Email is a real pain point when it comes to truly being productive. I've discussed a slew of thoughts on email strategies at length here at the blog and dedicated a section of The Productivityist Workbook to email management, but if you're looking for one trick you can use to get your inbox in better shape now, then you're in luck. This trick is going to pay off huge dividends if you make the switch and stick with it.
The one email trick I've used to keep my inbox in shape is to sort my incoming mail so that the oldest email is the ones I see first. I go by the "first in, first out" rule, and it works.
I've heard from many people who I have encouraged to do this that they've pared down the emails in their inbox drastically. One individual just this past week said they were able to eliminate 300 emails in 20 minutes simply by switching to the same view I use.
There's no reason you can't do this.
Gmail has this feature. (Note: Gmail's web interface no longer allows for date sorting. I'd suggest you use a native application like the ones mentioned below to regain the ability to do this.) Outlook has this feature. Native email applications like Postbox, Mail.app, and Airmail have the ability to sort emails from oldest to newest. Simply by "flipping the switch" you can discover any stale emails and deal with them now instead of later — and no email should be dealt with too late if you maintain this sorting method.
Flip the switch on your email sorting method for a week (or, better still, 39 days). I'll bet your inbox — and you — will be in better shape by doing so.
Photo credit: ColinBroug via SXC.HU