Monday, April 12, 2010

Upgrade Your Life Chapter #1: Control Your Email

As I recently mentioned... I have a clutter problem and have started to address it by doing a digital decluttering and working through the Upgrade Your Life book by Gina Trapani.  Chapter #1 is entitled "Control Your Email."

I am ashamed to admit that until yesterday, my beloved yahoo mailbox inbox had nearly 1,300 unread messages.  Apparently, it's not only my physical environment that's cluttered!

Don't get me wrong... I stay on top of my personal and professional admin tasks.  My Outlook e-mail at the office is actually impressively organized.  Coworkers often come to me saying "do you still have that e-mail that..." and it's a rare request that I can't quickly help them recover.  My messages are responded to, my calendar is detailed, organized and complied with, my deadlines are met, my bills are paid, my financial records are maintained in impeccable detail.

But in my personal email box, I simply did not organize or dispose of much after I read it... or decided I might read it, or need it someday.  But I am proud to say that today my e-mail box looks like this:

Yes, that figure in the trash folder is no mistake.  I really did delete nearly 6,500 messages.  This gives you an idea of the scope of the problem I had to attack.
My strategy: I sorted the inbox by sender and did a major blast delete of immediately identifiable irrelevant topics/senders and moved all of what was left - about 1,450 messages - to a folder called "e-mail bankruptcy."  This idea comes from a recent post at Lifehacker which recommends that if you have let your e-mail get out of control, you should "declare bankrupcty" - even to the extent of sending out a distribution e-mail to people telling them about the bankruptcy, apologizing, and asking that if there are unanswered items requiring follow up from you, to please resend the request.  Frankly that last step horrifies me, and fortunately isn't necessary as I haven't dropped the ball on actions or replies, only organization.  But the e-mail bankrupcty concept frees me from the self-imposed imperative to go through and classify or assess the importance of the remaining old messages.  Bless Yahoo for unlimited storage!

Also following the advice of a Lifehacker post, I have embarked upon an e-mail triage system in which absolutely no messages are left in the inbox after you first read it.  For each and every message that is read you either: 
  1. delete it;
  2. respond to it and a) delete it or b) place it in the Hold folder* - which is a sort of purgatory for messages that don't need to be retained permanently, but are important for right now (like an order tracking number);
  3. place it in a Follow-up folder* and (this is key) add an item to your to-do list; or
  4. place it in an Archive folder for permanent retention.
* Key to success with this system is a periodic and relatively frequent purge of these two folders.
    I've been guilty of marking items unread and using those items in my inbox as sort of to-do list in addition to my actual to-do list. This means I have to monitor two action item lists, the second of which requires scanning the inbox for items I've read but not addressed, while remembering to read the new items and skipping through items that should have been placed in the Hold or Archive folders.  Commencing use of a system like this should make me marginally more efficient, as well as more organized.   I'm excited about this "reboot" for my personal message management.  My inbox at work is actually pretty minimal, but I will now commit to maintaining an empty e-mail box at all times both personally and professionally... and am one step closer to an organized life.

    Next step: Chapter 2 - Organize Your Data

    What about you - do you have any tips on how you control your e-mail and keep it organized?  Or can you totally relate to having over 8,000 message sitting around gathering digital dust?


    1. I am a terrible, terrible filer - both physically and in email. I really need to get organized. And I definitely let things sit as a to-do list in my inbox. These are good ideas! Thanks!

    2. OMG I so love you for this post! This is hands down my worst work habit, and I totally use my inbox as a TO DO list. I need to declare email bancruptcy, stat! Love the concept! Thanks for the motivation to do something about this this week.

    3. The compulsive organizer in me loves this post!

      A clean and organized inbox is one of the most satisfying things in (my) life.

    4. Oh man, I remember purging my inbox it felt soooo good. Then it was uncontrolable a week later! If I was to do it again, I would unsubscribe to things until I got into good habits, so I didn't get overwhelmed. Thanks for this post...perhaps I will tackle my inbox again! (PS in reply to your comment on my blog, I am sooo impressed that you were able to sew a suit! wow! Even though you think you have lost it, I bet it will come back to you the more you do it!)

    5. Keenie, thank you for your words yesterday. I am going to take a bit of a break for awhile. Will be back online soon. :)