Get your inbox to empty after your holiday – fast

In my Each Day Empty eBook, I describe how to quickly empty your inbox reliably day after day. But after an extended holiday, you may need some extra help to tackle your inbox. My own Outlook downloaded 3,200 emails when I returned –  was I ever glad I already knew some of the following tips!  Now they’re yours, too!

  1. Learn how to sort and group e-mails in your mail reader. In Outlook you can use the View | Arrange By item in the main menu.
  2. Sort all mails in your inbox by Subject. A lot of the spam that gets through your spam filter will be grouped together now. You can quickly remove all mail starting with Cyrillic symbols (unless you happen to live in Russia) and any spam that has the same subject repeated in the Subject box can easily be spotted.
  3. Next, sort all of your mails by the To field. This may not be relevant to everyone, but I still get e-mails (especially spam) that was sent to an e-mail address other than my own. Sorting this way helps remove these messages easily.
  4. Now sort the remaining e-mails by From and Date. This way you group all mail that came from each specific sender, in the order they were sent. Your rate of speed may vary while doing this, but I tend to scan quickly through all mail, starting with the oldest ones. But I don’t reply to any of the mails at this stage because this way I can read up on the developments, better understand my customers and employees, and keep myself from replying to something which has changed or been revoked in a more recent e-mail.
  5. After taking these steps, I’m up-to-date again. I’m aware of current issues, I know whether there are serious problems that need my attention, and I know which e-mails I’m going to want to answer first.

Even before I go on vacation, I think about my first days back in the office. In my out-of-office autoreply, I mention the date I think I will be answering e-mails again – and make that date several days after I return from vacation. This way, I don’t have to tackle e-mails while in an ‘urgent’ catch-up mood and I can continue to feel rested and relaxed from the vacation I’ve just enjoyed.

Fortunately, as soon as I’m up-to-date again, it’s a breeze to keep my inbox empty each day for the rest of the year.


  1. Learn Outlook Mom said >

    Thank you for the tips on how to empty your inbox on Outlook after the holidays……..after summer vacation my inbox was packed and this helped a lot. Thanks.

  2. Grant said >

    I set up my vacation rule to pass responsibilty for the email back to sender. My rule replies to the sender “Thanks for your message but I am on vacation until (3 days after I return). Your message has been deleted, if it is still important please re-send it to me after I return and I will deal with it then”.

    I usually direct all the incoming email to a vacation folder knowing that I can deal with it in my time and I know that any new email was considered important enough by the sender for them to resend it.

    Sounds tough but it foreces the sender to take responsibility for their email not dump it on your vacation. In practice I find that about 1% of the email is re-sent when I return – obviously I am not very important 😉

  3. A W said >

    You’ve offered great techniques to keep your fingers on the keyboard while navigating Outlook. Is there a way to open an attachment without using a mouse?

  4. Taco Oosterkamp said >

    @AW – in Outlook 2007 you can open a message with the Enter key, then from the Body press Shift-Tab to set the focus on the ‘Message’ rectangle. From there you can use the arrow keys (left, right) to move to the attachment that you’d like to open. Once you have the attachment selected, press Enter again.

    Another way would be to use the ‘right-click key’ that is located right from the spacebar on most modern keyboards. Using that key (or Shift-F10) you can display the context menu for an e-mail item in your inbox (preview window).

    That context menu has an item ‘View Attachments’ which you can easily select by pressing the ‘h’ on your keyboard, once the context menu is displayed. This will open a sub menu, in which you can locate an attachment and press Enter.

    I hope this helps.

    Kind regards,
    Taco Oosterkamp

  5. Taco Oosterkamp said >

    @Learn Outlook Mom – you’re welcome, I’m glad to hear that this article helped you.

    @Grant – I personally don’t like to have the burden of having to inform people twice when they are on vacation put on my shoulders involuntarily. Besides: I don’t think it is wise to insult your customers or friends this way. You don’t want this to be your last paid vacation, after all.

  6. Your Office Back-to-School List « Perks Consulting Blog said >

    […] tips that will help you once you’re back at the office.  You can sort and group all emails by subject, date, and sender. This will give you a quick and easy view of what can go directly into the spam folder and what and […]

  7. Constance said >

    Re: Searching Saved E-mails
    Dear Taco,
    I use the Advanced Search feature to search all my saved e-mails in all folders for particular items. After I frame my search criteria and start the search, I move on to other tasks since the search takes so long. Today I timed it – 343 seconds! Clearly, I can’t sit around waiting for the search to complete, so I move on to other tasks. Is there a way to make the Advanced Search play a tone when it completes? Or pop up on Top of the windows? Or any other idea that will bring it back to my attention after completing the search? (p.s. before you go there, please do not suggest collecting fewer e-mails!! Take it on faith that my work requires maintaining these records. Many of the e-mails are archived using EAS. These archived e-mails are searched too.)

  8. Taco Oosterkamp said >

    Hi Constance,
    I use a different way of archiving (as I describe in my book), so I normally don’t use the Advanced Find feature in Outlook myself.
    But have you tried installing and using Windows Desktop Search (WDS), or Google Desktop? That could save you a lot of time.
    I have 10 years of e-mail archive, so I’m not disputing storing as many e-mails as you want 🙂
    I hope this helps.
    Taco Oosterkamp

  9. Constance said >

    Dear Taco,
    Thank you for the response! I forwarded it to my Information Management team, who said your solution was Elegant. I’ve implemented WDS today and so far am searching at light speed. Thank you!
    p.s. I bought your eBook. Reading it is still on my “Next Action” list.
    One day at a time.

  10. Taco Oosterkamp said >

    Hi Constance, thanks so much for your kind words. I really appreciate that. And glad to hear that you like WDS too. Did you already try Fingertips as well (
    Enjoy the eBook – I’d like to hear what you think when you have finished implementing that stuff.
    Ciao, Taco Oosterkamp

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