Test Drive Gadget Reviews with Bill and Phil

It’s Time to Clean Your Email Inbox

Since we have been quarantining, we have found extra time to do some digital housecleaning. As we practice social distancing, it’s is a good time to start thinking about cleaning up our clutter. 

Bill & Phil

Your email inbox is a good place to start. There are many methods for clearing it out. Here are some of them.


There many methods for manual cleanup. It seems that, like opinions, everybody has one. The question is, though, which ones actually work? We’ll try to summarize and synthesize them here — in other words, we’ll try to “declutter” the methods for you.

The first step is to delete the items that are clearly trash at the outset. One easy way to get this done is to sort your email inbox by sender. Simply delete social media messages, retail ads, past event reminders, delivery confirmations, out-of-date newsletters, etc. Then sort again by subject line and do the same thing. In other words, delete the emails from senders or with topics whose messages are no longer important.

The next step is to clean out your oldest messages. Start with the oldest unread messages and deal with them. Then go to the oldest messages that you have already read and responded to. If they are no longer needed in your inbox, archive them and/or put them into folders by category.

Speaking of folders, the next step is to create folders and labels that apply to topics or senders that have several messages that would fall into the same category. But be careful — creating too many categories will defeat the purpose. Add “labels” or Outlook “categories” to further organize each folder. Then create an “on hold” folder for emails that you cannot decide whether to keep, act upon or file. Work on this folder when you are on a break. Do not keep the items in this folder for more than one week.

Now, you should be left with only emails that need action. If you can act on the email in two minutes, go ahead and “git ’er done.” If you need more time, add it to your to-do list and send yourself a notification to remind you to do it.

The last step is to keep the clutter from coming back. Set up filters in Gmail or Outlook to automatically sort emails into categories for response. Again, if you can respond quickly, go ahead and respond right away.

Of course, Bill insisted that we include advice from his hero, organizing consultant Marie Kondo. Her steps are as follows. First, tidy your home. This will heighten your sensitivity to joy and help you learn to choose what is valuable to you. Then start on your digital cleanup, which must be done all at once. Fully commit yourself to tidying. Then begin making decisions. First, does the email “spark joy”? If the answer is yes, put it into a “spark joy” folder. Then, create an “important documents” folder and put the emails you need to keep in that folder. Delete the rest.

Stop keeping komono — what Kondo calls items we keep “just because.” If the item is not important or doesn’t “spark joy,” thank it for its service and let it go with gratitude. Then begin to organize the rest into folders. Keep the folders simple. Kondo recommends only “saved” and “unprocessed.” Use the search function to find emails you are looking for. Delete or archive emails when you are finished with them, but, again, thank them for their service.

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There are several digital tools available to help spring-clean your email box. Here are some of them.

ZERØ Email Management Software: We have not tried this one yet, but we are intrigued by it. We are certainly going to order a demo of the app and try it out. ZERØ supposedly applies “artificial intelligence [AI] and smart automation” for an email management solution designed specifically for lawyers. Allegedly, it automatically analyzes your emails together or individually and automatically files them by client. It works on mobile devices, desktops and laptops. It also tracks the time you spent on the email, assigns it to a client and creates a matching time entry. We’ll see if it works.

Mailstrom: This is another tool that supposedly uses AI to help you clean out your inbox. It “guesses” what you think is important and then identifies bundles of emails that you can deal with as a group. It also allows you to block or unsubscribe to unwanted emails with one click.

Cleanfox: This tool works with all messaging providers and apps. It finds all the newsletters you receive in your inbox, sorts them by criteria (such as whether you open them or how long you look at them), and recommends deleting or unsubscribing.

SaneBox: This is a great tool that has been around since 2010. It works with you and your habits to identify important messages, will stop emails when you trigger “do not disturb,” will get rid of annoying senders and will remind you to follow up. You begin the process by giving SaneBox access to your entire inbox, whether it’s Outlook, Gmail, iCloud or any other provider. It will then determine what emails are important by analyzing whether you open them, how long you look at them, and whether and how quickly you respond. It doesn’t look at the content of the emails but nevertheless decides what is important based on your behavior. You go to your inbox for the important emails, whereas the others are moved to a “SaneLater” folder for you to deal with later or trash.