Don’t Freak Out, Declutter! Part 2
Do horrible feelings of dread muddle your mind as you log into your email? You have 1732 emails stacked up in your in-box, 1200 of them unread! But, you don’t feel too badly about it, your office mate has 3100 emails in his in-box with 2600 unread! One recent client in Reston, VA, recently discovered that three of their employees had allowed their inboxes to reach 7,000, 19,000, and 27,000 emails. And a client in DC, with 60 employees, had some workers who had achieved truly monumental levels with inboxes of 40,000 or more, including one with 97,000 emails.
Declutter your email
Truth: An overloaded Inbox is an accumulation of delayed decisions that often take their toll in additional, and often, insurmountable time and effort.
In many ways, email clutter is worse than paper clutter. You have heard that old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” One hundred thousand emails, if printed, equal a minimum of 20 reams of paper. Or, think of it this way: if one email could be read every ten seconds, it would take 277 hours to read them all. Honestly, will those old emails ever be read? Never!
Adding to the problem, an inbox not only hides information from us, but it does not generally distinguish between the important, the time-sensitive or the inconsequential. Trying to tackle these emails “later” will not only take a devastating hit on your time management, but on your emotions, as well, as you attempt to remove, shovel-full by shovel-full, your mountain of digital information!
What’s a guy or gal to do?
Remember, decluttering is all about keeping things moving.
So, first, create three new temporary folders under your Inbox folder: @To Delete, @To Review and @Follow-up.
By putting an @ at the beginning of the folder names, the new folders sort right beneath the Inbox and above any existing email folders.
Step 1. Move all emails that are 90 days or older into one of your three new folders. Tip: sorting your emails will allow you to make quicker decisions and shorten the time to declutter.
- Sort by Date. If you have emails that are over 6 months old, toss them into @To Delete. You’ll get a chance later to decide if this was a smart thing to do. But right now, getting them out of the Inbox is a smart thing to do!
- Sort by Sender. This way you quickly move, or delete, large groups of emails with just a couple of keystrokes. If you have lots of emails from coworkers that you believe demand special attention or follow-up, move them to @Follow-up.
- Sort by Attachments or Size. This way you can quickly identify files that contain attached documents you suspect you should not delete.
- Sort by Subject Line. This way you can quickly identify emails related to that particular task or threaded topic.
Step 2. Repeat Step 1 for the files less than 90 days old that remain in your inbox. An effective initial goal: keep decluttering until you have 30 days or less in your inbox. A week’s worth of emails? A clutter-free Inbox? Worthy goals, but very hard to achieve!
Step 3. Also, don’t forget that you have a Sent folder and a Deleted folder that can become a virtual space-hog, plus a super time-waster if you are always looking into them. Process and empty them every 90 days, max. Tip: When you send a file that you really need to keep for follow-up, move it to the email folder where you can quickly access it when you need it – such as the @Follow-up folder. Or use your Task or Calendar functions to make them actual reminders.
Step 4. Start tackling the @To Delete folder. This is a temporary folder, so give yourself 30 days to review, then Shift-Del (Outlook’s key command to bypass the Deleted folder and permanently trash that clutter). Invest 5 minutes a day or 30 minutes at the end of the week to work on this folder.
Step 5. Start tackling the @To Review folder. This is a holding place for emails you know you need to take action on but do not have the time at this moment. Every 30 days, Shift-Del any email that is over 90 days old. Invest 5-10 minutes a day or 30-60 minutes at the end of the week to work on this folder.
Decluttering both your paper and digital clutter is a significant accomplishment. Decluttering is the first, indispensable step in getting organized.
So how do you stay decluttered?
Schedule time for ongoing maintenance. It only takes minutes a day to stay decluttered – yes, minutes.
Check out our one-minute maintenance strategy.
A decluttered mind is a natural by-product of a clutter-free space. You will feel rejuvenated and empowered every time you enter your office and sit down at your desk.
Your cubicle work space and email Inbox will be the talk of your coworkers, maybe even the entire department.
Enjoy the praise. You earned it – the old fashioned way.