Email liberation

2 June 2009

Two months and a week ago, I blogged about how I was experimenting with inbox zero, that is keeping my email inbox pared down to just a few messages that required action. This represented a major changing in thinking for me. For more than a decade I typically had thousands of uncategorized emails in my inbox (and many more thousand filed in folders). I never found that to be a problem.

Well, I’m here to tell you that this new system is fantastic. I now make an effort to have no more than 15 emails in my inbox when I stop working for the day. And I’ve actually pared it down further. Right now I’m at five. It feels like a miracle. Now that I’m down to five, I’m going to change my goal to having no more than 10 emails in my inbox at the end of the day.

Once I’ve responded, I move the message to my “Archive (handled)” folder. And I’m finally developing the habit of moving those messages as I respond. (I wish I could find a way to ask the Mac to do that for me automatically.) Thanks to the miracle of Mac Mail’s “spotlight” feature, I can easily search for any email.

This new system has a number of advantages. Email is no longer overwhelming for me. It’s prompting me to respond immediately to messages and only wait on those things I simply can’t respond to. It’s easy for me to see what email-related tasks are outstanding. And, of course, it doesn’t tax my over-burdened memory since no longer have to remember action items that are hiding amongst the other messages in my inbox.

I think the reason I’ve been able to do this for a couple of months is that my pal Aby Garvey of simplify101 has been my accountability partner. I do the same for her. Each night we email one another our inbox status. It’s really motivating.

If you feel like you’re swimming in email, you might give it a try. Here’s an article from LifeHacker that explains a similar system. My new system eliminates the Follow Up and Hold folders…I just put everything into Archive if it doesn’t require action. And I leave it in inbox if it does (no need for the Follow Up or Hold folders).

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Hi Janine, not sure if it’s what you’re looking for in terms of an automatic “handled” box, but you can create a “Smart Mailbox” (Mailbox > New Smart Mailbox) and then have that mailbox collect all messages that have been replied to.

Nora Brown 06/02/2009 08:58 AM

Nora, I’ll check that out! Thanks so much!

Janine Adams 06/02/2009 09:00 AM

Just checked that option out, and it collects the replied-to messages, but it doesn’t move the messages out of the inbox automatically, which is what I’m after. Thanks for the suggestion, though!

Janine Adams 06/02/2009 09:07 AM

Love the ideas! Email and responsiveness is a high priority for me so it makes me accountable. I work email 2 times a day and this keeps the quantity down too. My goal is white space at the bottom!

Ellen Delap 06/03/2009 08:22 AM

Ellen, I admire your discipline of handling email only twice a day. I can’t quite imagine that! When I let hours go by without tending to email (if I’m out of the office), I tend to feel overwhelmed by the quantity I have to deal with. But I think it’s an efficient way to work.

Janine Adams 06/03/2009 08:28 AM

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About Janine

Janine Adams

Hello! I’m Janine Adams — a certified professional organizer based in St. Louis, and the creator of Peace of Mind Organizing®.

I love order, harmony + beauty, but I believe that the way that you feel about yourself and your home is what truly matters.

If you’re ready to de­clutter with a purpose and add more ease to your life, you’ve found the right blog — and you’ve found the right gal.

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