Jeez, how guilty can a person feel by 8:45 in the morning? Unless someone created a magic filter for you, every time you open up your email you probably have, among all the other muck, a dozen or more heart-wrenching supplications.

It doesn’t matter where you sit on the social or political spectrum, you know the format: the attention-grabbing subject line, the highlighting … the CRITICAL message about HORRIFYING new development s… all reasons you MUST give 3 or 5 bucks by MIDNIGHT ... to be MATCHED 4 1/2 times … or DIRE consequences.

Think about it. It’s the same format, and probably the same outfit, hired by any and all causes and campaigns, no loyalty whatsoever. The same outfit that also skims off the biggest chunk of whatever donations get sent to wherever. But it must be effective, or they wouldn’t still be doing it.

I’m cynical. I don’t donate this way. So why do I keep getting hounded?

This was just one aggravating thought among many, a few weeks ago, after another night of my anxious brain trying to make sense of any of the current craziness of pandemic, school openings, wildfires, civil unrest and election.

That morning I opened up my email and what did I see? Twelve-hundred-plus messages piled up since I last tried to tame the monster. All just daring me to start my day in anything but a foul mood.

“I am going to go nuts if I have to face this cancerous inbox each morning,” I thought. “How can I make the most difference in the least amount of time?”

Back in the day (before COVID-19) I remember sitting around with about 10 book club friends, comparing email behaviors. After some calculating, we figured our cumulative total of inbox messages surpassed 11,000. Far surpassed it, because one person refused to guess. He said when he needed to find something he just searched by name. Well OK, but what if you can’t remember the name?

Anything I’ve learned about email management has been by the seat of my pants. If anybody taught that class, I missed it, but obviously so did some of my friends.

I fully recognize “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a valid management tool. And that for some other people, this email thing is a nonissue because they are light years more advanced at it. So the following guidelines are intended for those somewhere in between “hopeless” and “possibly needing improvement.”

Here are a few ideas that helped me downsize, in less time than it’s ever taken before, from 1,200 emails to less than 100 the first day, to under 50 the next, and in the weeks since, my daily inbox has been in a holding pattern of less than 25.

I will have to break this into two columns, so I’ll start with some fundamentals that you will appreciate, if you don’t already know about them:

1. Scroll to the bottom of any newsletter or promotion, etc. that you receive and somewhere down in the small print you should see an “unsubscribe” option. Follow that link, enter your information, and if you’re lucky, you will get confirmation that you have “successfully unsubscribed.” Good luck. Sometimes it works.

2. Whenever you are deleting any message you didn’t want to get in the first place, or no longer want to get, highlight it (don’t open it if you don’t have to) and send it to “junk” instead of “trash.” After a while, this is supposed to train your program to know the difference, so any new messages from that sender will go directly to “junk.” This was new to me, and I’m currently testing it. So far, results are promising.

3. Speaking of not opening things, everyone should know how to “split” their screen. Usually you just click on or near the bottom edge of the email window and drag that line up. Your list of emails will be shorter, but below the “split” you’ll see the beginning of whichever message is highlighted. There’s no reason to click open and then close each email if you don’t have to, so this can really save time.

4. Highlighting fundamentals. There are at least two ways to highlight batches of messages at a time. This will save oodles of time whether you are filing messages into subcategories, other mailboxes or trashing them. On a Mac, if you hold the Command key down, you can skip around, highlighting here and there, and after you’ve highlighted a batch, you can either continue to hold the command key down and drag the whole batch somewhere, or click Delete, and poof! All gone.

5. The other way to highlight a whole batch of messages simultaneously (on a Mac again) is to hold down the Shift key, highlight one message, then go several messages away (down or up) and when you click on that, everything in between is highlighted. Again, drag to file, or press Delete to poof!

Once you get a handle on this, you can toggle back and forth, from Command, to Shift, leapfrogging where you want, gathering, dragging and poofing many messages all at once. It’s way more satisfying than doing it one-by-one.

In my next column I’ll be explaining some biggies I have discovered, like using a temporary mailbox to speed the purging process, sorting by different columns, deleting by time frame, etc. If you have more great tips, especially any of you PC users, send them my way.

Together we can work to tame these beasts.

Jeanne Leffingwell lives in Moscow. You can reach her at

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