The average office worker now receives 90 emails per day to sort through. And according to a January 2019 Harvard Business Review article, that worker spends 28% of their workday reading and answering those emails.

Obviously, with this much of our day being consigned to our computer screen, our email practices directly affect our work productivity. Cluttered inboxes waste our time, stress us out, and take hard work to unearth the gems inside.

So the question is, how can we not become a slave to our inboxes, but use them to serve us better and free up our time?

Triage your inbox.

Set up an immediate triage system for your email account with these guidelines:

-Respond immediately to an email if it requires action and if the response can be quick. This way you can then put it completely out of your brain and move on to the next thing.

-Task it, put it on the to-do-list. If the email isn’t pertinent till two weeks from now, or demands a longer response, create a reminder so you can set that information aside till you need it. 

-Archiving emails is an easy way to keep data handy while not clogging up your inbox. Think of it as a hold tank or a filing cabinet for safekeeping rather than tossing emails directly in the trash.

Utilize folders.

Find out what folder system works best for you. Try having an “Action” folder where you can move high priority messages that need responding to sooner rather than later. Create project folders for tasks that are on the horizon in coming months so notes will be handy for future reference.  

 Once you have the folders set up, use them! Get in the habit of immediately dropping incoming mail into its separate quarters. Adjusting to your inbox rules can take some time, but it will help you master that unruly inbox in the long run.


-Remove clutter! Learn to immediately delete what isn’t necessary instead of procrastinating and letting things pile up.

-Go back through old emails from years gone by and get rid of them! Re-visit that email chain that stretches for miles and delete the first couple dozen exchanges.

-Remove yourself from newsletters or promotional spam lists. When was the last time you really read them anyway? Don’t panic about missed opportunities — you can always sign up again if you find yourself missing them. Another alternative is to set inbox settings to automatically move promotional or newsletter emails into their own folder, so you can peruse at your leisure without clogging up the main inbox screen.

Set aside cleaning time.

Prioritize a regular inbox cleaning slot in your day or week. Treat it like a weekly housecleaning task, such as dusting on Wednesday or vacuuming on Thursday. Set aside 5-15 minutes to clear out whatever remains of your “leftovers.”

It’s Not About Inbox Zero

While the most dedicated among us may strive for “Inbox Zero” (achieving and maintaining zero emails in your inbox), many will notice an increase in work productivity by simply incorporating these tips into their average routine.