How to Clean Out Your Inbox Without Guilt

lena-west-224x300by Lena West, 2012 speaker

E-mail is not dead. Just ask TechCrunch king, Michael Arrington. At one point Arrington revealed through his blog that he had over 2,400 unread e-mails in his inbox and another 721 unread messages in his Facebook inbox—well over two thousand unread messages. What is the world coming to if the technological elite can’t keep up?

Arrington is not alone. Every day entrepreneurs carry the weight of thousands of unanswered e-mails and the problem takes its toll on them professionally and emotionally. Not only are they are missing out on untold opportunities by not being responsive, they are in a constant state of heightened stress, panic and guilt.

Spinning Out of Control

Donald Rubin* is the CEO of a software firm and a venture capital professional and an e-mail hoarder—14,651 unread messages to be exact. 1,535 of which have been flagged as important.

Want to read more about e-mail? Check these out:

  • How To Use Gmail To Run Your Business
  • Man Vs. Email: How To Win
  • Taming The E-mail, Task, And Calendar Beast

Rubin has tried to use technology to climb out of the rubble, to no avail. He activated all available spam filter options. It resulted in an exclusive whitelist filtering his e-mail automatically through 88 separate rules, 102 individual folders, and three dozen project folders. And he still ends up with over 150 e-mails in inbox every single day.

“I’m a really sick puppy. Some day I’m gonna get out of this crazy business and go live on a desert island with no Internet connection,” he said.

Many entrepreneurs want to bail on e-mail, but for most the act of declaring e-mail bankruptcy—deleting everything and starting fresh—isn’t an option.

What the Experts Say

Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week and more recently, The Four-Hour Body, teaches readers how to get to check e-mail once every 10 days. He suggests that you send a short note to your network, that can also be set-up as an autoresponder, which informs people that you will only be checking your e-mail every 10 days and how to reach out to you in the interim. Ferriss actually walks the talk on this. I know Tim and, depending on when you send him e-mail, it does take him two weeks to get back to you.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, presents a management system to help business owners and executives “get to zero,” which means nothing in your inbox and no ideas floating around in your head. With a combination of specialized to-do lists, daily and weekly processes, Allen’s system slices through mounds of paper like a Ginsu knife.

There are software solutions like Palo Alto Software’s E-mail Center Pro, which addresses the challenge that many small businesses have of responding to, managing, assigning and tracking e-mail that comes into general inboxes like [email protected] or [email protected]

The Last Word on E-mail

E-mail overload isn’t going to be spontaneously solved by installing software or adopting one guru’s approach. When one system doesn’t work, try another until you land on an approach that works for you. E-mail is here to stay—at least for the time being.

*not his real name

2012 Texas Conference for Women speaker Lena L. West is an award-winning social media consultant, blogger, speaker, journalist, technologist and the founder of, the only social media training program created exclusively for women business owners and leaders. Forbes says West is one of the “30 women entrepreneurs to follow” on Twitter.