Your Email Inbox is an Eyesore

Digital Cleanse Day 22:

Your Email Inbox is an Eyesore

Confession time … how many emails are in your inbox? Be honest. At least with yourself. 

Today, I have 289 items. That’s on the high-side for me. I’m not too worried but I must admit it stresses me out a little. I won’t let those messages hang around for long. By comparison, my husband has just 12 items and an friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) has more than 75,000. How does your inbox compare? 

Email overload is a huge problem. And it’s hard to control. Spam is a problem even with an excellent spam filter. Then there’s any email you’ve subscribed too. Plus all the group emails with the {shudder} reply all phenomenon. And the social media notifications. Let alone the legitimate emails from individuals.

To deal with the mess, I combined my own digital cleanse quest with strategies learned from Steve Dotto plus my interpretation of email bankruptcy. Each time I open my email I do the following things:

  1. Delete spam. I don’t pause to read anything legitimate. I’m on a mission to clear the junk mail that the spam filters missed.
  2. Next, I look at messages from my VIPs. I’ve curated a list of a twenty or so people that get top priority. Any message from them gets automatically filtered into in my VIP inbox.  Some are family (Hi, Dad!) or family related (my son’s school) while others are people I collaborate with frequently.
    • I read each email to absorb the information in it.
    • Then, I take action, if necessary. Reply. Schedule time to reply. Do whatever’s requested and report back. Or whatever’s appropriate.
    • Lastly, I delete or archive each email. (We’ll talk more about archive in a minute.)
  3. Next, I look for anything I need to download and get it started on the download. For me, that’s usually new episodes of my favourite TV shows. Grey’s Anatomy, Mr. Selfridge, Call the Midwife, Castle and The Big Bang Theory are my current top five. Once the download is in progress, I delete the message.
  4. While my downloads are, um, downloading, I read any remaining emails from individuals using the same three steps I use for my VIP messages. Read.  Take action. Archive or delete.
  5. Finally, time permitting, I read any email newsletters, social media notifications, Kickstarter updates or whatever else is leftover.

As part my digital cleanse, I deal with email during two or three set times each day. My first check usually happens while I enjoy my morning cup of tea. And then I check again after lunch. If I’ve got lots of “to read” messages leftover from step five, I’ll add an evening email reading session, too.  I’m also clear on my response times. This gives my work a healthy sense of urgency without a trace of panic.

I also do a bit of weekly email maintenance. I review my inbox for missed messages from VIP senders. I also delete or archive anything that was overlooked during the week. It’s also a time to reflect on my current subscriptions. If I’m several issues behind on a particular email newsletter, I unsubscribe. I also look for email notifications from social networks. In general, I have turned off notifications but those sneaky programmers often turn on new ones that set to send by default.

Email folders listOne my biggest takeaways from Steve Dotto’s Three Steps to Inbox Zero course was the notion of a single, searchable archive. Having used email regularly since 1993, I was in the old-school habit of creating nested folders for all my archived messages.  As per Steve’s advice, I now use a a single folder to archive any email I need to keep. In two years, I’ve archived just 2,934 messages. It’s amazing what you don’t need to keep. And wonderfully easy when you can search that single archive, as needed.

My next big step is to embrace the concept of email bankruptcy. I first learned this concept from Howard Jang, now Professor of Professional Practice at Simon Fraser University. While on vacation, Howard sets a friendly but firm out-of-office auto-reply. Something along the lines of “I’m on vacation until April 22, 2018. When I get back I’ll be deleting all messages in my inbox. If you need to reach me, please resend your message on or after April 23.” Brilliant!

I’ve also heard of people using January 1st as email bankruptcy day. They start the new year with an empty inbox. Friends and colleagues learn that anything unresolved from the previous year has to be resent if it’s still relevant. So often it’s no longer relevant!  I haven’t had the courage to do a full delete but I have done a couple trial runs by deleting the majority of messages from an over-run reply all thread.  So far, I haven’t missed anything important.

To make email work for you, you’ve got to have a system. You’re welcome to use mine as a starting point. I encourage you to adapt it to your work style.

More on the 30 day #digitalcleanse tomorrow. Hope to see you then!

(If you missed yesterday’s installment, take a couple extra minutes to explore Say No. Just No. Practice. For links to the complete Digital Cleanse series, click here.)


Say No. Just No. Practice.

Digital Cleanse Day 21:

Say no. Just No. Practice.

Say no.

Really. Right now. Say it out loud.


And again.

“No. No. No.”

(Just be careful you don’t sound like a whiny preschooler!)


