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. Top Next Issue
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And 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!
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Believe It or Else
- When we use threats and intimidation to win debates or agreement, we lay a flimsy foundation for future
action. Using fear may win the point, but little more.
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: II
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive
than that. Sometimes people who try to extract that information use techniques based on misdirection.
Here are some of them.
- Nasty Questions: I
- Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather,
they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's
political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- How to Eliminate Meetings
- Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended
many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could
change our lives.
- They Just Don't Understand
- When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others.
The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.