Ditching the Digital Clutter: E-mail

1197149991928309730zeimusu_Thumbtack_note_email.svg.thumbWell, the sixty photo albums are going to have to wait because I was inspired to focus on something else.  I planned on dealing with this after I finished the house, but after I saw Marie Kondo’s post about tidying up your laptop, I decided to shift gears.  Time to tackle your digital clutter.

The clutter around our homes is easy to see – drawers that won’t close, counters covered with stuff, closets overflowing.  But digital clutter?  Well, just close your laptop or shut down the computer and poof – it’s gone – but not really.  The problem with digital clutter is that it doesn’t take up physical space, so we’re less likely to feel the need to tidy it up. But the reality is, storage space is limited and at some point, you will have to pare down. Clearing out old files now and staying on top of it could mean that maybe, just maybe, you won’t get those annoying “device storage almost full” messages ever again.

I want to talk about e-mail first because that’s the one thing that almost everyone has – and most of us probably have more than one account.  I’m going to consider e-mail to be the digital equivalent of clothing in the KonMari method. There probably isn’t a lot you’ll be emotionally attached to, and once you get going, it should be easy to determine which messages need to stay and which need to go. On the upside, clicking “delete” is a lot easier than filling trash bags.

You MUST Have a Personal E-mail Account

If the only e-mail account you have is the one you were given at work, you are making a huge mistake.  Yes, it may be more convenient and is one less password you have to remember, but your work e-mail is not private.  The account belongs to your company and so do all of your messages. So, instead of trying to remember if there is something in your account that you would prefer your boss and the IT guy NOT see, set up a free account through Yahoo, Google, or your home internet provider.

Inbox Overload

First as an Instructional Technology Facilitator and then as an Instructional Media Specialist, I spent fifteen years working with teachers on technology. Part of my job was also technical support, so I often had occasion to get on a teacher’s computer to do some troubleshooting.  I thought I had seen it all until the day I saw over 25,000 messages in one teacher’s inbox.  You read that right – twenty-five THOUSAND.  I’m hoping no one reading this is in the same boat, but if you have even hundreds of emails in your inbox, I’ve got news for you – you are NEVER going to read them. So let’s tackle this inbox KonMari style; the basics will be the same discard (or in this case “delete”), then organize, but we want to make sure we don’t get rid of the important e-mails that might be lurking.

  • Sort Keep from Trash
    • All e-mail systems have a way to create a new folder under your inbox, though they might call it something different. (Gmail refers to them as “labels”.)  Create a new folder/label and name it “Keep”.  This is where we are going to temporarily store the messages that you don’t want to get rid of.
    • To locate those messages, use your e-mail client’s search feature.  You can search the sender’s name or the subject of the message if you remember it.  In some cases you might have access to an advanced search that allows you to narrow down parameters even further (such as by date), which is especially helpful if you have a lot of emails that fit that search criteria.
    • Once you’ve found the message(s) you want, click to select each and drag over to your “Keep” folder.  Return to your full inbox, and repeat as many times as necessary to retrieve the messages you want.
    • All that remains in your inbox now should be trash.  Typically there are ways to select all the messages you can see – do that and start trashing!  It may take a while, but you will feel so much better as you see those items disappear.
  • Organize
    • You need to create folders/labels so that you have a place to put the messages that you want to keep so that your inbox doesn’t grow to huge proportions again.  Go into your “Keep” folder and look for multiples.  Any person, entity, or subject that you have multiple messages from should have its own folder.
    • Create those folders the same way you created your “Keep” one.  When you’ve got all the folders you need, open up the “Keep” folder and drag the messages to their new homes.
    • When the “Keep” folder is empty, delete it.  This will (hopefully) eliminate any temptation you have to use it as a holding tank for messages you want to deal with later.
  • The Trash is NOT a Holding Tank Either
    • The trash can is not a place to store messages you might need – that’s what those folders we just created are for.  Once every couple of weeks, empty the trash (if your system doesn’t do it automatically – some do.)  Again, that reduces the temptation to keep messages “just in case”.

Maintenance

If you don’t want to rebound here, you have to stay on top of it; we don’t have the same control over what lands in our inbox as we do over what lands in our closets. Since e-mails come in fast and furiously all day and all night; it is easy to find yourself buried all over again. So here are a few suggestions on how to maintain all the hard work you’ve just put in:

  • Read, Act, Move/Delete
    • Get in the habit of handling a message as soon as you open it, when possible.
      • Read (self-explanatory)
      • Act – Is there an action that needs to be taken? Does the e-mail require a response?  Is it a reminder of something you need to add to a calendar or to-do list?  Whatever the action is, do it as soon as practical so that you can do the next step which is…
      • Move or Delete –  If you need to keep the message for future reference, move it into one of the folders you already created.  If you only need it until the action is completed, leave it in your inbox – temporarily. As soon as you’ve completed the task or responded and no longer have to address the message, delete it.
  • Create a Separate “Junk” Account
    • If you don’t want the message about the family reunion to get lost in a sea of sales promotions, create an e-mail account that you use only for shopping or other times you’re asked to give an e-mail address and you don’t want to use your personal one.
  • Delete, Delete, Delete
    • Whether it is at work or at home, we all lead busy lives, and even with our best efforts e-mail can pile up again.  Take time periodically to go through and delete items you no longer need, even in those folders. If you access your e-mail on a mobile device,  do this when you have time to kill while waiting in line or at a doctor’s office.

This initial purge takes the longest, but once you’ve done it, maintenance will be much easier – just like when we KonMari our homes.

Next up – all those files on your computer…and your thumb drive…and the cloud…

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