Quote tile: No is a complete sentence. ~ Julie Cole

There’s great power in that two letter word. You can use it to save time, declutter your data, free up your calendar and reduce your reading list. Model these sentences:

  • “No, I don’t want to go to gonna-hurt-tomorrow fitness.”
  • “No, I don’t need to save this 46 GB video clip.”
  • “No, thank you,  I’m unable to attend your event.”
  • “No, I’m not going to read this email newsletter.”

See how that works? It’s powerful, right?  As Julie Cole said at the National Mompreneur conference, “No is a complete sentence.”  Use it often. Use it wisely.

And you can use that power to say no to new social networks. For example, do you Snapchat? You don’t have to. Sure, social media marketing gurus tell you its the latest and greatest thing. And it might turn out to be HUGE.  But you don’t have to be an early adopter. You can say no. If at some later date you realize Snapchat is ideal for your project or business model, then go ahead and change that no to a yes.

Using “no” successfully requires you to be clear on your current priorities. At work, what is your focus? Are you focused on a product launch?  Are you, like me, writing a new book? Are you making family time a priority? Is this a vacation week?  Remember each day you have 86,400 seconds to spend. You get to decide how to spend them. Every “no” frees up seconds for something else that fits your priorities. Keep your time in perspective. Each day you’ll use:

  • 25,200 seconds to sleep
  • 7,200 seconds to commute
  • 5,400 seconds to eat
  • 3,600 seconds to exercise
  • 2,700 seconds to shower, etc.

42,300 seconds remain. That’s 11 hours and 45 minutes. How will you spend your time?

More on the 30 day #digitalcleanse tomorrow. Hope to see you then!

(If you missed yesterday’s installment, take a couple extra minutes to explore Pick Subscriptions that Serve You. For links to the complete Digital Cleanse series, click here.)

Pick Subscriptions That Serve You

Digital Cleanse Day 20:

Pick Subscriptions that Serve you

Please pick subscriptions that serve you! List building is a big marketing trend right now. I think its a great strategy for brands to connect with their ideal customer. [Yes, it’s something I do in my business, too. Note the sign-up box in the sidebar!]  Subscriptions lists can be great for customers, too. Who wouldn’t want to have the latest information (and offers) delivered right to their inbox?

Unfortunately, some businesses are doing it wrong, in my opinion. Too many businesses are gathering any and all email addresses. This leads to some iffy list building strategies. For example, I recently attended a conference. I was disappointed when one of the exhibitors added my email to their email list. Yes, I entered a contest. But putting your card in a bowl doesn’t equal “sign me up”!  The brand did a great job of introducing me to their product with a fun demo. I’m not their target audience but I liked the product. I did some voluntary word-of-mouth advertising to people in the market for their product. I felt good about the brand.  Right up until I got the unwanted email in my inbox. Instant unsubscribe. And now I don’t think as highly of the brand.

[The legalities of list building are different in Canada and the USA which can be a problem, too. I’ll write about that another day.]

Have you ever been subscribed to an email newsletter you didn’t want? As part of your digital cleanse, I’m giving you permission to unsubscribe.  For the next month, think critically about each subscription email that lands in your inbox. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you really want it?
  • Are you still interested in the topic?
  • Do you read every issue?
  • Can you get the information elsewhere?
  • Is the frequency right for you?
  • Does it include great discount codes?
  • Is each email full of information?
  • Do you like how they sell to you?
  • Do you have time to read it?

If your answers are no then its time to unsubscribe. Look for an unsubscribe link in the footer of the email.  Don’t feel badly just do it. The list owner pays to have each name on the list. If you’re not interested then save them some money. Save yourself time, too!  If the subscription stays, now you know why you agreed to get it.

It took me about a month to evaluate all my subscriptions. For every subscription I kept, I unsubscribed from 7 other lists. My inbox was rejuvenated!

I limit myself to a few of my favourite in each of a few categories. Here’s a sampling:

  • business resources
  • favourite events
    • Social Media Camp is my next speaking engagement and one of my all-time favourite conferences.
  • favourite organizations
  • favorite retailers
    • Canadian made Tilley Endurables hats and and clothing keep me on track in my quest to pack light!
  • just for fun
    • My daily comic strip fix with all my favourite comics from Go Comics.

Be very picky about your subscriptions. Each email that hits your inbox just adds to your digital clutter. Once you’ve sorted through the backlog of subscriptions, be vigilant about any new ones that slip into your inbox.

More on the 30 day #digitalcleanse tomorrow. Hope to see you then!

(If you missed yesterday’s installment, take a couple extra minutes to explore Keep an Inspiration File. For links to the complete Digital Cleanse series, click here.)