from that specific email address is automatically labeled for you as soon as it lands in your inbox.

3. Unsubscribe, Ruthlessly

Think of all the pesky newsletters you get that only take up space but don’t add value to your inbox. Unsubscribe to them! This is where it can feel boring, but you set that timer, didn’t you? Unsubscribe to all of it. After each unsubscribe, search your inbox for the name of that newsletter, select all and delete!

If you can’t stand the idea of missing a sale from your favorite retailer or missing an update from your favorite blogger, create a filter for their email addresses. Have it skip your inbox, mark as read, and go directly into a special “save for later” or “promos”  folder. Open up this folder whenever you’re interested in hearing more from this particular sender, or during popular retail sales – you can refer to this when it’s nearing Black Friday without crowding your inbox throughout the year.

4. Give Up When You Need To

At the end of your hour cleaning spree? Totally over it and can’t manage it anymore? Only on page 45 of 545 pages? I get it.

When you’re mentally exhausted from this email clean up, simply create a “misc” folder and mass dump everything remaining in your inbox into this folder. This way when you’re searching for something in the future, it is still in your email, just not taking up space in your inbox. Mark them all as unread and file them away. Bye-bye, digital clutter! Hello, sanity.

If you haven’t made a dent (like you’re still going through email from last week instead of last month), it might be time to call in a professional. Use a service like Upwork.com or hire a virtual assistant you can trust – give them access for a day and have them clean up and filter out the rest.

5. Keeping It Clean

What’s the point in cleaning it up if you can’t keep it that way? Here are my top tips for maintenance:

  • Still using your inbox as your to-do list? There’s much better apps for that now! Trying to organize your inbox as a to-do list is just not a good use of your time anymore. Get a task management system like Asana, Todoist, ActiveCollab, Work Zone, or ClickUp. Email is meant to be communication, not a running task list. This way your inbox is not overflowing with things you need to do and people who are trying to communicate with you.
  • Any time you get an email from a newsletter you’re no longer interested in or missed in the initial cleanup, unsubscribe! Or create a filter for that sender and automatically delete the email before it even hits your inbox.
  • With any emails you are responding to, try and think 2 steps ahead. Anticipate the sender’s response to your response. If you can eliminate more fo the back and forth by thinking two steps ahead, your inbox will love you even more!
  • If it’s still out of control, set up an auto-responder with the top 3-5 questions people email you about. If you’re getting a lot of the same questions via email over and over again, consider making the autoresponder an FAQ of sorts. Answer them directly in the body of the email, or for more in-depth questions (like “how much do you charge for speaking engagements” etc) you can direct them to a special page on your website, etc.

If your inbox is cluttered with a lot of your team members, try and find a different way to talk with everyone without cluttering your emails. Slack is a great alternative for this, or even voice memos in Voxer.

6. Digital Clutter is Still Clutter

If you’re making decisions every single day, the last thing you want to do is sort through a crazy inbox in order to find the one thing you’re looking for. It’s the same concept as putting things back where they belong – you’re trying to save your future self time and energy so you can be more efficient. Protect your energy – invest just one hour of your time in an inbox detox. Clear the clutter!

Happy cleaning mamas!

Larisa is the CEO and founder of We Heart Branding, an Online Business Management company that project manages and curates teams of Virtual Assistants for busy entrepreneurs.They specialize in content creation, social media, implementing business systems, and of course, inbox management. She lives in NYC with her husband, their daughter.

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