This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series 7 Days to Inbox Zero

If you’re following 7 days to an empty inbox, you have set up three “systems needed” folders, which you’ve used to stow e-mail messages that didn’t hit your inbox in the first place. One of these folders was “unsubscribe needed”: a folder full of messages sent by e-mail lists and bulk e-mail systems that you don’t want to hear from, ever. This folder is the easiest one to process, and we’re going to whip through it right now.

Here’s how to get through your “unsubscribe needed” folder, one e-mail at a time.

  1. Plan A: Look for a link in the e-mail that says something like “click here to unsubscribe”. It’s typically at the bottom of the e-mail, and may be somewhat buried in the footer. ¬†Any bulk e-mail system is supposed to provide that link. Find it, and click on it.
    Screenshots of 4 different e-mails with unsubscribe links

    Sample unsubscribe links

    Note: Be careful when handling any message that feels like spam. If you’re dealing with an e-mail that you don’t remember signing up for, you may be looking at a phishing e-mail: something that exists specifically to elicit your e-mail address or other personal information. Read this blog post for more on how to spot phishing e-mails, and when to be cautious about clicking “unsubscribe”.

  2. Plan B: If the unsubscribe link doesn’t work, try troubleshooting: If you have multiple e-mail addresses, unsubscribe problems may arise if you click the unsubscribe link on an message that was sent to one address, then forwarded to another (though many unsubscribe systems now handle this problem very well). You may be able to look at the “message source” or “long headers” in the e-mail to figure out which e-mail address you used to subscribe to the newsletter in the first place, and enter that in the unsubscribe field.
  3. Plan C: If you can’t find an unsubscribe link, or it’s an e-mail from someone you know (that cousin who likes to forward joke e-mails), reply to the message with a polite, personal e-mail explaining that you are trying to thin out your e-mail, and asking to be removed from the distribution list for this kind of message.
  4. Plan D: If the unsubscribe link doesn’t work, or doesn’t exist, or you feel awkward asking your cousin to cease and desist, you can filter those unwanted e-mails and send them directly to your trash. As you can see from filter #1 in my set of sample Gmail filters, I occasionally set up filters that are designed to catch and delete messages from lists from which I’ve been able to unsubscribe. See my upcoming post on the steps to creating Gmail filters for tips on how to make sure your filter is working effectively.

It may take a little while to plow your way through the unsubscribe needed pile, but it’s brainless enough that you can enjoy a multi-taskable TV show to cope with the tedium.

In the future, you can limit your backlog by looking for an unsubscribe link on any message you have no interest in reading or receiving in future. If the link works, great: you’re done! If not you can either troubleshoot immediately, or stick it in your “unsubscribe” folder to troubleshoot or filter later. If you have an assistant, ask him/her to periodically check your unsubscribe folder and unsubscribe you from whatever is waiting there. If you are your own assistant, plow through your unsubscribe folder every week or two, while enjoying an episode of multi-taskable TV.

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