I look at my inbox and feel stress. It operates as a list of “to dos” staring me in the face. So every night before I leave work, I take a minute to delete as much as I can. It often means that I am at work for a few more minutes. Sometimes longer — tonight I stuck around until 7. But it keeps me on top of things. In the morning, when I wake up, I know that all of those emails lighting up my phone are new and needing my attention. When my inbox gets out of control, I feel life around me start to get chaotic, too.
That feeling when you get to zero emails in the inbox? It’s nirvana. It’s better than chocolate cake. Probably not quite as good as my mom’s sugar cookies with buttercream frosting. But almost.
My methods are:
- Delete, delete, delete. If it is done, get it out of the inbox. I rarely permanently delete emails because of this — when I do, I just don’t delete the past month.
- For emails that can’t be deleted, file away. I have a file for every project and subject I deal with. I’ve heard this actually reduces productivity, but with Outlook and Gmail I can easily search through them if I’ve ever forgotten where I put something. The dump-all ends up being “interoffice” — for those emails from HR or the notes about what is OK for the recycling bins. You know, the emails you know you are some point going to be glad you saved.
- Respond to almost everything, but keep it short and sweet. No need to write a novel.
- Unsubscribe to newsletters and eblasts from companies, instead of deleting them every day. Cuts down on clutter.
- Set up auto-filters. I love this. If I have an ongoing project, I just set up an auto-filter with Outlook. I have every email that Twitter or Pinterest sends me go to this. Things that I only need if I am going through a report go straight to a filter.
If you need more tips, I think the first thing that clued me into how satisfying email organization could be was Lifehacker. They cover email productivity like a beat — here’s a good article. And here are five more tips. Basically, when you get a message, make a decision on what needs to be done and do it — respond, delete, file. Then do it. If it requires a longer response, I will open up the email and just make sure I get to it before the end of the day — I can’t turn off my computer if I have an open email.
Most boring blog post ever? Certainly. And the husband is going to laugh at me because he has emails from 2009 in his inbox. So clearly having an empty inbox is not everyone’s idea of a perfect world. But I wanted to know what keeps you organized — because the rest of my life is just not as smooth (possibly because I stay at work until 7 p.m. organizing my inbox!). So tell me, how do you reach organization nirvana?
Photo: unsourced on Pinterest. It was better than any “inbox stress” photo that popped up on Creative Commons. Trust me.