Digital Clean Up! Seven Steps to Conquer Your Email Inbox
As a Type A person, I cannot abide having an unruly email inbox. And by unruly, I mean more than 25 emails. The thought of more than 25 emails lurking in my inbox gives me the creeps!
Staying on top of that digital clutter, though, is a challenge. Here are the tips and strategies I use to keep my inbox clean.
1. Decide on how many email accounts you want.
I landed on the number three.
I have a separate email for finances. All of my banking and retirement accounts are routed through this one email. I never give this email out to anyone other than a financial institution. Never! As a result, this account doesn't get spam and has a better chance of not getting hacked. No system is perfect, but I want to try to make my financial information as secure as possible.
Then I have my email for this blog. I route all of my blog newsletter subscriptions through this email as well. While I like keeping up with news from other bloggers, I don't want those emails clogging up my general email account. Most of the newsletters I subscribe to in a weekly digest form, which I get on Saturday and Sunday. I usually just take a little time on my weekend to scan through the newsletters and see what people are up to.
Lastly, I have my general email account, which handles all of my other correspondence. This is one that can get unruly if I don't stick to my strategies.
2. Adjust your email settings so you like how your inbox looks.
I use gmail, so I like the Comfortable setting. It adds more white space around each email line making everything easier to read. If you go to the gear icon in the top right of gmail, you'll see the options for Display Density. Choose Comfortable for maximizing the white space.
Then decide on how many emails you want on one page of your email inbox. I decided that 25 was the highest number of emails that I should have skulking in my inbox at any given time, so I went to the gear icon, chose Settings and next to Maximum Page Size, opted for 25.
Whatever email program you're using, adjust the settings so that you're not straining your eyes. Make your reading experience as easy as possible. It just makes breezing through your inbox hat much quicker.
3. Create a folder system for your inbox.
Potential folder subjects?
- respond later
I have some folders that I know I'll delete as soon as I'm done with a project. Other folders I keep much longer, but I prune from them as time goes by. For instance, in my bills folder, I delete old utility bills that are at least one year old.
Since I've moved several times, I usually keep a folder for business within that city. Right now, I still have a Denver folder. When I hit the one-year mark for being out of Denver, I'll delete that folder. I still have the contact information for HR people, my old landlord, and the like, but I don't need the actual correspondence.
Create a folder system and use it. Of course you have emails you need to keep, but not all o them have to be in your inbox contributing to digital chaos.
4. Unsubscribe. Mercilessly!
I am very particular about what promotional emails I will allow into my inbox. And for how long the promotional emails will be welcome.
When My Person and I were shopping for furniture and some kitchenware, I was subscribed to Crate and Barrel, CB2, World Market, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and a few other businesses. I was getting email from some of these companies every day or nearly every day.
Their emails were irritating and a nuisance.
As soon as we knew we were done with creating our cocoon, I unsubscribed from every one of those companies. Being a minimalist who's adopted digital organization, I don't see the point in voluntarily subjecting myself to additional advertising. If My Person and I decide that we need to shop around for something in the future, I'll subscribe thoughtfully and temporarily to whatever companies we're considering buying from.
Recently, I signed up for BookBub's daily alert for e-book deals. BookBub has many more e-book deals, including free e-books than Amazon. So far, I have not seen a book that I would want. I'm giving BookBub another couple of weeks to impress me. If I don't spot a deal that I consider worthwhile, then I'll unsubscribe. I don't need to be wasting my time scanning their list of books that I don't find to my liking, even with my preferred genres checked off.
I am merciless with the unsubscribing. I donate to some charities, sometimes in memoriam. If I choose to donate to that charity again, then it will be on my terms. I don't want their email solicitations. As soon as I get one email from a charity asking for my help again, I find that tiny unsubscribe link and click away.
Bottom line: If I barely look at certain emails and almost automatically hit delete, then I'm not finding value in that subscription. My solution is to unsubscribe.
5. Adjust your social media notifications.
I asked myself, "Do I really need to know about every new Twitter follower or when someone sends me a direct message?"
Social media can be a huge time suck. And when I had my social media set to alert me by email every time something new happened, I was getting easily distracted.
Instead of receiving email notifications for every post and update, I just check the updates when I'm on that social media site. I find this strategy keeps me focused when I'm trying to work.
6. Maintain a streamlined inbox.
When I read email, I decide immediately how long it will take to write a response. If it's five minutes or less, I write the response right then. Just do it. And be done. Send.
If my response will need to be longer and more thoughtful, I'll either leave it in my inbox to see later that day and respond when I have more time, or I move the email into my Respond Later folder. I check this folder every few days, so these emails tend to be more personal. If I'm catching up with a friend, then I have some time to throw that email into a folder and come back to it in a few days.
If I read an email that doesn't need a response, then I either delete it or put it into a folder.
I do keep a folder called Temporary for emails about events that I may want to refer to again. I like subscribing to local email lists for community centers, theaters, art programs, galleries, museums, and the like. I want to know what events are happening and if I rely on my news sources, I may miss something. I prune this folder every few weeks. And I re-evaluate my local email subscriptions about once a year. If I've been getting a museum's newsletter for a year and I have not visited them once, then I consider unsubscribing.
7. Allow yourself time to get your system into place.
A few years ago, I was trying to keep up with my email by maintaining order once a week. The number of emails in my inbox just kept growing because I frequently forgot to do a weekly purge and I was subscribed to entirely too many updates, newsletters, and the like.
When I finally came to terms with the reality that my system wasn't working, I thought about what would work for me, which is the system outlined here. I initiated that system as a means for going forward in a positive direction.
And as far as my old emails went, I set aside five minutes a day to go through the older messages. It took me several days, but knowing that I was purging just a little at a time gave me just enough encouragement to keep at it. Eventually my inbox was down to my goal of 25 messages.
Does my inbox ever get above 25? Of course it does. But seeing that older emails have migrated to a Page 2 is just a clean out reminder. As Mad Eye Moody reminds us, "Constant Vigilance!"
What strategies do you use to keep your inbox manageable? Please share in the comments!