Email is more like physical mail than we might like. You probably get tons of unwanted emails, but unlike physical mail that can literally fill your mailbox until you dispose of it, you can let unread emails pile up forever. Don’t let that happen to you.

When an email arrives in your inbox you have a few choices. You can open the email and read it, immediately archive or delete it, or completely ignore it and let it sit there unread. That last choice is what I want to talk about.

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Why Do We Leave Emails “Unread”?

The interesting thing about email is everyone uses it slightly differently. That’s why some people end up with thousands of unread emails and others can effortlessly keep “Inbox Zero.”

There are a couple of reasons why someone might intentionally keep an email “unread.” Most commonly, they intend to read it later and don’t want to forget about it. This is essentially using unread emails as a to-do list of sorts.

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The other main reason is simply ignoring the email. You see the subject and sender in your inbox and have no interest in reading or engaging with the email. That is the end of your interaction and you move on to the next thing.

The main reasons why people leave emails unread are on the exact opposite ends of the spectrum. One is saving it for later, the other is saving it for… never. But now all of these emails look the same in your inbox, making it more difficult to know which ones you actually wanted to read. And the number keeps growing.

RELATED: What Is Inbox Zero, and How Can You Achieve It?

There Are Better Ways

Email inbox.
AFANASEV IVAN/Shutterstock.com

Here’s the thing: Every email service on the internet has features designed to solve this problem. I’m not talking about add-ons or third-party companion apps. Just very basic core email features.

First, I want to say there’s nothing inherently wrong with keeping emails unread to take action on later. I do it all the time too. It’s only a problem when you’re also keeping emails unread as a result of ignoring them. That completely defeats the purpose of using your inbox as a to-do list.

I understand not wanting to spend even a second on an email you don’t care about. You’re only making things harder on yourself in the long run, though. The best thing you can do is simply click “Mark As Read” or archive/delete it right away. Yes, this does require some effort, but your inbox will be easier to use in the long run.

The other thing you can do is “Star” those emails you want to read later. This makes it even clearer which emails you need to address later on. Most inboxes even have a separate section for starred emails. So even if you have a lot of extra unread emails, you’ll still know which ones are important.

RELATED: Why You Should Delete Emails Instead of Archiving Them

What if My Inbox Is Already a Mess?

Alright, all of that is well and good if you’re starting with a clean slate, but what if your inbox is already overflowing with unread emails? This is a predicament that’s pretty common. You’ve dug yourself a hole and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way out.

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Well, that’s true. There isn’t an easy way out. Going through all your emails to see which ones are important is going to take time. However, you can probably just skip that. Chances are if you have a ton of unread emails piled up, they weren’t that important to begin with.

The solution? Select all the emails and Mark as Read. Yup, this is the nuclear option. It’s not quite as aggressive as archiving or deleting everything, but you’ll still start from a clean slate. If you remember there was something important in there, you can still find it with your email client’s search feature.

RELATED: How to Mark Emails as Read in Gmail

The moral of the story here is one you’ve probably heard before. It’s better to address something right away than ignore it and let it get worse. Your email inbox doesn’t have to be an unorganized mess of unread emails. Take control of this one thing and remove a little anxiety from your life.

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as a News Editor at XDA Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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