Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 24;   June 11, 2008: Inbox Bloat Recovery

Inbox Bloat Recovery

by

If you have more than ten days of messages in your inbox, you probably consider it to be bloated. If it's been bloated for a while, you probably want to clear it, but you've tried many times, and you can't. Here are some effective suggestions.
Boston in 1826

Boston in 1826. Compare this map to Boston today to appreciate how much of the city's land is actually claimed from the sea and estuaries. (A large, zoomable version of the 1826 map is available at the Web site of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. A large version of modern Boston is available at the National Park Service Web site.)

Claiming land to make more space for a city is analogous to clearing your inbox to make more space for new mail. Once the clutter is removed and your day-to-day operations are more regular, you'll be more effective. Messages will be easier to find, things won't get lost in your inbox, and you'll feel better about the whole thing. Like creating new land for a city, clearing your inbox creates value from empty space.

If your email inbox is bloated, you probably want to clean it up. If you cleared it out recently, and it's gradually re-bloating, you probably fear it's happening again. Maybe you've just given up altogether.

Unless you have an assistant, or you're one of the carefully energetic few who regularly keep their inboxes clear, bloat and bloat anxiety are facts of life. Advice about how to keep your inbox clear once it's clear does help, but it doesn't help you get your inbox clear — it doesn't help you recover from bloat. Here are some suggestions for bloat recovery.

Recognize that inbox bloat is a fact of your life
Some believe that once they clear their inboxes, they'll magically stay clear. Sadly, that doesn't work. Unless you change how you operate, re-bloat is inevitable, and cleaning up is hardly worth it.
Keep doing what you're doing
Whatever you've been doing, keep it up for now. Beating yourself up for not dealing with every single one of today's messages is demoralizing. Instead, focus on the total message count — drive it down a little every day.
Use sort-by-subject and sort-by-sender
When you work on the backlog, sort your inbox by sender or subject, instead of by date. That way, related messages often appear next to each other, and you can select and deal with several at once.
Read your new email less frequently
Do what you can to read new email less often. Allocate some of the time you save to sorting, classifying, and deleting old mail.
Move aged messages elsewhere
Move all messages more than three years old to a folder elsewhere. Think about it — three years is enough time to create a toddler who sasses you back. Messages that old are unlikely to be of value, but if you want them, move them elsewhere.
Beating yourself up for
not dealing with every
single one of today's
messages is demoralizing.
Let it go.
Filter out the junk
Even if you're protected from junk, occasionally junk does get through. Search for the usual keywords and delete the junk. Also look for old out-of-the-office messages.
Eat elephants in small bites
It probably took a long time to build all the bloat in your inbox. Give yourself time to get rid of it. A goal of reducing it by 25 to 50 messages per day is reasonable, but go easy at first. Set the goal low enough to give you some experience of achievement, and before you know it, your inbox will be nearly clear.

Managing your inbox to prevent bloat requires adding some regular practices to your routine. Until you dramatically reduce the current bloat, these practices will have little effect. But you can get started learning about them, and start using each new practice as soon as you understand it. More about these in a future article. Go to top Top  Next issue: Coping and Hard Lessons  Next Issue

101 Tips for Writing and Managing EmailAre you so buried in email that you don't even have time to delete your spam? Do you miss important messages? So many of the problems we have with email are actually within our power to solve, if we just realize the consequences of our own actions. Read 101 Tips for Writing and Managing Email to learn how to make peace with your inbox. Order Now!

Where There's Smoke There's EmailAnd if you have organizational responsibility, you can help transform the culture to make more effective use of email. You can reduce volume while you make content more valuable. You can discourage email flame wars and that blizzard of useless if well-intended messages from colleagues and subordinates. Read Where There's Smoke There's Email to learn how to make email more productive at the organizational scale — and less dangerous. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenYLmMyaHQaEGJNuWFner@ChacqpLqBFXUVYJJmvwyoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

Power poles after Hurricane Rita, 2005Email Ethics
Ethics is the system of right and wrong that forms the foundation of civil society. Yet, when a new technology arrives, explicitly extending the ethical code seems necessary — no matter how civil the society. And so it is with email.
The Cone NebulaShining Some Light on "Going Dark"
If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes a top priority problem. What can you do?
Prof. Jack Brehm, who developed the theory of psychological reactanceCognitive Biases and Influence: II
Most advice about influencing others offers intentional tactics. Yet, the techniques we actually use are often unintentional, and we're therefore unaware of them. Among these are tactics exploiting cognitive biases.
Donald Trump (left) and Hillary Clinton (right), candidates for U.S. President in 2016The Paradox of Carefully Chosen Words
When we take special care in choosing our words, so as to avoid creating misimpressions, something strange often happens: we create a misimpression of ignorance or deceitfulness. Why does this happen?
A voltmeter with a needleHigh Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases and images to avoid.

See also Effective Communication at Work, Writing and Managing Email and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEYFvFJTtSlqsGynIner@ChacMFoolhbfwIFswyZgoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.