Planning tips 8. Clear your inbox
I discovered the value of clearing my inbox a few years ago after a bereavement. I returned to work and sat at my desk feeling totally overwhelmed by all of the email. I put my head in my hands and cried. A colleague came along at that moment*. She kindly offered to have a look at what was important or not. Later she apologised and said she’d only been able to delete obvious junk, left what she recognised as important in the inbox, and put the rest in a folder for ‘later’. Yes, I still had lots of email but she'd made a massive difference to me. You don’t have to suffer a major life event to feel over-whelmed by email or simply want a better way of dealing with your email. You only have to see the number of unread emails mounting over a weekend or whilst you’re on holiday to know that you cannot possibly read all of them, (and no you shouldn’t read them during your holiday, or you’ll burn out).
But how do you spot the rubbish, what needs action and what might be important ? You could just start at the top and work your way down, or you could be clever…..
Top tips for clearing your inbox.
Organise your email alphabetically.
This allows you to see and delete those emails from organisations that send you a lot of emails, only some of which are interesting. You know, those inviting you to a conference that you’re not interested in. Or, allowing you to see quickly the conference you are interested in amongst all the others. It also allows you to prioritise whose emails you will read – your boss, your supervisor, editor, best friend.
Group your conversations or organise by subject.
My email at home does this automatically but I prefer to use this function only after I’ve organised by date and sender. I have colleagues who prefer it the other way round.
Create folders and rules.
Most email accounts will allow you to create folders and rules for incoming (and outgoing mail). I get a lot of email from services that I rarely want to engage with, however I find the connection valuable. I have created rules that send emails from these organisations into a named folder.
Create a CC’d folder for the email that you are copied into.
This is my favourite tip because when an email appears in your inbox you can’t tell if you are the main addressee or if you are just copied in for info. I once worked for an institution where everyone copied everyone else in to everything. It was extremely stressful and wasted an awful lot of time. If you create a rule that sends email where you are CC’d it tells you exactly that; you’re just copied in. This is a folder that you need to pay attention to, but you can choose when. Note also that list-serves and junk don’t cc you – they go into your inbox (if you haven’t created a rule for them), cluttering up your email making it difficult to see what’s important. Your cc’d folder will have virtually no clutter or junk, making it really easy to see what your colleagues are doing and want you to know about.
Be aware that there is a slim chance that you will occasionally forget about this folder (especially if you have lots of folders) and you MIGHT miss something important. I have found that the risk of this is far outweighed by the very real benefits of creating this rule and folder.
Don’t create too many folders.
It can make it more difficult to find things. How many is too many? Only you will know. I have read that you only need 2! Your inbox and your ‘Later’ folder. Use your search functions to find things, don’t use loads of folders with similar sounding names. I wouldn’t limit to just 2 but next time I change jobs I’m going to just have 4.
Ultimately, use the tools that email host provides.
Just don’t try and get used to them all at once. Be systematic.
New tools appear all the time – some you can choose, others are thrust upon you. I hate it when that happens. Breathe! And then plan 5 or so minutes to really understand the features. Common sense yes, but common sense is suppressed when we are panicking or are overwhelmed, or frustrated, so don’t dismiss these ideas. One day you might just need them.
Good luck and enjoy the lack of clutter in your life.
Thank you Liz Bond.