Tips for a tidy inbox

How many emails are in your inbox right now – or are you too embarrassed to tell me?

Compers often receive hundreds of emails every single day – newsletters, forum updates, spam – and occasionally even the magical communication that’s known in the business as a WEM (Winning E-Mail), so I wouldn’t be surprised if your inbox is full to bursting. In fact, when I asked the members of my Lucky Learners Facebook group how many they had, several of them shared shocking screenshots showing over HALF A MILLION unread emails!

But the sheer volume of content in your inbox can be overwhelming – and sometimes you might miss the important emails because you’re swamped with the rubbish. So it’s definitely worth having a proper clear out – and also setting up some good habits to help keep your inbox in tip-top condition.

Here’s my tips for a digital de-clutter – and maintaining a tidy inbox.

As far I’m aware, the advice here is up-to-date – but as I personally only use Mail on a MacBook and an iPhone, those of my readers who use Outlook, Gmail or other tools may need to do further research! There are helpful links at the end of the post. 

1. Use a new email address for comping

If you use one email address to do everything, you’ll struggle to distinguish your regular emails (banking, shopping, friends, family, etc.) from your comping emails. Set up a new email account and use that one for anything to do with competitions – entering online prize draws, joining forums, registering on magazine websites, signing up to newsletters, etc. 

Sign up for a free Google gmail account easily at www.gmail.com. Try to choose a memorable and short email address, as you will have to write, say, type and spell it thousands of times. Keep it simple, using words rather than numbers and punctuation. 

Now you have your email address ready for comping, create a signature for your competition entries – this saves you typing the same details on all your emailed entries. Create a signature with your full name, postal address, and phone number and set this as the default signature for your comping email, and it will appear at the bottom of each new message you send from that account. 

Here’s how to set up your signature:

  • At www.gmail.com, click the settings (cog) icon top right, then scroll down to Signature > Add Signature, give your signature a name and then type in the box. 
  • At www.outlook.com, go to Settings > View all Outlook settings at the top of the page, then select Mail > Compose and reply > Email signature
  • In Mac Mail, go to Preferences > Signatures, then choose your email address and click the plus sign to add a signature. 
  • On an iPhone or iPad go to Settings > Mail > Signature

2. Unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters

Do you simply delete the unwanted emails in your inbox without even opening them? STOP! From now on, if you get unwanted email from a mailing list, open it and scroll down to the bottom, then click on the unsubscribe link (it may be very very small!). It’s usually as simple as one click, which will take you to a web page confirming you’ve opted out. For some senders, you may need to alter notification settings on a website or app – for example updates from Facebook, Linked In or Spotify. Opt out of all but the most essential emails – do you really need to know if you have a new follower on Twitter, or what the latest news is from Tenderstem Broccoli?

New compers assume they won’t win if they don’t tick the box to opt in to receive further information from a promoter when they submit their entry form – but this is simply not true. Winners will be chosen at random from all completed entry forms regardless of which optional boxes were ticked. When you enter a competition, read the text next to each box carefully: you should only need to tick the ‘I accept the terms and conditions’ box in order to submit a valid entry. If a promoter does make it mandatory to opt in for further communications, just so you can enter a prize draw or competition, that’s a breach of GDPR. Opt in so you can submit your form, but feel free to unsubscribe as soon as they’ve announced their winner.

3. Search your inbox and junk  

I always feel sad when I hear from SuperLucky readers who found winning emails too late, and have lost out on prizes because they didn’t spot them in time to claim. Some of the prizes have even been luxury holidays – it’s absolutely devastating to miss out on a dream prize because you haven’t been checking your junk folder!

If your inbox is full up, use the search bar (look for the magnifier icon) to check it for any wins – include your junk/spam folders in the search. Search for email subjects and message content that uses keywords like congratulations, prize, runner up or winner. And when you find your inbox filling up again, make sure you search before deleting, so nothing slips through the net.

4. Delete, delete, delete

Now you’ve unsubscribed from some of those pesky newsletters, it’s time to start deleting. This will be harder if you have a huge amount of emails, but be patient and tackle it bit by bit.

