The Simplest Way to Clear Out Your Email Inbox

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

In a sentence: Don’t reply or even read most of your emails.

Your inbox can be cleared in minutes with that method.

Here’s how I suggest you do it:

  1. Select all junk mail, newsletters, routine notifications, auto-replies, joke emails, chain mail, ads, anything else not super important. Delete em.
  2. Select about half (or more) of the other emails that you know are not important, just from the subject line. Archive em.
  3. Quickly read through the rest, archiving almost every one of them. Select a few to reply to or act on (5 at the most). Those will be your most important.
  4. Reply to them in three sentences or less, act on them immediately, or put them on your calendar to do later.


Following this method, you can process your inbox in  less than 5 minutes if you’re quick (use keyboard shortcuts).

What? But … what about all those emails I need to reply to? President Obama gets thousands of letters a day, and only reads 10 of them. This method forces you to simplify, to focus on what’s really and truly important.

Then, when you’ve saved all that time you might normally spend on email, go and Do Something Amazing. Oh, and only do this once or twice a day at most — the rest of the day, stay out of email.

Try it for a day or two. Tell me if the world falls apart. I bet it won’t. If it does, I’ll buy you a beer. If it doesn’t, you owe me one.

This is about something a bit deeper: our need to reply and act on every single request that comes in, rather than to take control of our work days and do what we know is important. You don’t need to respond to every email, act on every request, or even read everything that comes your way. You can choose the essential ones, and then get to work on what really matters. And if you tell others that you’re doing this, that you’re not going to reply to every email, they’ll eventually stop expecting you to reply.

Note: I realize this method won’t work for everyone … but I did say this would be a simple method. You can use it to get even simpler than the steps I listed above — just choose 1-5 emails to respond to/act on, and archive all the rest.

Read more about simple productivity, focus and getting great things done in my book, The Power of Less.