Cleanup Your Inbox. Completely.
This post and the system it explains is a result of reading quite a lot about “Out of Sight, Out or Mind” recently – particularly a study report from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute that links visual clutter with lack of focus. De-cluttering the Inbox and organising the content of the Inbox in a simple fashion (rather than having hundreds of folders and sub-folders) has definitely changed the way I am dealing with the day-to-day flow of information received via email.
For years I have been bombarded with emails from customers, marketers, mail-out engines and (most annoyingly :)) from my various monitoring, alert and notification systems that help me and my team stay on top of the challenges of managing technology for clients.
I have tried several methods to solve this problem more or less unsuccessfully until I figured out what the real issue is: if we don’t approach a problem with calm and systematically, we end up with half solutions.
It is also important to understand that we have a tendency to accept being spammed by certain organisations (suppliers, partners, Facebook, etc) because sometimes we may actually find useful information in their messages. Separating them in folders makes it easier to determine WHEN we spend time reading them.
I must confess, I am not a big fan of Microsoft. Not since they killed a product I developed in 1997 by flexing their muscle at the retailers who included it on the PCs they were selling. I don’t hold grudges but I don’t like them as corporation. Too greedy for my liking.
But, I have to hand it to them: Outlook is THE most well designed email client on the market today. Full stop. In my attempts to escape the “Microsoft world” I have tested a plethora of Email clients and none came close to the functionality, features and ease of use that Outlook has. Which makes it even more weird that many (MANY!) people are today feeling frustrated by the clutter in their Inbox, getting surprised when Outlook crashes and they loose their emails or when either Outlook or their email server is telling them there is no more space to store all the emails and so on.
The reality is, email is a pain in the neck – despite of being one of the greatest inventions of mankind (I am not exaggerating here, think about how pervasive this technology has become in our society over the years). We are bombarded with emails on a daily basis and – more often than not – we fail to cope with the influx of useful or useless information and sometimes the visual and informational clutter this creates generates great levels of anxiety.
Why is it then that such a wonderful invention is creating so many headaches? After all, it successfully replaced regular mail, phone conversations, it is super-cheap, timeless and easy to work with…
Automation beats Procrastination
I guess one of the major factors of failure in managing one’s Inbox is our tendency to procrastinate, especially when the concentration required to read and process one email is interrupted by an avalanche of two-three (or ten) more emails coming in and disturbing the attention. It then comes down to our failure to understand the features of the software in order to make it do what EVERY software was meant to do, from the beginning: AUTOMATE.
Yes. Outlook, just like almost any other business software ever created is supposed to help by automating various tasks – thus, allowing us to spend time only on the ones that are important or cannot be automated because they need human input.
Failing to automate is allowing the clutter to increase and stress levels to raise – because we feel hopeless in facing the continuous flow of information that is thrown at us.
I’ve been there… and came back with a solution. My mailbox now is empty or has between 1 and maximum 10 messages on average. Below is a screen grab if you don’t believe me 🙂