It’s true. I’m a bit of a digital hoarder. Guess what? I am in no way alone.
With the advent of cheap, easy storage, more and more people are saving files, photos, movies, documents and of course…emails!
Every year in January, Google promotes an annual “Clean Out Your Inbox Week.” And I think it’s a darn fine way to start the new year!
While hoarding of the digital variety won’t bring pests or cause accidents, like we see in physical hoarding, digital clutter can be just as anxiety-producing as visual clutter.
Read on for tips to manage and prevent inbox overload.
C’mon! You knew this was going to be first on the list. But it doesn’t have to be painful. Depending on how bad your mailbox is, start with the low-hanging fruit.
Set your timer for 10 minutes and archive your messages by size. Then delete as many big ones as you can part with.
Next, archive them by sender and bulk delete all the daily Groupons, LinkedIn newsletters, professional association updates and such that have built up. If a message is old and unread, just accept you’re not ever going to read it, delete it and move on.
If you’re like me and have a relatively actionable inbox, but huge “sent” and “deleted” files (hey! more than once I have been delighted to find an old message containing a contact email I need, or proof of a detail that I need to reference), try to make a dent in those as well. Purge by size and/or sender, empty the trash and move on.
Make this 10 minute deleting a routine part of your schedule to keep up on it. (I like to do it while on phone calls where I only have to be minimally “present.”)
Yes, just as you don’t need junk mail cluttering up your physical mailbox, neither do you need junk email cluttering up your inbox.
The most common form of email junk mail is from online merchants. We understand that everyone needs to make a buck, but opening up your inbox and seeing 25 messages for Red Envelope and Macy’s can make your day seem overwhelming before you even start.
If you’re like me, it seems easier to just hit delete than to just actually unsubscribe. Trust me…it’s not. Most reputable merchants allow one click unsubscribe and I can almost guarantee you will never miss the missives. If you find that you really are missing out on the latest flash sale, it’s easy enough to resubscribe.
Ditto daily deal sites, especially if you subscribe to multiples. However, if you feel your life will not be complete if you don’t know about the BOGO sale at Kohls.com (24 hours only!) or 50 percent off a month of boot camp, it’s easy enough to open a separate email and have all of them go directly there. Just don’t forget to check it regularly if you really, really want to use that Kohls cash.
A friend of mine set up a satellite email that she encourages all of us to use as our address when we make online purchases. ([email protected])
Who knows what all is lurking in that email box, but at the least, we know that if something doesn’t arrive on time, there is an actual email folder where our confirmation resides.
This is one of those tasks that takes a long time, but is so worth it when you are done. Beware: just as it feels satisfying to buy hundreds of dollars worth of cool baskets and organizing systems at the Container Store, it can feel productive to create dozens of folders.
However, before you embark on a system that’s way too complicated to uphold, go broader for a few weeks before you decide if it will stick.
For example, you might find that “The Purple Project” is header enough, without further subdividing into reports, client communication and background research.
In other words, make sure that the system is not too complicated for you to live with or it will defeat the purpose.
4. Enlist Technology
There are tools that will sort your email before it even comes in. They flag ones from your boss or key client with a special chime, or put someone on a blacklist so their emails never come in. (Google your email client server, i.e. Outlook, and “tools” to find out more.)
I don’t trust anyone as much as me in the sorting department so I have not used these but I know many professionals who find them highly efficient.
Another option for missives you want to keep but don’t need “live” is to send them to the cloud. Popular solutions are Dropbox.com; Evernote.com; or my personal favorite: my Gmail account where it can live in their cloud forever, off my radar, but available should I ever need it.
5. Keep It Clean
Your email doesn’t have to be pristine, as in empty, but it also doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Though there are many theories of the relative efficiency of dealing with emails all at once rather than as a piecemeal distraction throughout the day, I find that acting on an email as soon as you receive it is the best way to manage. If it’s a newsletter, take a moment to read and delete. If it’s meeting minutes, review while you’re on hold, send to the appropriate folder and move on.
Even though in today’s data-centric world we think of data space as being relatively free, our “mind space” is not. A clean, workable email box is just as satisfying as a clean, workable desktop.
How do you deal with email overload?
by Cathie Ericson