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.)