I hear this quite often and heard this again just last week –

“My Gmail account has become a mess and I think I should abandon this one and create a new one”.

It’s a common sight! You get too many useless emails every day adding to the already accumulated several unread emails. You start losing important emails in that daily tsunami. Also, the thus far benevolent Google must already be coaxing you to buy a plan as you are inching (if not “footing”) towards the free account storage limit (15 GB).

Creating a new Google account may appear a quick fix but is not a good idea over the long term. If you have multiple email addresses for a single purpose, you will create an overhead of tracking all of them. It’s also a great inconvenience to your audience when you have too many email addresses. Also, if you keep one of your accounts inactive, Google will eventually try to free the resource by scrapping your account.

But at the same time cleaning up your Gmail account would look like a Herculean effort. And if you are looking for that Alpheus River to clean your Augean stables, read on.

Let’s do this in two parts. In the first part, I will offer you simple steps to clean your Gmail account. In the second part, I will recommend a method that will ensure that you won’t clutter your account, in the first place.

Part A: How to clean your Gmail account

Making your account spotlessly clean may not be required. Instead, we will try to get maximum returns on your investment of time.

1. Google account comes with multiple Apps, such as Gmail, Google Drive, Photos, etc., and respective storage. All those storage are added up to check the upper cap of the disk space offered in the free Google account. The first step will be to take the stock of the situation and understand how much space each app is using. Use this link and scroll down and look at your usage. You might be even surprised by the results. You may like to prioritize based on what app needs the most attention. We will focus on cleaning your Gmail account in this post and reserve the rest of the Apps for the later ones.

2. Turning to Gmail, we should first take care of those few items that are using disproportionately large space. Use the search bar of Gmail and enter the following: larger:20M.

3. The search result will show you all the items that are larger than 20 MB. You will have several easy targets to delete – A catalog from a seller or an ebook sent to your Kindle account etc. Delete all of them. But, if you didn’t find any item, don’t worry and proceed with the next step

4. Go progressively to the next-level search with criteria, say, larger:10M and so on to delete more and more. Continue this process and stop at a stage where the list is too long to process and salvage worthwhile space.

Let’s use the other criterion now.

5. Look for a sender from who you are getting or had got several emails and you are sure that you don’t need those emails anymore. Grab the email address of the sender and enter it in the search bar along with the from: keyword, for example, from:newsletter@blahblahtech.com. The filtered results will have all the emails from that sender. In a typical situation, results may run into several pages and Gmail would show “1 to 50 of many”, in despair! How to select all the emails across these pages to delete, is a question. There is a way. You will need to do it in 2 steps.

    1. Select the check box in the menu above inbox. That will select all the emails on the page. As soon as they are selected, you will see a hyperlink – “Select all conversations that match this search” – just below the checkbox.
    2. Go ahead and click on the hyperlink. Once Gmail confirms that it has selected all of them, you should start smelling the victory and should click on the delete button on the Gmail menu bar. Give confirmation to Gmail for deleting.

Phew! A big burden is off!  Go back to your emails to look for the next senders and continue deleting them in bulk.

6. If your Gmail is already configured to have three tabs – Primary, Social, and Promotions, it should be quite easy to go to the Social, and Promotions tabs and simply delete them in bulk as most of them are of a notifications nature. Do not forget to use the technique used in previous steps, to delete in just one action, by selecting “Select all xxx conversations in”.

Part B: How to manage your emails to not accumulate too many of them

Our strategy here is to keep count of your unread emails to zero. Yes, you are hearing it right – Zero!

You should first ensure that your Gmail is configured to have three tabs – Primary, Social, and Promotions. This will keep most of the clutter away and you will be able to focus on the right things that are in the Primary tab.

You should process your emails as regularly as possible. Of course, I am not advising you to watch for every notification, but the idea is to not let the number of emails grow to such a size that you need a big-time slot to clear them, which you will never get anyway. Please note, that what I am advising here is to “process” the emails and not “do” related work:

1. Make a quick first pass for deleting those emails that you don’t even want to open. You need to take a clear and hard decision here. Gmail offers a delete icon right on each mail item when you hover on it. Click on the delete button to delete a particular item.

2. If you are regularly deleting items from certain senders consider unsubscribing to them, and that will reduce the burden of deleting them. Unsubscribing to the mailers is automated and quick, of late.

3. If you like to read the contents of a newsletter at leisure, instead of leaving it unread, check for the availability of that content on a website. Most newsletters offer a web link too. Go to that link and push those pages to a Read later App, like, Instapaper. Of course, you need to develop a habit of frequently clearing stuff from the Read later App as well. One good idea is to install the Read later App on your phone also and keep the shortcut on the home screen.

4. Keeping the emails unread to mark your pending actions is not a good practice. Consider writing the identified actions in your to-do list, instead.

5. You should also copy and save the useful email attachments, in a separate well-organized reference system. This will ensure that you would not run to your Gmail, whenever you need that thing.

All that you delete will go to the Trash folder. You don’t have to delete them from Trash as they get cleared anyway later. Moreover, you have an opportunity to restore it if you want something back.

Once you implement these ideas, you would have tamed this giant. You will find yourself organized and productive too.

Subscribe to my newsletter, to get tips like this and more, directly in your inbox!

(Originally published in Times of India on June 19, 2022)