December 30, 2013

Declaring Email Bankruptcy

I just declared email bankruptcy.

With nearly 70,000 unread emails in my Gmail inbox and my labels and filters in shambles, my email hygiene was at an all-time low. Before graduate school, I'd always been a staunch advocate of an Inbox Zero lifestyle, but sometime in late 2010 my inbox completely got away from me.

So, I decided today that I would give myself a blank slate and a clean start for 2014. Now, my inbox has nothing in it, and I couldn't be happier.

Here's how I did it:

I) Unsubscribe from mailing lists you don't read
I've tried in the past to manually cull my inbox for mailing lists I no longer read, unsubscribing by hand on an ad hoc basis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn't particularly effective. Today, I had to break out the big girl tools. I used a service called to scan my inbox for mailing list subscriptions. They allow you to easily unsubscribe with one-click from any and all mailing lists. I was shocked to discover that I was on 457 mailing lists -- definitely too many. Many of them were for products, services, causes, and events that I love, but I just don't read their emails. I have many other ways to connect with the organizations I want to reach, so most had to go.

II) Archive everything
I wanted to archive everything I've received to date, but I didn't want to have to click through each page of my inbox, archiving only 100 emails at a time. Here's how to do it all at once from the Gmail desktop interface:

1) In the search bar at the top, type the following search command filling in whatever date you want to use as your email bankruptcy cut-off (I used tomorrow to make sure I got everything): in:inbox before:yyyy/mm/dd

2) Below the search bar, click the checkmark menu and select "All"

3) A bar will appear at the top of your inbox that says "All conversations on this page are selected. Select all conversations that match this search." Click that second part to select everything.

4) Click the Archive button at the top under the search bar. (Alternatively, you can add a label to all of the emails, and then repeat steps 2 and 3 for all the emails with that label.)

III) Enjoy your new inbox!

My new year's resolution? Keep my inbox this clean.

P.S. This is just how I did it, but I'm sure there are many other ways to declare email bankruptcy. Feel free to share yours.


Thomas Knoll said...

I've got a pretty solid filtering system setup, so these days I don't tend to have too many email in my inbox to begin with. (Pretty much only leaves real emails from real people, and everything gets filtered out and skips the inbox)

But, there have been a few times in the past that I've done a massive archive. I just add one more step to the process. Before archiving all, I add the tag 'bankrupt' to the emails. That way, if the thread gets bumped back into my list, or if I do a search before emailing someone, I can easily see if one of their messages have been previously archived.

goodthingsquared said...

This is awesome, I have spent the last 2 years sending all messages directly to trash and moving important stuff back to inbox when needed. Consequently goog un-spoofed my efforts and only trashes half of the incoming. Fortunately its the right half.

Happy NY :)

Ashleigh Evans said...

Just did inbox was a disaster too. I also tried a few weeks ago and it helped unsubscribe things, but I was still getting way too many emails every day. It feels ah-mazing to have a clean slate. Thanks for the post!

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