10 Tips to Curing Inbox Chaos

Inbox chaos

I often meet people who live an organized life in every way, except with their email. Why oh why? Someone who would never let their snail mail get out of hand may have hundreds of emails sitting in their inbox causing chaos in their head every time they look at it.

Try these 10 tips to cure that inbox chaos.

1. Open your email a specific number of times a day.

Maybe once in the morning, while you eat your lunch and at the end of the day. But make sure you follow tip number 2.

2. Only open if you have time to deal with the emails that are there.

Scheduling time to do this task will ensure that you get it done. Leaving loose ends untied will only cause more chaos. Don’t do it.

3. Sort your email. Use Outlook (or some other program) to divide and concur.

Studies show that doing similar tasks at the same time is more productive. Sorting will help you make sure that important tasks get done.

4. Use a clear subject line.

Communicate as much as possible (and maybe everything) within the subject line of each email. What a time saver! Try it. You’ll see.

5. Use NNTR or NRN.

Just like text messaging using abbreviations in a subject line can save time. Using “No Need to Respond” or “No Response Necessary” will cut down on the number of responses you receive.

Someone who would never let their snail mail get out of hand may have hundreds of emails sitting in their inbox... Click To Tweet

6. Stop playing ping-pong.

You know what I mean. “Yes”. “Thanks”. Those kinds of emails are really not necessary.

7. Have an extra email address.

Get a Hotmail or Yahoo account to use when you are internet shopping, etc. Then all of the spam from all of the lists you get subscribed to will land there and not fill up your regular inbox.

8. Update your virus software.

Run the most updated version will ensure that you won’t have trouble (more chaos) created by a virus.

9. Ask to receive no junk email.

It’s hard to do, but friends and family can clog your inbox with cartoons, jokes and chain letters. Request that they don’t pass them on to you.

10. Clean out your inbox daily.

Sounds hard to do, but if you follow all the tips above you will be able to do it. Just like your PO box (you won’t leave mail in there), cleaning out your email inbox every day will clear some of the chaos in your life.

Need more information? Read The Emails Continue… by my colleague Lisa Gessert.

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Janet Schiesl

Janet has been organizing since 2005. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and the owner of Basic Organization. She loves using her background as a space planner to challenge her clients to look at their space differently. She leads the team in large projects and works one-on-one with clients to help the process move quickly and comfortably. Call her crazy, but she loves to work with paper, to purge what is not needed and to create filing systems that work for each individual client. Janet is a Past President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and was voted 2016 Organizer of the Year by the Washington DC Chapter of NAPO.


  1. Juli Monroe on November 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Great tips! I use most of them, and I keep my Inbox at or near 0 most of the time.

    • Basic Organization on November 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Juli, sounds like you do better than I do. I clear out my inbox about once a week. With the tips it goes quickly and mostly painlessly.

  2. Seana Turner on April 26, 2021 at 8:38 am

    I use a variety of these ideas. For me, checking my email in the morning helps me figure out what I might need to address today (or on an upcoming day). I don’t take all those actions, but move them to my “to do” list. I have some emails that reside in my inboxes, but I try and delete as many as I can. It does feel like a constant effort, though. I empathize with others on this one.

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:48 pm

      I check emails first thing in the morning. (I know I’m not supposed to.) I like that I’m able to get through the backlog before my business day begins.

  3. Diane N Quintana on April 26, 2021 at 8:42 am

    Controlling or even just dealing with email is a vicious task. Your tips are terrific, Janet. I do most of them. I also play a game with myself. I write down the number of emails in every one of my mailboxes in the morning ( I have several) and then aim to reduce that number by 10 or 20 by the time I stop work for the day. This helps me to prevent the number of emails in my in-box from rising.

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:46 pm

      The game I play is with a timer. I sent a timer for 10 minutes and rush to get through as many emails as possible during that time. I usually go for the low-hanging fruit and just delete emails that I know I don’t need.

  4. Ronni Eisenberg on April 26, 2021 at 9:02 am

    This is such a great topic and your suggestions are spot on. It’s a battle that everyone faces. Every time I deliver an online program, a question about email management comes up.
    Another idea is to flag important emails you want to get to first. I have that ability on my iPhone and I find it helpful.

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:45 pm

      Ronni, I tag emails that I want to read later and put them in a folder. But I am usually way behind on that reading.

  5. Linda Samuels on April 26, 2021 at 9:39 am

    Awesome tips, Janet! I’d love to know more about the “ping pong” protocols. I try NOT to do that, but sometimes I’m not sure when to stop for fear of being rude. Oy. But I also try to be respectful of clogging up people’s inboxes. Do you have any specific advice about that one?

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:43 pm

      Hi Linda. I’m more of a “less is more” person. As soon as I feel that I have made my point I considered the email done. I don’t like to respond “thanks” or “OK”. I believe it’s understood.

  6. Lucy Kelly on April 26, 2021 at 11:43 am

    Hundreds of emails? I have a friend who regularly reaches her email storage limit (which just be thousands and thousands) and then opens another account to “start over”! When I’m on top of email, I try to only open an email if I have time to deal with it right then – when I reach a certain number of unopened emails, I batch process them. As Seana and Ronni noted, it’s a constant battle. Reducing the number of incoming emails helps.

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks for mentioning batch processing. This is a great way to manage your inbox. I get my bills emailed to me and I batch payments. I usually open those emails and pay bills once a week. I let them sit in my inbox until then.

  7. Sabrina Quairoli on April 26, 2021 at 11:48 am

    I like to use Outlook to organize my small business clients’ emails. There is a feature in Outlook that you can categorize the emails right on the inbox page. This feature helps me organize the to-do tasks and minimize the stress when I look at them.

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:40 pm

      I know so many people who use outlook and love it. I chose to simplify my email management without it.

  8. Sherry on April 26, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    Great tips!! I use many of them.

  9. Margarita Ibbott on April 26, 2021 at 8:28 pm

    I love two of your suggestions: have a secondary email and the ping pong emails are me bananas. .Great post thanks.

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks Margarita. I try to be clear in emails because I also don’t like going back and forth with people.

  10. Julie Bestry on April 27, 2021 at 3:23 am

    #4 is my favorite tip! I use many of these strategies, and except for when I’m out of the office and return to multiple days’ worth of mail, I can usually stay on top of it. I don’t try to hit inbox: zero, but I don’t shut down for the evening until I’ve got things under a dozen or so emails, so there’s still some buffer space between the message list and the preview pane. Reducing the influx, doing triage on what arrives, and having a place for mail to live other than the inbox are other great tricks. (I route all NAPO email (chat, CPO, Golden Circle, etc.) to other folders; I can see when the folder turns bold and has a number indicating how much mail is in any given folder, but it doesn’t distract me from what’s in my inbox. (This is why the Outlook desktop client works so well for me — I can see that I have email without having to see the actual email, in each category.)

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:35 pm

      Julie, I’m glad you found a system that works for you. Email is neverending so it can get overwhelming fast. I like your goal of a dozen or less emails in your inbox at the end of the day.

  11. Amy Dagliano on April 27, 2021 at 9:20 am

    Great tips. I need to keep these in mind. My inbox is overflowing and would love to be more on top of the organization and unnecessary replies!

    • Janet Schiesl on April 27, 2021 at 3:32 pm

      I’m glad that the tips resonated with you. Try to incorporate one at a time.

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