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:
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of nonverbal insults.
- Long-Loop Conversations: Clearing the Fog
- In virtual or global teams, conversations can be long, painful affairs. Settling issues and clearing
misunderstandings can take weeks instead of days, or days instead of hours. Here are some techniques
that ease the way to mutual agreement and understanding.
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
- When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption
is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully,
in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters?
- Critical Communications
- From time to time, we're responsible for sending critical communications — essential messages
that the intended recipients must have. It's a heavy responsibility that can bear some risk. A strategy
for managing those risks involves three messages.
- How Messages Get Mixed
- Although most authors of mixed messages don't intend to be confusing, message mixing does happen. One
of the most fascinating mixing mechanisms occurs in the mind of the recipient of the message.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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