How to Clear An Email Backlog
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 0:12
Mark Forster in Articles

The trouble with large backlogs, as I have often remarked, is that they are very difficult to clear. Once your in-box gets to the size that you can’t deal with all your emails in one session, it seems to fill up as fast as you empty it. I expect you’ve had the experience of getting several hundred emails down to 60 or 70 after a mammoth effort, only to find that after a couple of days the backlog is nearly as big as it was before.

Ok, here’s a three stage method for clearing the toughest email backlog. I don’t claim it’s the only way of dealing with a backlog, but it certainly does work.

Stage 1

Sort your email by “Name of Sender”. That will achieve two things. You can see which emails are from important people whom you don’t want to ignore, and you can also delete loads of stuff like Facebook notifications in batches.

Stage 2

Sort your email by “Subject”. Again this will bunch many emails together which may no longer be relevant or which you decide you can’t be bothered with. Delete them all.

By the time you’ve done the first two stages, you should hopefully have reduced the number of emails in your backlog considerably. Time for the next and last stage.

Stage 3

Sort your email by “Date”. Now deal with your email in batches of one day at a time, starting with the most recent day (today). This is the opposite of what most people do, which is to start clearing the oldest emails first. Starting with the oldest is a mistake because it will take you a long time to work from the oldest email to the most recent email, and during that time you will be behind on all your email. If you start from the most recent and work back you will instantly start getting on top again. Or as a client of mine once put it: “If you start from the oldest, all your friends will think you’re an idiot. If you start from the newest, only half of them will!”

Every time you finish a day, download new email and deal with that before starting the next day. That way you are not adding to the backlog by neglecting new mail. So the sequence goes like this:

Clear today’s mail

Clear today -1 (yesterday)

Clear today’s mail

Clear today -2

Clear today’s mail

Clear today -3

If you have a month or more’s worth of neglected email, it’s going to take you some time and probably several sessions to get through it all, but you will be able to see exactly how much progress you are making and best of all you won’t be adding to the backlog.


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