Historically, my Inbox has treaded the line between hoarder’s paradise and post-tornado disaster zone.
Because I’ve been traveling for so long – often without the opportunity to check email, and also because I’m too impatient to implement some complex organizational system, I could safely say that while I don’t have much cash on hand, emails are one thing I would never run out of.
Now that I’m staying in Russia and have unbroken Internet access, I’ve found it to be kind of annoying.
While I’m not big on labels, I am rather minimalist. I don’t like wasting my time and energy on insignificant minutia, and I don’t like distractions that pull me away from the things I truly care about – like cake.
So I decided it was time to get my Inbox handled.
It seems like a tiny, insignificant part of our lives, but how much time do we spend on email? I know that for a lot of CTHC readers, it’s quite significant. Half an hour a day on email could be half an hour spent learning an instrument, a language, playing with our kids, rolling around in the mud with some dogs, or any other rewarding experience we desire.
So in order to minimize the minutia and maximize our experience of life – let’s see how to minimize email, achieve Inbox zero, and keep it that way.
I’ve read a fair amount of advice about Inbox organization, and most of it sucks – mainly because the systems are too complicated and annoying to set up. Some people like that sort of thing, because it feels like being productive. I, on the other hand, believe that simplicity is the best form of organization, as sorting one big pile of elephant dung into many piles of elephant dung doesn’t change the fact that it’s dirty, smelly, business.
So here’s my breathtaking Inbox-cleaning technique:
Step 1: Select all emails
Step 2: Delete all emails
Boom. Done. 10 seconds.
Seriously, screw taking 24-48 hours or more to meticulously sort 10,000 emails we’ll never see again. Even if your Inbox isn’t a shameful clusterfuck of awful and only has several 1,000 emails in it, can you imagine how much energy you’ll have to invest deciding first whether to keep each email, and then where to put the lucky survivors.
Also consider this: Throughout your email career, how often have you gone back to read your old email?
I’ve had email for about 10 years now, and 10 is probably a slight overestimate as to how many times I’ve gone back to read the old stuff.
The problem is our mindset. Since storing all this digital history costs nothing, we think we might as well hang onto it “just in case.” Except all this content requires space in our mental hard drives, not just in Google’s cloud storage system.
Get rid of it! This should be easier than letting go of your unused and unneeded physical goods and will serve as good practice detaching ourselves from the extraneous things in life.
If you really cherish some certain communications, find them, save them somewhere (a folder in your email or to your computer), and then delete all. But don’t needlessly complicate the process. Even if at some point you end up wishing you had a certain email back, it’s probably not worth the hours you would have spent sorting just so that particular email would be saved.
That’s the easy part. Delete all. The hard part is keeping your Inbox at zero.
There’s a simple rule with email: Writing emails creates new messages in our Inboxes. I only write emails when absolutely necessary. I also do my best to keep them short, sweet, and to eliminate the number of back-and-forths there are.
Simple ideas such as, when setting up an informal meeting, putting my 2 best times and getting the other person to pick, or otherwise to put their best 2 times.
In any case, the simplest way to have less email to sort is to create less of it yourself.
Let’s look at the rest of the ways to keep our Inboxes clean:
1) Write Fewer Emails – as discussed above
2) Unsubscribe from email lists: You don’t open most of the emails sent by the groups you belong to. I know it. I don’t either. That’s the nature of the beast. Unsubscribe.
3) Never save a response for later: When you’re checking email – hopefully once or twice a day max, or once a week if you’re hardcore – never put off decisive action. Either delete it or respond to it.
Occasionally a situation will come up where you have to wait for more information until you can respond. This should be an infrequent occurrence. I mark those emails as “important” and then let them sit, though it should be obvious what their nature is since there shouldn’t be other emails floating around.
4) Turn off alerts from any social networks: FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn – they love creating an email avalance. I’m lazy and marked these as spam (as far as i’m concerned they are, I never wanted or asked for them), but you can be slightly nicer and manually opt out if you want.
Let’s step back and realize something. All these “techniques” are rather trite. That’s because this is easy as soon as we let it be. Most of us don’t have an Inbox problem, we have a mindset problem. We have to realize that our email life is a hueless, soulless vacuum compared to the vibrant, thriving energy of our real lives and that this is where we should be spending our time and energy.
This is, likely, the simplest exercise I will ever be able to give on Cracking The Happiness Code. It is about the simplest change we can make. Half an hour a day on email means TWO YEARS of checking email for the average human lifespan. Think of all the incredible things you could learn, see, experience in two years. Now, go to your Inbox, select all, and hit delete.
Sometimes, it’s just that simple.