If you have thousands of messages in your inbox, start by organising them by sender – change ‘Date’ to ‘From’ at the top. Then you’ll be able to bulk delete groups of messages from the same mailing lists quickly. Highlight the first email, then hold down the shift key and scroll down your inbox to get to the final email from that sender – then delete

If you’re on an iPhone with OS13, you can delete all emails in an inbox by opening it, tapping Edit and then Select All and Delete. Unfortunately on an iPhone you can’t use filters to organise by sender. Instead, search for a specific sender (eg. MSE Forum) – then in the search results screen, tap Edit, then tap and hold on the circle next to the top email, and slide your fingers right down the screen to highlight all the emails – let the screen keep on scrolling while you leave your finger at the bottom, and you can select hundreds in one go. Then Trash them! (see this in action on YouTube)

On Gmail, you’ll only be able to ‘select all’ on one screen, so use an Advanced search (click the arrow in the search bar) to do mass deleting. Filter by sender, by subject, or if you really want to go for it, ignore all the filters and leave your search set to ‘All Mail’. Then tick the box at the top left of your inbox to select everything, and then click the trashcan to delete!

Clear out your inbox

If you have spam emails from the same sender, open the email and BLOCK the sender before deleting (on Mac Mail, you can then click Preferences to ensure that any future mail from that sender goes straight to your Trash). 

Don’t forget about your sent folder! Sent messages with large attachments will be taking up valuable space. View by largest file size and delete the biggest. There are probably lots of photo and video attachments that you don’t need.

What you might not realise is that deleting emails doesn’t actually get rid of them. Items that you delete are moved to the bin, deleted items or trash folder, but aren’t permanently deleted until those folders are emptied. To get rid of them forever, go into your trash/deleted items folder, select all the emails and then delete. If you’re a Gmail user, emails in the bin are automatically deleted after 30 days by default.

5. Create folders

Folders (or mailboxes) are a neat way to organise your emails. Use them to file away important information about bills, holidays, shopping – for example I have folders that all my Amazon and eBay emails get filed into, so they don’t clog up my inbox. And of course, use folders to organise your comping, for example you can file:

  • Updates from comping forums like MSE, or Compers News Chatterbox
  • Comps entered
  • Comps to do 
  • Winning emails

Here’s how to set your folders up:

  • To set up a folder in Mac Mail, choose Mailbox > New Mailbox. Make sure your mailbox is stored on iCloud (or GMail) so it will be accessible on your mobile device too). 
  • On an iPhone, tap Edit on the main inbox screen and then New Mailbox at the bottom – name your folder and choose its location 
  • At www.gmail.com you assign a label to an email rather than put it into a folder. Click the Settings (cog) icon then choose the Labels tab and Create new label 
  • In Outlook, right-click in the left pane where you want to add the folder, and click New Folder from the menu that appears (see the Office Support Pages for more info)

Tidy your inbox

6. File mail as it arrives in your inbox

Now your shiny new folders are set up, start filing things away into them. To manually move emails, simply drag and drop to the relevant folder or tap/right click on the email and choose Move then select the correct destination folder. 

You can also automatically move emails as soon as they hit your inbox. Outlook and Gmail give you a head start on this, as they automatically file incoming email into folders they think are the most relevant.:

  • On Outlook, emails from real people go to a ‘Focused’ inbox which you see as soon as you open Outlook. Newsletters are filed into the ‘Other’ mailbox.
  • By default, Gmail automatically categorises your emails into tabs in your inbox: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. 

In addition, you can set your own rules to automatically file emails. I don’t like too much content cluttering my inbox, so I choose to automatically file emails from comping forums (MSE, Compers News, London Competitors Club) into a Forums folder and then I check them every few days when I have the time. 

When setting rules, it’s not just for new emails coming in – you can also conveniently apply them to existing emails in your inbox. 

File MSE emails

Use Rules to file automatically on a Mac

On a Mac computer use Rules to filter or flag your mail in the Mail app – or use www.icloud.com. You can’t create rules in the mobile Mail app.  

