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Guide to Cleaning Up Your Apple Email Inbox

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 1/22/2010

If you send and receive any significant quantity of email - and especially if you have a folder hierarchy to store it in. You should budget one day a year for “spring-cleaning" to make sure your Mac isn’t getting bogged down with unnecessary data. Here are some tips to help.

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    Tips for Cleaning Up Apple Email

    If it’s time to do a little spring cleaning on your Mac, you can start by getting rid of spam and unwanted data in Apple’s Mail.

    Here’s a simple checklist for your annual e-mail spring-cleaning:

    1. Schedule at least three hours for it. This might sound like a lot of time, but if you let your mailbase get away from you and accumulate a bunch of junk, you will spend a lot more time than that straightening things out and looking for lost messages in the morass.

    2. Before you do anything else, take a stab at the number of messages in your mailbase. You can resize the window so that 25 e-mails show at a time and then click, count, and click again to get a fair idea of how many e-mails you’re saving. Keep this number in a safe place, and next year, compare it to what you had this time around.

    Tip: If you’d rather not manually count the messages in each folder and you are using Apple’s Mail client, use the Apple Mail script Count Messages In All Folders. This gives a detailed list of all mail boxes, read and unread message, and deleted messages--a good overview of what you’re starting and ending with.

    3. Open the Sent Items folder. Delete everything that’s older than two months or so. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, at least delete what you can and move the rest to folders for saving and archiving.

    4. Next, go through your In box and either delete or move as much as you can. Force yourself to deal with anything unpleasant or difficult that’s been awaiting action. See if you need to add a folder or two for new interests or topics that have generated e-mail but don’t fit in any existing folders.

    5. Delete or archive. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, start at the top of your folder list, and see what you no longer want or need in each folder. No longer interested in radio-controlled cars? Archive or delete the entire folder. Sometimes a message that looked like a keeper last year isn’t needed anymore. Let it go. Sometimes messages that you thought you wanted to keep forever were really time limited. Be ruthless. It’s the only way to stay ahead of your mailbase.

    6. Keep records. This is pure psychology, but it works. When you’re finished, take another rough count of the number of messages you’re storing. It will make all of this seem worthwhile. It also helps you focus on just how much stuff you kept that you no longer need.

    Between forcing yourself to deal with old problems that are unresolved - and deleting pointless archived e-mails, old news, older jokes, and a lot of e-mail clutter - you will soon find yourself working faster and more efficiently. Cleaning up your e-mail will be worth it!

    Now that you're done cleaning it up, learn ways to organize your inbox using folders and subfolders so next time the cleaning process won't be so bad.