Sorting through emails sounds like a laborious task; I mean, why bother when you have 15 GB worth of storage to use up, and the benefit of filters to sort through them when need be.
Well, just recently I came to a point where I'd had enough of the endless pages of my inbox and decided to take action by having a huge clear out.
I started the task with a whopping 1,243 emails and finished with around 25 in my inbox. Of those left a handful were flagged as “must get to” and the others ongoing conversations that I can't yet delete. I deleted 70 percent and the rest were sorted into folders based on subject.
Upon completing this task I felt amazing, because without realizing it, looking at that endless list of messages every time I logged on to my email was affecting my state of mind.
– It was creating an illusion that I had more work on my shoulders than I did.
– It made me feel busier and more snowed under.
– It was harder for my brain to scan and mentally sort the important from the ‘should be trashed'.
– It was cluttering my mind unnecessarily.
– It made it easier to miss important messages.
– It lowered my email productivity rate due to lack of organisation.
“Tidy mind, tidy life” ~ My mother.
I have since undertaken this task on a weekly basis, usually on a Friday afternoon. This sort through has the added benefit of acting as closure for the working week. Similar to tidying ones desk before leaving the office, it creates a dividing line that assists in leaving work at the office instead of taking it home in the mind.
When was the last time you cleared your email backlog? When was the last time you went through your inbox replying to those emails you missed, sorting the important ones you need to keep into folders and deleting newsletters from lists you subscribed to that deep down you know you'll never get around to reading?
I'm willing to bet it has been a while.
The thing about email is that we can easily ignore its existence. If there were papers piled to the ceiling on your desk you'd be forced to sort through them at some point. But with email we can close the laptop lid and ignore the backlog. But although inside the digital cloud, the pile is still present and fully logged in the most powerful computer of all – the brain.
Email is a huge part of life, and effectively serves as a filter for the mind. Both work and personal correspondence is filtered through this medium, and as such it has the ability to heavily impact our thoughts.
Think back a few years and every man and his dog had a Blackberry, which was rarely put down – we've all heard the stories of executives taking their beloved handheld to the toilet.
Even though Blackberry is obsolete now, tablets and phones have evolved for even greater media integration and email is still as much a part of our lives as ever. So even when we close the inbox, its contents are still very much a part of our lives – one that is never entirely switched off.
So the way I think about email now is the same way I think about my living room or bedroom. I like things pretty “Zen-like”; quite minimal. I don't like lots of ornaments on shelves, magazines lying around all over the coffee table or too many unnecessary items scattered about the place.
Of course that's not everyone's preference, but I think we'd all agree that having a good tidy up and de-cluttering a room is a great feeling, perhaps equal to that of taking a big breath of fresh air in an open field.
Your email inbox is a room inside your mind. Give it a tidy up today and you'll see how much better you feel afterwards. Deleting emails you don't need will free up valuable mental space, and answering those emails you have been meaning to get to will help you defragment your mind and feel that bit more spacious.
It's refreshing and somewhat liberating to take this action by setting aside 30 minutes to delete the junk, address the important and sort the “keepers” into folders. Just picturing pages and pages of emails in your inbox pulls the brain all over the place: “Did I reply to that one”? “Oh I must get to that message soon”. “I really must sort through my email”.
Another benefit of having a weekly inbox sort out and using folders to organise emails you want to keep by subject matter is that you save time and stress when hunting for an email you are sure was there last time you looked. How many times have you replied “Errmmm” to someone when asked “Did you get my email?” This simply won't happen when you stay on top of your inbox.
Mindful email practice makes your inbox a pleasurable place to work out of and and goes a long way in making communication more efficient.
Of course, if you don't get that many emails, you can sort and stay on top as they come in. But for those who barely have a moment to think during the working week, scheduling a week-end clear out is a positive, mindful exercise.