My exec has 10,000 unread emails! Where do I start?

email tips

Who’s been there—the dreaded inbox with thousands of emails? It can be intimidating. Don’t be afraid; we have tips to help you cruise through the clean up and keep it that way!

Clean Sweep

Cleaning out a full inbox, especially one that is not yours, can be a challenge. To tackle this chore, start with a clean sweep to get rid of the noise and find the real work.

Delete Old Emails

If you are sifting through thousands of emails, it is likely that many of them are months, even years old. If emails are more than 3 months old, delete (or archive) them. Emails this old will likely never be addressed, and if they are, it will be so latent it’s no longer relevant. If the request was important, the sender will send again.

If your executive is not comfortable with a mass deletion of their old emails, sort by date and tackle the load year by year.

Sort by Sender

Sorting by sender will allow you to see who is sending emails to your executive. Based on who sent the email, you can determine the right course of action and handle them all at once. Maybe you can delete all emails from Target, or file all company newsletters. Seeing them in a sorted group allows you to handle in bulk.

Unsubscribe

Unsubscribe from messages your executive doesn’t need. Don’t just delete the junk mail on this clean sweep. Take the time to unsubscribe, preventing them from cluttering your inbox ever again. Don’t have time to unsubscribe from all those emails in your initial clean up? Create a folder called “unsubscribe” and work through them over time.

Use tools like unroll.me to see what your email is subscribed to, and unsubscribe right in the app with the click of a button.

Organize What’s Left

Now that you’ve cleared out the junk, organize the emails that are left.

Leverage Folders and Labels

Use folders and labels to categorize your emails that don’t need to stay in the inbox but still need to be easily found. Come up with a few big buckets as your folders (don’t go too crazy, stay broad), sort by sender, and start filing away.

Utilize labels to expand that organization. Labels can help identify content of emails within a folder. For example, in your “travel folder”, use “personal” and “business” labels to categorize the emails. Labels can also quickly call-out action needed and group those actions together. Top Priority, Quick Hit, and Follow-up are all examples of this.

Pro tip: Set-up auto-filters based on your folders and labels to effortlessly maintain this clean inbox

Make a To-Do List

Any emails left that can’t be filed away will likely require an action. Work can often be more efficient outside of the inbox. Create a to-do list with the emails left in a task management system, such as  Todoist, Asana, or Clickup. Include details and due dates to make prioritization clear. Using systems like this will help create accountability and get things done.

Cleaning out a neglected inbox is a daunting job. Following these tips will help you to crush this task and make your executive’s inbox a place with clear and clean actionables.

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About the Author

Chelsey Lewis

Chelsey Lewis

An executive assistant and writer, Chelsey Lewis has extensive experience in business operations, customer success, leadership, and training, primarily in the SaaS industry. She has her BA in Strategic Communications from the University of Minnesota and now resides in Northern Montana. If she isn't coordinating chaos, she can be found on her family farm or hiking in Glacier National Park.