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
Are 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!
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:
- You and I
- In tense discussions, the language we use often contributes to the tension. If we can transform the
statements we make about each other into statements about ourselves, we can eliminate an important source
of tension and stress.
- Begging the Question
- Begging the question is a common, usually undetected, rhetorical fallacy. It leads to unsupported conclusions
and painful places we just can't live with. What can we do when it happens?
- Towards More Gracious Disagreement
- We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right,
or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some
thoughts to help you kick the habit.
- Long-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions
- In virtual or global teams, where remote collaboration is the rule, waiting for the answer to a simple
question can take a day or more. And when the response finally arrives, it's often just another question.
Here are some suggestions for framing questions that are clear enough to get answers quickly.
- On Badly Written Email
- Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some
who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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