One Bag Nation

Reducing Email Clutter

Posted on: May 28, 2008

There’s a lot of chatter on the productivity blogs about “processing your inbox to zero” and how to manage email overload. I decided that poor David Allen would hyperventilate if he saw my inbox, so I took a crack at it, and began by ruthlessly deleting mail after mail. Most of those emails represented indecision and/or procrastination; I figured if I hadn’t done anything about them for several weeks, I never would – so away they went into cyberspace.

I was able to reduce the number of emails in my inbox from 200+ to under 10. As we speak, there are 10 read (but not processed) emails awaiting my attention. Some examples of what I’m now avoiding:

  • a baby shower invitation
  • an email from a cousin which includes his siblings’ email addresses – which I need
  • an invitation to a political fundraiser
  • a request from Budget rental cars inviting me to create a profile – for fabulous discounts, of course!

One rule I try to live by when dealing with email is to never sit down at the computer without my calendar. So many emails require checking on dates and times and it’s so much easier to just look, decide and delete right on the spot. Of course this doesn’t help with the guilt of wanting to say no to something – I deal with that by procrastinating!

I get quite a few promotional emails from online retailers; I don’t unsubscribe because I’m waiting for the free shipping promotions – I wear petites which are not usually available in “bricks and mortar” stores, so I order online a lot and I try not to pay shipping if I can avoid it. I’m pretty good about deleting those right away if they aren’t offering free shipping.

I’m about to unsubscribe from Daily Candy. While I have to admire the founder for her ingenuity (a daily email focusing on just one topic or product), they’re all about consuming, and they have this weirdly smug tone-of-voice that I find annoying. And let’s be serious, I’ll never buy a $400 purse . . . so DC is going away today.

I do make use of folders to store emails; I have way too many I’m sure, but the ones I’m finding useful now are my Summer 08 folder (vacation and camp info); my Hours folder where I keep the emails I send to my employer (if I ever work instead of blog); and my Daisy Scout folder (I’m one of the co-leaders).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your email inbox, take a quick look (remember you can spend just five minutes on this to start) and maybe set a goal of deleting anything that’s older than three months, or 10% of the entire contents – something arbitrary but quantifiable so you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment.

For me the payoff is as high as clearing my desk or decluttering the linen closet – give it a try!

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5 Responses to "Reducing Email Clutter"

Ann, you are so right! I also find that when my email gets cluttered it is largely due to indecision or procrastination. I switched over to Gmail a couple of months ago and now I filter things and use labels sparingly. I have a few dumping places – like newsletters – and I can get things out of my inbox and deal with it later (which usu means deleting in one fell swoop). Some days I’m really good, I read, act and delete or file. Other days…not so much. Thanks for sharing your system, very helpful!.

Karen,
It has given me such a boost not to have all those emails unattended to. Like you, I’m better on some days than others – I guess we’re human! Thanks for commenting.

I have a love/hate relationship with e-mail. I love a good personal e-mail. I hate how quickly they turn into reminders of things I haven’t done.

I would love to have a nice clean email inbox but unfortunately I keep needing to reference old emails. I’ve got some folders set up in my Outlook at work, but I still have at least 200 emails just sitting there that I can’t figure out what to do with. I tried making monthly folders that I shove everything into, but it’s hard to locate things that way.

Meags,
I would first take the time to go through those emails and transfer as much info as you can to your to-do list and calendar. You may find that some of them are too old to be useful anymore.

I have subject folders for emails I want to keep: school, girl scouts, job search, books & movies, that sort of thing. I find it much easier to retrieve them by subject than by date.

Hope this helps!

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