Clearing the Digital Clutter- Inbox 0 and Emotional Health

If you read my post about my April Goals and Powersheets tending list, you know that I tried to reduce my number of goals and really focus in on a few big things this month. Well, since I managed to cut the facebook cord so early in the month, I ended up adding another goal- Inbox 0. And the process of getting there taught me a lot.

Before I go into the lessons I learned, here’s a brief description of what I’ve been doing the last few weeks to get my old emails cleared out. For those of you unfamiliar with the practice of Inbox 0, it’s based off of this talk by Merlin Mann. The talk is centered around email at work and relates to general productivity and best practices (and it’s from a while ago, but the idea is still useful), so I tweaked it a little to apply more to personal email, but the basic principle is that you should not leave emails to pile up in your inbox and you really shouldn’t have to look at any email more than once or twice. You read an email and immediately delete, delegate, respond, defer, or do. (The talk goes into a lot more detail about all this and is a great watch!) Mr. Mann explains that the only folder he has for emails he hangs onto is ARCHIVE because he just uses the search function if he needs something else. I’m not quite there yet and felt the need to use several other folders, but the only ones worthy of mention in this blog post is 1. NEEDS ACTION- whether it’s a response, an RSVP, or something that needs real world action away from my computer, if it’s not something I can take care of right away it goes here and then I only check this folder once a day and decide what I can do that day. Instead of staring at it 20 times until it is buried under other emails and then trying really hard to remember what I had to respond to…  and 2. UPCOMING EVENTS/TRAVEL. This is stuff I want to reference easily but also I want to delete it once the event is over. This included the registration info for my 5k last weekend that I deleted after the run was over. It also includes travel plans and confirmations for upcoming trips this summer. I stuck a one in front of each of these titles so that when my folders are alphabetized those folders are on top. I then sorted through over 9000 emails in one account and almost 1000 in another account.

It was while sorting through those emails that a lot of interesting stuff happened for me. I realized I had trouble deleting old things I would probably never read again and probably wouldn’t have even noticed if they had gone missing. I had other emails that I knew would be there and I knew would bring up all sorts of extreme emotions and that I would be better off without ever thinking about again and I had trouble deleting those as well. Turns out, I have a lot of feelings when it comes to the past and nostalgia and letting go. This really shouldn’t be that surprising given my penchant for journaling and memory keeping, but it is truly a double edged sword and I am trying to figure out how to keep the positive side of that instinct sharp while continuing to let go of the negative things-anger, hurt, resentment, the really difficult moments I’ve had. I’m not there yet, but I now have a folder literally titled LETTHISGO and ONE DAY I’m going to be ready to just delete all. I probably need to deal with some of the feelings tied to all that stuff first, though.

On the other hand, it was kind of enlightening to be reminded of past chapters that I’d edited out of my memory. Receipts for purchases I’d made in service of hobbies or interests I no longer care about, my application to become a missionary that I’d actually submitted and then withdrew after I was accepted into graduate school, videos or posts I meant to read but didn’t and now I am either willing to accept that they will never be important enough for me to make time to read them, or, occasionally the links didn’t even work anymore, that’s how long I’d waited.

Links and interesting articles weren’t the only thing that got lost in the email chaos- I lost money from keeping almost everything in my inbox. Store credits and coupons I forgot to use because they were buried under new emails coming in every hour. Even a gift card to a store that no longer exists (this is actually a problem I have with actual gift cards too- maybe that will show up in another post some day…) and THAT is one of the big reasons I’m excited to maintain this email practice going forward- I want to know which emails are action items and which are clutter. I don’t need to hold onto daily devotionals after I’ve read them. I don’t need the shipping notices on my amazon orders once they arrive safely at my door. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

That’s not to say I didn’t hold on to some emotionally charged emails that were positive as well. While I hope to delete the LETTHISGO folder, I also created a SMILE folder for the rough days when I need a burst of encouragement. It includes encouraging emails, the receipt for my Hamilton tickets,

This email will ALWAYS make me smile. It’s short, but it’s straight from one of my favorite artists.

casting offers that are particularly special to me, pictures from special events, a few Googlevoice message transcriptions that always make my day, and even an email from Jason Robert Brown who read my comment about how the Last Five Years played a significant role in one of my best friendships. My rule, though, is that this folder can’t get too big, or I won’t look through the things I keep there. It’s only the best of the best, stuff guaranteed to make me smile when I need it most.

It’s been about a week since I got my email accounts to active “inbox 0” status and it has really changed the way I approach email in general. I feel less distracted, less anxious, and like email is once again a tool, not a constant energy suck. Part of maintaining an empty inbox is unsubscribing right away from email lists that no longer serve me. Less coming in means less to sort through and you’re more likely to actually unsubscribe if you don’t delay. Another part of maintaining an empty inbox is being strategic about when I check my emails. I don’t do it passively when I can’t give attention to needed responses, I don’t do it when I should be hanging out with my kids (a super positive change I’ve been needing to make for a while- especially since my oldest is really in tune with emotion and knows if I’m reading about bad news just from the look on my face…) and while I know that’s not something everyone has the luxury of doing as maybe they are in fields that require immediate answers, I’m not in one of those positions right now and I’m so glad I’ve stopped acting like it. I think this is also a very useful practice to have set up for busier seasons when I’m working more and have more emails coming in about tutoring or shows I’m working on or requests for other projects, etc. I’ll be ready to respond with my full attention and the questions that require follow up won’t get buried in all the other stuff.

Do any of you practice Inbox 0? Any email ninja tricks that are serving you well right now? All my work this month is focused towards managing anxiety and exhaustion and I was surprised at how big a difference this change made.



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