Managing the dreaded inbox

I recently started a newsletter mailing list (if you’d like to be on it – click here). It’s taken me a long time and a lot of toing and froing in my mind to come to this decision, but ultimately, it’s a worthwhile thing to have, especially once my book makes headway. I’ve committed to only creating a quarterly newsletter at this stage, because I don’t have the time for anything more frequent. The exception being if anything juicy or exciting comes up with my writing that I have to share immediately.

The reason I was so reluctant to start a mailing list was because I get So. Many. Emails. Between my day job, my writing and my personal account (which I’ve had since basically gmail was invented), the sheer volume of communication I receive is overwhelming. And I just didn’t want to contribute to someone else’s overwhelming inbox.

Why should you care about how full other people’s inboxes are? I hear you ask… Well, for one thing, my go-to way of dealing with too many emails is simply to delete them. Most of the time I don’t even open them. If the preview lines I can see on my phone don’t grab me, or if it’s from an account I don’t remember signing up to, or if I just don’t have time, I’ll delete it. This system is pretty flawed, because I know I’m actually missing out on a lot of great content. Which had me thinking, there must be a better way!

At my day job, I have a rule for managing my inbox. I call it The Scroll Bar rule. My aim by the end of every day is to ensure that I have only enough emails that there is no need for a scroll bar. If you work with Outlook, you’ll understand what I mean; once you get more than a certain number of emails hit your inbox, a scroll bar will appear so it can just keep adding more emails. On my laptop, the maximum amount of emails is about 10 before it expands to a scroll bar, more if I’m projecting to a bigger monitor. Those emails kept in the inbox are the ones that I still have to deal with or reply to, for some reason or another. Anything and everything else is either deleted, archived or filed into one of my many sub-folders. Now, I work with people who keep ALL of their emails in the central inbox and don’t have any sub-folders, and frankly, I think these people are monsters. Folders are my sanity system.

This system works well for me and I get a bit of satisfaction out of reducing my inbox to just the bare minimum. Even if it means that by tomorrow it will all be undone. At least I’m reading the emails and dealing with them, rather than deleting en-mass like I do with my other accounts.

So, I’ve decided to apply some of these inbox management systems to my other accounts.

Step 1: Clean up what’s already there.

Before I can implement The Scroll Bar rule. I really need to wade through the trash and work out what I actually want to be receiving, and what is pure rubbish that I should just unsubscribe from. This is a mammoth task, and one that I don’t have the time, nor the patience to tackle in one sitting. Instead, I’ve told myself that each time I open my emails I must look at every new email and make a snap decision: in or out?

If you’re in, I read the email and then delete/file it. If you’re out I find the tiny unsubscribe link and follow the bouncing ball. Do the hard yards now so that future you will thank past you for it.

Step 2: Work out where the problem is and fix it.

Before I can progress, I need to know how I have so many damn email subscriptions in the first place? Cutting the thing off at the knees will help ensure I don’t get into this mess again.

I’m sure many of you, like me, have signed up to some mailing list or another because you were going to go in the running to win a washing machine or there would be a free giveaway associated with your loyal following. I’m done with all that. I don’t want promises of stuff I don’t need. If I like your content, I’ll come back to your site. I’ll add you to my blog reading list or I’ll subscribe to an RSS feed (is that still a thing?). Just like my wardrobe doesn’t need any more shoes. My inbox doesn’t need any more eBook guides. Note to self: Don’t sign up to any more mailing lists unless you really REALLY want to.

Of course, this doesn’t account for all those sneaky companies that on-sell your contact details to other companies. But this is an easy one to deal with: If you don’t remember signing up, unsubscribe and delete immediately. Don’t even get caught up in the headlines and empty promises. It’s time to be brutal.

Step 3: Manage what does come in more efficiently.

Finally, I need to organise the stuff I’m keeping so that I can access it again later. Did you know that gmail has a setting that will delete emails in your central inbox after a certain amount of time? I’ve been caught out with this before and lost some important stuff, so if you’re using your inbox as a safety net, best to check if there are any underlying rules.

To get around this, I’ve created sub-folders in my gmail accounts too. If I want to keep anything that lands in one of those accounts, they have to be archived in the right folder. This means not only having no scroll bar, but having no opened and read emails in the inbox at all. If I read it, I must deal with it immediately.

And that’s it. Just rinse and repeat for the rest of your life.

2 thoughts on “Managing the dreaded inbox

  1. mariemclean says:

    I must admit, I’m a deleter when I can’t keep on top of my inbox – a quick read of the subject line will determine its deletion faster than the beep that announced it.
    I’ve just had a major clean out of my computers and found out I can deal with my gmail and Telstra emails from the one place, instead of clicking on different apps. Who knew?
    Also, I’ve heard of others having uccess with unsubscribe or unroll me apps that can unlink you from the result of signing up for too many washing machine giveaways. One day I’ll give it a go!


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