  • In Mail, go to Preferences, then click Rules
  • Click Add Rule and name it. 
  • Choose something from the condition menu, such as From, To, Any Recipient, Date, and more, and enter the text you want to filter. This could be a word in the subject, or an email address, or a name. 
  • Choose what to do with the message. eg. my Rule called ‘File LCC emails’ will move messages that come from the London Competition Club to a special folder: If Mail subject includes: [LCC] move email to: London Comp Club folder. 

If you subscribe to threads from a forum like Compers News Chatterbox or MSE, send the updates to a folder you can check once a day. If you don’t get time to check the emails then unsubscribe from the alerts, as it’s just extra clutter!

Use Rules to file automatically in Outlook

  • Select File > Manage Rules & Alerts
  • On the Email Rules tab, select New Rule
  • Select a template – or to start from a blank rule, select Apply rule on messages I receive
  • Edit the rule description by giving it a name, then click Next
  • Choose the conditions
  • Finally, give your rule a name

Find more about Outlook Rules here. 

Use Labels to file automatically in Gmail 

Gmail doesn’t use ‘rules’, but you can create your own categories in Gmail by using a filter to apply a label: 

  • Click the arrow beside the search bar at the top of your inbox. You’ll get a pop up where you can type in the conditions (eg. ‘Compers News’ in the subject line, or ‘Congratulations’ in the message)
  • Select Create Filter
  • On the next screen, tell Gmail what to do with the email – apply a label ‘Compers News’ or ‘Possible WEMs’ for example. 
  • Apply this filter to mail already in your inbox by ticking Also apply filter to matching conversations
  • Tick Skip the inbox to ensure the filter removes your message from the inbox

Find out more about Gmail filters here.

If you receive lots of emails, why not set up a new ‘COMPS – IMPORTANT’ folder and set rules to file any email that includes the word congratulations, winner, prize or competition into that folder?

If you do decide to file your emails into folders automatically, it’s important to check the folders regularly!

8. Flag or highlight important messages 

Using the Rules function in your email software, you can choose to highlight, flag or file any incoming message from a sender, or that includes certain words. Check for this under Edit, Options or Tools on your menu bar. You may have the option to set audio alerts or pop-up messages, to be sure you don’t miss anything that could be an exciting Winning E-Mail. You will probably get lots of non-WEMs flagged up too, but at least if you do have a real one it will be brought to your attention straight away! 

For example, a Rule could be: If Message content includes Congratulations, highlight message colour in inbox. Any emails containing Congratulations will be highlighted green, and will stand out when you scroll through your unread messages! The example below shows how I have combined this with other possible WEM words in my own Mac Mail Rule. 

Using flags in Mac Mail

Flags can help you mark important messages – for example, you might want to file an email into a certain folder, but also mark it with an Urgent flag because it needs action. An email you flag remains in your inbox, but will also show in the Flagged mailbox. To show the Flagged mailbox on your iPhone, tap Edit at the top of your inbox, then select Flagged

To manually flag an email in Mail, highlight the email then click the flags at the top of your inbox to choose one. In the iOS app, tap to open an email, tap to reply then tap Flag and tap a coloured dot.

9. Establish good habits

Hopefully these tips will get you well on the way to a tidy inbox. If you’ve managed to clear your inbox, then keep it that way by establishing good habits going forward:

  • Review your newsletter and notification subscriptions regularly – unsubscribe from those you don’t need or read
  • Don’t tick the opt in boxes on competition entry forms unless you really want to receive more information – if you do decide to opt in, set rules to file those emails into a folder that you can check when you have time
  • Clear your junk folder out every few days – if you don’t have time to check the title of every email, do a search on ‘winner’, ‘prize’, ‘congratulations’ and ‘runner up’ 

Get into the habit of checking your inbox at least once a day – unsubscribe, file and delete to keep everything in order!

Do you have any more tips for an organised inbox, or a tale of woe about a missed WEM? Tell me in the comments!

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