This morning, as I attempted to start work, I opened my email and once again was faced with reality. I have over 2,ooo emails that need my attention. And that is just one of my email accounts. There have been times when I’ve had even more than that (LOTS more!) and I managed to clean up my inbox, but who has the time to do that every few weeks? Do you keep your inbox cleaned up on a regular basis? Well, if you do, I’m impressed! I simply can’t keep up with it. So once again I find myself worrying about all of the people who have emailed me, with messages frequently arriving when I am not working (I do take a day off occasionally!), or when I’m out of town, or when I’m sick and can’t even bear to look at the computer screen. That’s when it happens . . . .
When I finally get back to work after a short time away from the computer, I am faced with an overflowing inbox, often with important messages that I really do want to read and I really do want to reply to. Of course, there are always the piles and piles of “junk mail” that could just be deleted – if I even had time to do that! Feeling overwhelmed with hundreds of unread emails gives me a bit of anxiety and a sense of guilt that I cannot, I simply cannot, reply to any of those messages, not even the important ones RIGHT NOW. Especially if I’ve been away from work for a day or two, by then I have a million and one other things that are requiring my attention. Things like writing, editing, and publishing deadlines, where real people are really expecting me to do something by a specified time. So, once again, off I go to work on the projects that are looming over my ever-ticking clock in my brain, counting down the days, hours, and minutes until the final deadline arrives. That sounds rather ominous!
Today as I was waiting for one of my students to “arrive” in our online classroom, and feeling rather overwhelmed (again!) with all of the unanswered emails that I just can’t keep up with, I decided to take action! Since I have to sit here and wait anyway (of course there are about a million other things I COULD work on), I thought it would be a good time to see if I could figure out a solution to my dilemma. Even if I’m the only one who has this problem, I need to figure this out. And hopefully it might be helpful to someone else, as well. I’d love to hear your experience with an overflowing inbox . . . in your spare time, of course!
After reading a few other articles on the herculean task of taming my inbox, I found a few suggestions that seem manageable for me. At least this is a good place to start. I wanted actionable tasks that I could put on my To Do list and cross off once they were completed. Today I’m getting started! Here are a few ideaas that I found that might be helpful. At least, I’m going to give them a try.
1. UNSUBSCRIBE! I’ll admit I’ve tried this before, but somehow when I click on the “unsubscribe” button, it doesn’t always seem to “take.” Because the next time time I open that particular inbox, there they are again. According to an article on HubSpot:
“The easiest way to maintain inbox zero? Get less email. The very first step to achieve an emptier inbox is unsubscribing from every single email list that doesn’t provide you with value on a regular basis.
In fact, my recommendation is to unsubscribe from everything. Take a few days to let it sink in, and then re-subscribe only to the newsletters you really, truly miss. In this step, you might consider converting any daily digests you used to follow to weekly ones.
While unsubscribing manually from tens — hundreds? — of newsletters one by one sounds tedious, there are tools out there that can help you do it in just a few clicks. Unroll.me is my personal favorite: It’s a free tool that lets you mass unsubscribe from all the newsletters you don’t read. You can either unsubscribe from everything at once (my recommendation), or you can pick and choose.”
2. ARCHIVE! This is one that I’ve tried, as well, but I still can’t seem to keep up. I guess I need to just devote a block of time to get myself organized. Here’s some useful information from an article on Boomerang entitled, “6 Simple Steps to Get (and Keep) Your Inbox Under Control.”
“This is a BIG step, but we promise that you’ll feel a huge load off of your shoulders after you complete this one. Start by archiving all emails that are older than 30 days without reviewing them. Remember, you’re not deleting them, you’re only moving them out of your inbox into another folder. All of your emails are still there. If you’re on Gmail you can verify this by clicking on the folder called ‘All Mail.’ If you need to find something, you can always search for it. Go through the remaining emails over the next few days, taking them on in batches – respond (and archive), delete, or archive each of them.
Note: Archiving has a slightly different meaning in Outlook. In Outlook, it’s a term used for backup and reducing data file size. Outlook users can achieve the Gmail-like version of archiving by creating a new folder called “Old Mail” or “Done” and moving all of your old mail to this folder.”
3. ORGANIZE! Again, there will be a bit of a time investment for this one, but it sure will be nice to open my inbox and not have to sort through a thousand or more emails to find the ONE that I need. I have a bunch of folders for the different projects that I work on regularly, but I frequently get so far behind that I simply don’t slow down long enough to “file” the emails I need to keep in their proper folders, so I keep stumbling over them. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Stop it! Here’s what Entrepreneur.com has to say about this task:
“Although a majority of emails can be deleted, you’ll most likely want to retain messages related to key aspects of your business. Correspondence between clients, colleagues and employees can help clarify any miscommunications. Most email programs let users mark messages with specific labels or categories.
Prioritize, group, sort and file messages to keep your inbox organized. The better your filing system, the easier it will be to locate specific emails when you need them. Create parent categories for broad subjects such as the following: clients, projects and finances.”
4. STOP IT! Back in the day when our phones were attached to the wall and there was a cord that limited our mobility while using said phone . . . . most of us felt obligated to answer the silly thing every time it rang. Partly because we were curious about who would be calling (no caller ID then, either), and part of the motivation was because we felt that we “owed” that courtesy to whomever decided to pick up their end of the telephone line and interrupt us, no matter what we were doing. Eventually, when I had a houseful of little kids who could do more damage in a three minute phone call than a herd of feral cats climbing the living room curtains, I realized that what I was doing was probably just as important as whatever it was that the person on the other end of the telephone line was up to. So I stopped feeling obligated to answer the phone every time it rang.
Of course, I was still curious, but comforted myself with the fact that A.) if it was important they would call back, or 2.) it probably was someone I didn’t want to talk to anyway, or 3.) if it was an emergency, I would soon have a knock at my door informing me that my house was on fire. Or whatever. Now days we have caller ID (or “private” or “blocked” means I didn’t want to talk to you anyway) so we can decide if we want to answer the phone right this very minute or not. Or we can just turn the ringer off. Solved that problem!
But with emails, there still seems to be this strange obsession (or curiosity) that compels us to read and answer every single email. So just stop it! The article in HubSpot suggests that we change our thinking about our email inbox: “Part of maintaining a manageable inbox — and your sanity — is to change the way you think about email a little bit. Only you can decide what deserves your very limited time and attention. When it comes to email, understand that there’s simply no way you’ll be able to respond to every single email that arrives in your inbox, let alone read them all.
I love the way Merlin Mann puts it: “Stop thinking of emails like precious family heirlooms, and start treating ’em like pints of milk. Perishable, time-stamped milk that becomes a little less fresh every day until it smells kind of funny and just needs to be dumped. Believe me, there will always be more coming.”
So if you’re looking at an email and know in your heart of hearts you’re never going to respond to it, archive it. Better yet, delete it. As Mann says, “Trust your instincts, listen to them, and stop trying to be perfect.”
So, guess what’s on my To Do list today??? Along with several other projects, including writing, editing, publishing, and teaching deadlines, I am going to set my little timer on my phone (they really are good for SOME things!) for about 15 or 20 minutes and start cleaning up my inbox. What about you? Isn’t it time you addressed that overflowing inbox? Let me know how it goes!